Tom Shelton, the former president of Joseph Phelps Vineyards, died on Saturday night after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 55.
"I have never met anyone, or known anyone, or had the great opportunity to work with someone that had such care not only for his family, but love of his community, and the winegrowing business," said former Phelps winemaker Craig Williams.
Shelton joined Phelps in 1992 as vice president of sales and was promoted to president in 1995, a position he held for 13 years. Both Shelton and Williams resigned this May after a drawn-out dispute over compensation that has yet to be resolved.
During his tenure at Phelps, Shelton directed the winery's focus on Napa Valley Cabernet and helped create Freestone, the company's Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay winery and brand.
As a representative of Phelps, Shelton was a spokesperson for the Napa Valley Vintners, which worked to protect Napa Valley's name from brand names with the word "Napa" in them that didn't use Napa grapes. He also campaigned for less restrictive direct-shipping laws, allowing more consumers to purchase wines directly from wineries.
"I have never met anyone who wasn't a fan of Tom's," said renowned Sonoma photographer Andy Katz. "He will be sorely missed."
The Shelton family released a statement on Monday. "Tom was a wonderful husband, a loving father, and a great friend who will be missed very much. We are all so blessed to be touched and inspired by such a caring and outgoing individual," it read.
Shelton was also known for his optimism. "Tom's glass was always half full to full," said Napa vintner Tor Kenward. "His spirit was a warrior's—on his racing bikes or on his conviction that Napa Valley was a special appellation to be defended and protected. He was a very big man, loved and respected. Tom was special, a great ambassador and man."
For more on Tom Shelton and to share your own memories, visit James Laube's blog, "Tom Shelton: A Classy Guy."