Diane Disney Miller, the oldest daughter of Walt Disney, who moved to Napa in the 1980s and cofounded Silverado Vineyards, died Nov. 19. Miller succumbed to injuries sustained in a fall at her home in Napa. She was 79.
Miller spent much of her life out of the limelight, choosing to become a vintner, but she retained her parents’ love of the arts. She was a benefactor for several music companies, including the San Francisco Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic. Along with her husband, she was a major contributor to Music in the Vineyards, an annual chamber music festival held in Napa, as well as other charities in the area.
“She has been a longtime supporter for the [field] workers in the valley,” said John Shafer, chairman of Shafer Vineyards, who knew Miller through her work with Clinic Ole. Miller made substantial contributions to the community health center, which provides care for low-income and uninsured migrants in Napa County. “She had a very strong feeling, a very passionate concern for the workers in the vineyards.”
The eldest of two daughters, Miller was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 18, 1933. The Los Angeles Times announced, “Mickey Mouse has a daughter.” While attending the University of Southern California, she met Ron Miller, who played football for the Trojans, and they married in 1954. Ron eventually left a career in pro football to work at Walt Disney Productions, where he held several positions, including a stint as chief executive, while Diane supported organizations such as the Music Center.
During that time, Diane traveled to Napa Valley with her mother, Lillian, to visit several wineries. The trip inspired Miller to start a vineyard, with the possibility of a winery. In 1976, the family purchased a large property along the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap District. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and started making wine in 1981. The early wines were consistently outstanding, with their Limited Reserve Cabernet occasionally rating classic on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale.
In the 1980s, the couple moved to Napa and built a home on their Silverado property. Miller took great pride in the winery and its estate vineyards, eventually shifting the winery to only using estate-grown grapes. “Because of Diane Miller, Silverado Vineyards is more than a business. It’s a home and it’s a family,” general manager Russ Weis said in a statement.
A devoted mother, Miller raised seven children. She continued to support the arts in her later years and is perhaps best known for her role in retaining Frank Gehry as the architect for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. In 2009 she cofounded the Walt Disney Family museum in San Francisco with her son, Walter Elias Disney Miller.
Miller is survived by her husband, seven children, 13 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.