If members of Napa Valley’s nonpareil hospitality industry seem a bit down at the mouth this week, there’s good reason.
St. Helena son Richard J. Miami — who set a standard for varied facets of hospitality in this valley year-in and year-out — lost his battle with cancer this week.
While his friends and associates at the Robert Mondavi Winery were aware of Richard’s health issues over the past year, nothing prepares us for the day when that guy from work, that amigo, that mentor takes his leave.
Richard’s first love was live theater, and not all that far behind, the silver screen. Deciding he would not pursue a career in either, Richard opted to work in hometown wine hospitality. And when Richard set his mind to something, there was no stopping him. He learned as much as he could about wine — so much so that he would eventually mentor others following in his footsteps.
I met Richard Miami as a director. I’d seen him in a couple of Napa Valley College plays but had my first one-on-one discussion with him when he directed Irish playwright Brendan Behan’s poignant “The Hostage” for Pretender’s Playhouse at their once-thriving venue on Pearl Street in downtown Napa.
We kicked around thoughts about the work, the talents of the actors, his goals, his growing desire to direct rather than act. And over the years — while he did walk the boards — the San Francisco State theater major went on to direct many memorable productions for theater companies throughout Napa Valley and the Bay Area.
At the same time, his voracious appetite for films caught my attention. On weekends, or whenever he had a few days off, Richard would head off to San Francisco where he would take in five, six, maybe as many as seven or eight films over several days. That love of cinema stood him in good stead in later years.
Richard worked as a tour guide at several valley cellars. I think many of us associate him most with Domaine Chandon and the Robert Mondavi Winery.
At Domaine Chandon, Richard grew into legend status. Not only could he tell you a thing or two about the France-based firm’s bubbly, he took on the role of host and impresario as well. It was Richard who dreamed up and launched the OGIM (Oh Gosh, It’s Monday) concert series, bringing incredible Bay Area talent to perform at the winery both indoors and outdoors throughout the year. He was well aware that entertainers generally weren’t booked on Monday nights — so he could get them here at a reasonable price — and that there really wasn’t a hell of a lot going on in the valley on Monday nights in the 1970s and ‘80s.
That was the time when his alter-ego, Dick Florida, showed up. It was Richard Miami as the accommodating but certainly no-nonsense producer, insisting things be done by the book — the book he wrote — knowing when enough is enough. If there was to be an encore at one of the alfresco events, it had to be performed before 10. When some bands ran late with planned sets, the encores didn’t happen. Fans pleaded — Dick Florida held his ground. Yet everyone left in a good mood for he had a way to make even the disappointed, slightly buzzed concertgoer glad he or she had come to Yountville that night.
Then there were the annual fundraisers at Domaine Chandon Richard Miami produced year after year to raise money for restoration of the Napa Valley Opera House. A preservationist, he was more than happy to put in long hours so the downtown Napa venue could once again be filled with the sounds of music, laughter and applause.
Economic fluctuations and changes in employer management saw Richard move to other valley posts.
When Chandon restructured its hospitality effort, Richard soon found a home at Copia where he instituted not only summer concerts in the outdoor grassy bowl but a beloved film series in the venue’s intimate theater. The concerts moved inside the rest of the year, so once again Richard was providing locals with great music as well as memorable Friday Night Flicks.
When Copia’s bankruptcy put an end to those programs, Richard turned his focus once again to wine. Not only did he become a respected wine educator at the Robert Mondavi Winery, he relaunched his educational efforts, teaching a much-loved class for prospective winery tour guides at Napa Valley College.
“I’m teaching another tour guide class at the college,” he’d say when I picked up the phone. “Could you put a little story in the paper for me — pretty please,” was how he’d ingratiate himself each and every time. Of course, I’d do it. Just hearing feedback from all those who’d taken the course over the years was more than enough reason to know how valuable it was, how much young men and women — maybe even some of a certain age — took to Richard’s mentoring.
But Richard hadn’t abandoned cinema. He persuaded the folks at the Napa Valley Opera House — which he’d worked valiantly to reopen — to let him relaunch his film series on Main Street. Tuesday Night Flicks became one of the venue’s best attended offerings and would still be packing ‘em in had City Winery at the Napa Valley Opera House not backed out of its lease.
For the past decade, Richard’s sunny disposition did as much as Robert Mondavi’s wine to leave a good taste in the mouths of winery visitors. Perched on a stool at the tour guide’s podium in front of the Oakville winery, Richard not only organized curious visitors who came here from all over the world, he made them feel welcome.
Richard Miami enjoyed meeting people as well as making both acquaintances and friends. He graciously shared his passions and his knowledge with everyone — and then thanked us for the privilege.
Thank you, Richard Miami, for making Napa Valley a better place for all, and for passing on a remarkable legacy.
A tribute and celebration of Richard’s life is scheduled Wednesday, July 6, at 5:30 p.m. at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville.