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Theo Rosenbrand, Retired Napa Winemaker, Dies

Dutch immigrant started as cellar rat under André Tchelistcheff and retired as respected winemaker

Aaron Romano
Posted: August 2, 2013

Theo Rosenbrand, former winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard and Sterling Vineyards, died May 17, in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, at the age of 90.

Rosenbrand had no formal winemaking training when he and his wife, Paula, immigrated to the U.S. from Holland in 1954, settling in Napa Valley. His first job in America was making furniture, but he formed a relationship with vintner Joe Heitz, who got Rosenbrand a job at Beaulieu Vineyard. Rosenbrand rose from cellar rat to cellar master, working alongside famed winemaker André Tchelistcheff for nearly 20 years, eventually taking over as winemaker for Beaulieu after Tchelistcheff left in 1973.

Many remember Rosenbrand as an unsung hero in Napa Valley winemaking—he didn't receive a lot of acclaim, but was well-respected. “He was quiet and wasn't looking for any glory or fame,” said Rosenbrand's son Ron, vineyard manager for Spring Mountain Vineyard. "He worked really hard to make great wines." As cellar master, Rosenbrand was entrusted with the responsibility of doing all the mechanical things necessary to make the revered Beaulieu wines of that era. “He loved teaching people, he was extremely hardworking and he always gave 100 percent,” said Ron.

Bill Dyer, a former coworker of Rosenbrand's at Sterling Vineyards, called him “A no-nonsense guy who commanded the respect of his cellar crew.” Dyer fondly remembers lunching with Rosenbrand and hearing stories about his youth in Holland. Under the German occupation of Holland during World War II, Rosenbrand played a role in the distribution of food to his hometown of Sprang Capelle, making sure the townspeople were fed, even though he was supposed to be giving food to German soldiers.

He was eventually caught and put on a train bound for a German ammunitions factory where he would be put to work. Rosenbrand jumped off before the German border and went underground. He ending up working in the back of a post office for a resistance movement, listening to tapped German phone lines, at one point overhearing his own death warrant.

Rosenbrand took the winemaking position at Sterling Vineyard in 1979, then retired in 1986. His first wife passed away in 1996, and two years later, at the age of 75, he married Frieda Eggers, also of Holland. They lived at their ranch in St. Helena until 2011, when they decided to move back to the Netherlands. He is survived by Frieda, two sons and six grandchildren.

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