William Seavey, the founder of Napa's Seavey Vineyard near Howell Mountain, died Sept. 21 following a long illness. He was 86.
Seavey and his wife, Mary, purchased a 200-acre property in the foothills below Howell Mountain in 1979, replanting vineyards and converting an old, stone dairy barn into a winery. They made their first wine in 1990.
"Bill was an extremely bright soul who lived a life that was full of adventure—I admired that," said Philippe Melka, one of the region's best-known consulting enologists, who became winemaker in 1995 for Seavey and still consults there today. "During harvest, we were working side by side, as he loved the physical work that created their beloved wine."
Born in Los Angeles on Aug. 28, 1930, Seavey lived a multifaceted life before becoming a vintner, working as a lawyer, a college lecturer and serving as mayor of Coronado, Calif. At 49, he changed focus, buying the property near Howell Mountain.
Convinced that his land could yield impressive Bordeaux-style wines, Seavey educated himself in viticulture and enology and designed new vineyards and constructed additional winemaking space for the winery. He was heavily involved in harvest and winemaking decisions.
Seavey Vineyard was one of Napa Valley’s early success stories and is today a rarity throughout the valley—still completely family-owned and making wines exclusively from their 40 acres of estate vineyards. Over the past 26 vintages, Seavey’s Cabernets became noted for their exceptional ability to age.
"I remember so many fond moments spent in his company, constantly brainstorming about wine quality and the evolution of the wine industry for small family ventures," said Melka. "I will miss him terribly."
It was Seavey’s hope that the winery would remain family-owned long after he’s gone. He is survived by his five children—Dorie, Art, Will, Fred and Charley, all of whom are active in the daily operations of the winery, from farming to marketing—as well as four grandchildren.