Tom Burgess passed away at home on February 3rd. Tom was born in Cuyahoga Falls, OH in September of 1939 to Otis and Phyllis Burgess. Tom is survived by his wife Catherine, his sister Judie Bigelow (Dick) ex-wife Linda, sons Steven (Marne) and James (Carolyn,) and four grandchildren Kira, Brandon, Thatcher, and Crawford.
Growing up in and around Akron and Cuyahoga Valley National Park made Tom proud of Ohio and America. His father, Otis, was a co-founder of Morse Controls.
Tom attended Miami University in Oxford, OH where he majored in Geology and Aeronautics. His summers were spent selling parts out of a station wagon for Morse Controls. He joined the Air Force ROTC in college and went on to serve over 5 years. He earned incredible assignments in the Air Force, flying Project Gemini astronauts around in a C-135. He met and became lifelong friends with Neil Armstrong on one of these flights when Neil had to splash down in the South Pacific unplanned, then needed a ride to Honolulu. Tom was the first to pilot a jet-powered aircraft to a number of African airports, and he would transport data tapes for NASA and the DOD from South Africa to Florida. This was amongst the first times these long, oversea routes were taken. When the Vietnam War escalated, Tom was re-assigned to fly C-123s in Southeast Asia. While in the Air Force, he would fly to Travis Air Force Base and rent a car to visit the wine country. After an honorary discharge, he took a job at IBM, where he was quickly recognized and was groomed to fly VIPs, including Tom Watson Jr.
Soon thereafter, in San Francisco, Tom met Linda and they married in 1969. His early exposure to wine in Ohio, and then international travel provided him the wisdom and intelligence to make his next move: Tom the Vintner. There were about six wineries for sale at the time, but one stood out. The former Souverain winery with its mountain fruit, heritage of gold and silver medals, and a home to start a family in was choice. The harvest of 1972 was a tough one for Napa, but these brush breakers persevered. During the first harvest, their first child was born too. Soon, Tom was on the road selling his Napa Valley wines just like he used to sell Morse Controls. From wine shops to restaurants, from state to state, he used shoe leather to build his business. In fact, Tom was the first to sell a California wine to a couple of major distributors! His Midwest personality and work ethic served well Burgess Cellars and the Napa Valley region as a whole. Tom recounted being almost kicked out of a few stores in New York and Boston, with the guys behind the counter scoffing and saying California wine was no good. They tried Burgess wines anyway because Tom was a nice guy, and became life-long fans. Tom and Linda had their second child in 1974. The family grew, the region grew, and the winery grew. Tom and Linda divorced in 1991. In 1996, Tom found himself co-presenting with Julia Child at the Boston Wine Festival. Tom worked early and hard every day, and would relax on warm evenings with a cigar overlooking the Napa Valley from the porch. Tom remained a private pilot and flew hundreds of customers, distributor salespeople, and press up for flights over the Napa Valley. He loved showing how small the valley really was, and sometimes he would fly upside down until they agreed to buy a pallet of wine! He flew his fully aerobatic Siai Marchetti SF 260C in airshows at the Angwin and Truckee airports. He taught his boys to ski at five, and to drive stick shifts at 12, and would take the family camping in the Sierras. In the ocean, Tom was a very strong swimmer and would tow his children way offshore snorkeling. In business, he was a polite and trusting man; his reputation nationally is one of kindness, manners, and courtesies. By 1998 Tom started to retire, spending his summers in the south of France, returning for the harvest excitement back at the winery. Tom squeezed in massive amounts of life during his years, only slowing down for the last few. In 2004, after running the winery for 32 years, Tom asked his adult children to come back and work with him. After decades of firsts and brush breaking, Tom enjoyed a long retirement of family lunch rituals, summers in France, and dear friends.