Brother Timothy, a California Wine Pioneer, Dies at 94

The Christian Brothers winemaker's career spanned more than 50 years
Dec 1, 2004

Brother Timothy began making wines for the Christian Brothers Winery in 1935.
Brother Timothy, a pioneering winemaker for the Christian Brothers Winery and a longtime fixture on the Napa Valley wine scene, died on Tuesday, Nov. 30, in Napa. He was 94.

Born Anthony George Diener in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1910, Brother Timothy began his winemaking career in 1935 with the Christian Brothers and was associated with the winery, once one of California's leaders, until his retirement in 1989. For millions of Americans, Brother Timothy's smiling face became well-known through a series of advertisements.

Known for his kindness, sense of humor, quick wit and warm grin, Brother Timothy was a peer of many of the winemakers who were instrumental in reviving the California wine industry after the repeal of Prohibition. Among his contemporaries were Ernest Gallo, Robert and Peter Mondavi, Joe Heitz, Louis P. and Louis M. Martini and André Tchelistcheff.

Brother Timothy was a science teacher for the Christian Brothers order when he was asked at age 25 to join the winery's Mont La Salle operation on Mount Veeder in Napa Valley. (The facility is now home to The Hess Collection.)

Known for its brandy and table wines, Christian Brothers was one of America's top-selling brands for decades; the revenues went to support the order's educational facilities. Then in 1989 the winery was bought by Heublein, which sold its Napa Valley holdings, including the historic Greystone Cellars north of St. Helena--now the West Coast home of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Christian Brothers is now an inexpensive wine brand made in the city of Madera in California's San Joaquin Valley.

Last year, members of the wine industry paid tribute to Brother Timothy at an event held at the CIA. It was a homecoming of sorts for Brother Timothy, who for decades made wine in that classic stone building when it was Christian Brothers Winery at Greystone Cellars. His remarkable collection of hundreds of corkscrews is on display at the CIA.

The event marked Brother Timothy's 75th year as a Christian Brother, an order devoted to the education of the young and impoverished. Many of the architects of the modern California wine industry were on hand, including Gallo, Robert and Peter Mondavi, Joseph Phelps and Bernard Portet.

"We were fighting the good fight for wine when there weren't too many soldiers around," Robert Mondavi said at the event.

For many in the Napa Valley wine industry, Brother Timothy's influence went well beyond wine. "My memories of Brother Tim are centered on his ecclesiastic leadership of the vintners' club," Phelps said, dampness in his eye. "He gave us our prayer before lunch, and it was always wonderful to hear."

Gallo recalled that he first met Brother Timothy in 1947. "I hold Brother Tim in the highest regard, and I hope he doesn't object," Gallo said, drawing a laugh from the guests. "I call him my friend."

When it was finally Brother Timothy's chance to speak that night, he told the crowd: "I enjoyed those days and the lasting friendships I made over a glass of wine." He had little more to say about himself and spoke instead about the spiritual and charity work of the Christian Brothers.

A funeral mass is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 4, at 10 a.m. at St. Apollinaris Catholic Church in Napa, 3700 Lassen St. The burial will be in the Christian Brothers' cemetery at Mont La Salle, followed by a reception for family and friends.

--James Laube and Tim Fish

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