Richard Ward, co-founder of Saintsbury Winery, advocate for the Napa Valley and champion of fine Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the Carneros region died Saturday. He was 67 years old.
Ward died with family by his side on May 27 at UCSF Medical Center from complications following a bone marrow transplant. He was battling therapy-related Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a blood cancer he developed after receiving radiation for prostate cancer, which he fought for 13 years.
Ward and his business partner David Graves founded Saintsbury in 1981 and decided to focus on Burgundian varieties in the cool southern parts of Napa Valley. “We decided to make Pinot Noir, which was not a very popular variety then, it was a great challenge, but we felt if we could be successful, we could be a bigger fish in a small pond,” Richard said.
Today Saintsbury is highly regarded as a producer of Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
“Dick was a wine person, through and through,” said wine writer Tim Atkin. “But he wasn’t a wine bore or a geek. He just wanted more people to enjoy good wine, especially if it was Pinot Noir. Burgundy was a source of inspiration, but he didn’t revere it the way some vintners do. ‘Beaune in the USA,’ as a tongue-in-cheek Saintsbury T-shirt would have it. Dick wanted to make great California Pinot Noir that everyone could enjoy, not to mention Chardonnay and the occasional Syrah. And he succeeded. Many great bottles will be part of his legacy.”
“Dick was one of my favourite wine people,” said wine writer Jancis Robinson. “Focused on showing the world how fine California Pinot Noir could be, he had a world view, a keen intelligence, and never took himself too seriously -- despite his good looks. He was great company. We will miss him a great deal.”
In addition to his passion for the wine business, Ward was a lover of modern art, excellent writing, music and most especially good friends and conversation. His vast collection of musical tastes ranged from Wagner to Neil Young to The Black Keys.
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An avid and thoughtful gardener, Ward was also a devoted NPR listener and looked forward daily to his home-delivered copy of the New York Times. He had a deft talent for barbecuing and enjoyed holding court, grill-side, with friends, occasionally stepping away to refill their glasses with wine. He possessed a positively encyclopedic range of knowledge, conversing easily and with great wit about a seemingly endless range of topics: world history, science, architecture, politics, old Madeira and chicken breeds, to name just a few of the subjects that captivated this deeply curious man.
Ward loved to travel, often citing a safari in South Africa and Botswana as one of his favorite journeys. He was enchanted by Cuba, where he and his wife Linda Reiff were married in 1999, and returned a number of times. He will be remembered most, though, for his tremendous capacity to care; he constantly observed his friends and loved ones closely, and had the rare knack for delivering just the perfect piece of advice or overture of affection when it was needed the most.
Ward was born on Feb. 5, 1950 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to Marine Corps pilot Lt. Col Richard A. Ward Sr. and Ella Meadows. He grew up in North Carolina and in the Washington, D.C. area, where he graduated from Sidwell Friends High. He earned a structural engineering degree from Tufts University in Boston and moved to California to study enology at UC Davis.
He is survived by his wife Linda Reiff; his children Philippa Ward of Charleston, S.C., and Trent Ward of London, U.K.; his mother Ella Meadows Giesey of Sleepy Creek, N.C.; sister Normandie Fischer and her family of North Carolina; sister Heidi Ravenel and her family of Charleston, S.C.; and the Reiff family of California. He also leaves behind numerous friends and colleagues who have known him as Dick, Dr. Dick, The Professor, RAW and Ricardo.
Ward served on the boards of directors of the California Wine Institute, Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Valley Opera House, di Rosa art preserve and Tower Road Wine Co-op.
To honor Ward, his family asks you consider joining the National Bone Marrow Registry or donating blood or platelets at your local blood bank. Memorial donations can also be made to the di Rosa art preserve in Carneros where a special fund is being established to celebrate his life and love of art.
A celebration of life is being planned for this summer.