When California vintners wanted know the history of their property or cellar, they often turned to William F. Heintz. A historian who lived most of his adult life in Sonoma, Heintz wrote two detailed books on Napa, Wine Country: A History of Napa Valley, The Early Years 1838-1920 and California’s Napa Valley, One Hundred Sixty Years of Winemaking. He died Feb. 10, one day after his 79th birthday.
As an old-school academic, Heintz studied the events that shaped California wine, particularly Napa Valley. Through his three decades of research and writings, Heintz made a great contribution to piecing together the people who started winemaking in Napa through its formative years from Prohibition to the 1970s and 1980s wine boom.
Heintz was known as a stickler for facts, and liked rummaging through old newspapers, magazines and reports that were pertinent to wine history. "Libraries are the life-blood of historians," he once wrote. He was regarded as a historical detective for his ability to search out and remember obscure details other researchers did not find. He wrote nearly 90 research reports and conducted hundreds of oral history interviews with people in the wine business.
Heintz uncovered the story of Josephine Tychson, the first known woman winemaker in Napa Valley. Tychson founded Tychson Cellars in 1886. The 2,500-square-foot winery was later demolished in 1889 and replaced by Freemark Abbey. Tychson’s residence, across the street from Freemark, was purchased by vintner Ann Colgin in 1996, who was interested in the history of the property. Today Colgin resides there, and Tychson Hill is one of her vineyard wines.
On another occasion, Heintz figured that had firemen used all the millions of gallons of wine stored in San Francisco to fight the famous fire after the 1906 earthquake, the fire might have been controlled and even extinguished by wine.
A native of Rudyard, Mt., Heintz began his college work toward a degree in journalism in Helena, Montana, but completed his bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University. At Sonoma State University, he attained his master’s degree in history and was soon taking on commissions to write histories for wineries all over California.
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