Barney Rhodes, a great wine connoisseur and owner of Bella Oaks Vineyard in Napa Valley, died today at age 88 after a brief illness. His wife, Belle, died last year.
Barney and Belle moved to Napa in the early 1960s and planted their first vineyard in Oakville, which later became known as Martha’s Vineyard, a Cabernet that became one of the most famous wines in America. It was made by the legendary winemaker Joe Heitz, a close friend of the Rhodes'.
The couple also invested in the 1960s in Heitz Cellar winery and, in the 1970s, they planted their second Cabernet vineyard in Rutherford, Bella Oaks, which was also bottled under the Heitz label.
The Rhodes were known for their love of food and wine and entertaining and were among those Napa residents who in the 1960s helped revive the wine industry that had been in an economic and artistic slump since Prohibition.
On a personal note, Barney was a kind friend who on many occasions shared great old California wines with me or allowed me to taste through his massive cellar, which topped 10,000 bottles and in its time and was a classic that had everything from great German Rieslings to Vintage Port to all the classics from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône.