Jim Caudill always wanted to be a journalist. He followed his dreams and was a newspaper reporter, photographer and a wine journalist. But Caudill's path veered him into a three-decade career in public relations and marketing, which included stints at Jackson Family Wines, The Hess Collection and, most recently, Treasury Wine Estates. Caudill died Dec. 4. He was 69.
"He was one of a kind, and so generous,” Caudill's widow, Char Banach, told Wine Spectator. “If he had a penny to his name, he'd give you $100."
Jesse Katz of wineries Aperture and Devil Proof can attest to Caudill's generosity. The two met in 2010 when Katz was the winemaker for Lancaster in Alexander Valley, and Caudill was hired for a marketing gig. Katz recalled being young and broke and Caudill offering his services in exchange for wine, rather than money.
“The early success of my wines is largely due to his efforts and friendship,” said Katz, noting that Caudill helped catapult his brands through his seemingly endless network of friendships and acquaintances. “His best skillset was his ability to build relationships and connect people. He was a unique character who bonded people and lifted everyone up.”
Born in 1950 in Detroit, Caudill lost both of his parents by the time he was 14. His father died from a heart attack, and his mother in a car accident. "Because he grew up an orphan, he didn't expect anything from anyone, and that made him appreciate kindness more," said Banach.
Caudill sold shoes and worked on a sod farm to make money. He obtained student loans to attend Western Michigan University and later Wayne State University, where he received a bachelor's degree in journalism.
He later moved from Detroit to San Francisco while working with Carl Byoir PR, working on campaigns such as the dancing California Raisins and The Incredible Edible Egg. Jess Jackson gave Caudill his first full-time wine job at Kendall-Jackson, where he spent six years as the vice president of public relations.
Caudill later moved on to Brown-Forman, and then The Hess Collection. For the past three years, he was the director of marketing communications at Treasury Wine Estates, where he managed public relations for Beringer, Château St. Jean, Sterling Vineyards, Etude, Provenance Vineyards and others. He also operated his own marketing and communications company.
Outside of work, Caudill loved music, horses and wine. Many friends and colleagues remember him for his big, warm smile and infectious laugh. He is survived by Banach, three daughters from his first marriage and three grandchildren. A Go Fund Me account has been established to fund his memorial and aid his wife in preserving their Sonoma home and farm.
With reporting by MaryAnn Worobiec