Winemaking Columnist and Author Tim Patterson Dies

He combined a passionate winemaking hobby with writing skills to create a second career

by Jim Gordon
Tim Patterson works in his garage winery, Subterranean Cellars, in Berkeley, Calif. Photo courtesy of Frances Dinkelspiel
San Rafael, Calif.— Tim Patterson, the author of Wines & Vines’ long-running Inquiring Winemaker column, died May 17, several weeks after undergoing surgery for a brain tumor. The witty and irrepressibly curious writer lived in Berkeley, Calif., and also was a regular contributor to WineMaker magazine, author of Home Winemaking for Dummies and co-author of Concannon: The First One Hundred and Twenty-five Years.

Patterson’s approach as the Inquiring Winemaker columnist since 2003 was not to foist his own views about winemaking upon his readers, but to scout out perplexing issues in grape or wine production, and then reach out to professional winemakers and academics for their insights. He synthesized in his writing what these experts had learned about the topic. His current column in the May 2014 issue, “In Search of Grapevines and Terroir” is a very good example of this approach.

Patterson was an easy person to spot at wine industry events, wearing his signature Panama hat and squinting through a special spyglass that helped him overcome severe vision impairment. Patterson’s eyesight didn’t stop him from collaring winemakers to probe them for information and cornering publication editors to pitch them story ideas. As a writer he was an editor’s delight, applying a combination of liberal arts erudition with a high-level layman’s expertise in wine production and a relentless pursuit of wry humor to keep his articles light while firmly educational.

He took up amateur winemaking in 1997 and soon filled his garage with micro fermentations of dozens of grape varieties, enlisting friends and neighbors to help in the process and learn about winemaking. One of those helpers, Frances Dinkelspiel, wrote a feature article about Patterson and the hobby that fueled his writing for BerkeleySide.com in 2012.

In the 2000s Patterson began a second career as a wine writer in earnest, after many years of working for Wells Fargo as a programmer and technical writer. His wife, Nancy Freeman, said they both worked at jobs they didn’t love for many years to support the equivalent of half-time jobs for causes they believed in.

“I broke away from my job first and became a freelance food writer,” Freeman said. “A couple years later he realized I was having a whole lot more fun than he was, and (he) left his job to become a freelance wine writer.”

Patterson’s articles appeared in Wines & Vines and other books and periodicals including Wine Enthusiast, Adventures in Wine, Diablo, the Livermore Independent, Central Coast Adventures, The Vine and Opus Vino, an international wine encyclopedia.

With veteran California winemaker and educator John Buechsenstein, Patterson had been compiling and editing a book about the science behind the concept of terroir.

Born in 1946, Patterson earned a bachelor’s degree from Reed College in Portland, Ore., and a master’s degree from Stanford University. He worked toward a doctorate at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

Posted on 05.19.2014 - 17:42:39 PST
A toast to Tim, who was a wonderful mentor and friend. He was gentlemanly, generous with his profound depth of wine knowledge, and endowed with a wicked sense of humor. I will miss him terribly.

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 08:08:45 PST
I am very sorry to see this news. I loved his writing.

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 08:20:55 PST
I will miss reading his column - it was always enlightening

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 08:24:45 PST
I will also raise a glass to Tim. From WineMaker magazine to Wines and Vines...I love reading his insightful articles.

Micah Nasarow
Cedar River Cellars

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 08:42:46 PST
Worked with him on a number of articles. He was a delight to work with. I'll miss him.
~Ken Freeze

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 09:27:59 PST
Very saddened to learn of Tim's passing this morning. I'll always remember our last conversation which took place on a shuttle ride to Lodi. He was a gentle man who freely shared his knowledge and perspective. He will be sorely missed. Deborah Parker Wong

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 14:54:40 PST
Deepest sympathies to his family and friends. Tim was such a professional to work with and his passion for all things wine and vine shone through in each article or conversation. His voice and intellectual curiosity will be missed by all.

Posted on 05.21.2014 - 15:33:58 PST
I was just marveling over Tim's latest article on terroir. It was fantastic and fun to read. I enjoyed reading his column in W&V and will miss him very much.
Mark Greenspan

Posted on 05.25.2014 - 08:35:54 PST
Tim was a gentleman, in the best Southern sense of the word, an outstanding educator, and a wonderful wine maker. The world is a poorer place for his passing. I shall miss him dearly.
Bonneau Dickson

Posted on 05.19.2014 - 15:02:16 PST
A toast to you, Tim, with a glass of Subterranean Cellars Barbera. You will be missed as a wine writer and even more as a friend. John B., I hope you'll finish the terroir book.

Posted on 05.19.2014 - 17:03:28 PST
I'm going to so miss Tim, a writer who always helped me with my Petite Sirah stories. He was just always there for me, no matter what i was doing... What a gentleman and a scholar.

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 07:58:11 PST
I am so sad to hear of Tim's death. I first met Tim at a luncheon for Wines & Vines writers many years ago, and we had a geographical connection besides our love for wine. Tim attended Lewis & Clark College here in Portland, OR, and we often spent time together when he came up here visiting, whether to write about our region's wines or to visit his old haunts. He had a wry sense of humor, a wide-ranging intellect, and I counted him as a friend. I will greatly miss seeing him . . . even if he never fully saw me.

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 08:28:14 PST
I also want to toast Tim as a fellow writer for Wines & Vines. I did not know him well but always really loved his columns. He will be missed by many.
Cliff Ohmart
Davis, CA USA

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 08:47:30 PST
This is very sad. Tim reached out to me with curiosity and grace on technical questions regularly. He was so quick on the uptake and so careful to get things right. I always enjoyed collaborating with him and will miss his phone calls and chats.

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 08:48:06 PST
Tim was a great wine writer and a great mentor to me and many other people in the wine industry. For that reason, I raise a glass to his amazing accomplishments as a true lover of wine and a friend who will be dearly missed.

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 12:20:07 PST
What a huge loss to the wine industry as well as humanity. I will never forget reporting on a talk at ASEV in Monterrey. Tim was sitting at a seat I wanted, which was front and centre. I asked him, "Tim, you're sitting where I wanted to sit. Where am I going to sit now?" Without missing a beat, he responded, "Outside." His quick and dry sense of humour was as signature as his elegant hats. His book, Home Winemaking for Dummies is gold in the cellar to pro and home winemaker alike. At least he left behind wonderful material to read and re-read time and time again. Rest in peace, Tim. You will always be an industry hero to me.
Kerry Kirkham

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 12:35:43 PST
I am so sorry to read this. I enjoyed reading his columns not only because of the wealth of information but also because of his incomparable sense of humor and his gift to put it in delightful words.

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 12:51:37 PST
Wow, sad news. I just read his most recent article in the May 2014 issue of W&V. In fact, his column was always my favorite in the magazine over the years. My condolences to his family.

Posted on 05.20.2014 - 13:35:45 PST
Tim was an absolute delight! I will miss him. Sending loving thoughts to Nancy. Barbara Drady

Posted on 06.02.2014 - 10:52:22 PST
Goodbye Tim, it was my pleasure to have known you. You will continue to be an asset to anyone who has ever read your column.
Jim Wallace
Paulden, AZ USA