Tim Patterson, award-winning wine maker and wine writer

Tim Patterson holds up a glass of wine he has just pressed. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Tim Patterson held up a glass of wine he had just pressed in 2013. He died on May 17, 2014, Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Tim Patterson, who didn’t drink wine until he was 40 years old and then reinvented himself as an award-winning home winemaker and wine writer, died Friday May 17 of brain cancer. He was 68 years old.

Patterson had been a programmer and technical writer for Wells Fargo Bank when he decided to jettison his indoor life for one that would give him a second career tasting, swirling, and spitting wines. He was soon writing articles for magazines, including Wine EnthusiastWineMaker, and Diablo. He had written the Inquiring Winemaker column for Wines & Vines magazine since 2003. His editor, Jim Gordon, described Patterson as a “witty and irrepressibly curious writer.”

“As a writer he was an editor’s delight, applying a combination of liberal arts erudition with a high-level layman’s expertise in wine production and a relentless pursuit of wry humor to keep his articles light while firmly educational” wrote Gordon in an obituary of Patterson on Wines & Vines.

Patterson, who lived in Berkeley for almost 30 years, was also the author of Home Winemaking for Dummies and co-author of Concannon: The First One Hundred and Twenty-five Years. He was close to finishing a book for UC Press on terroir. The family intends to make sure the book is completed.

Patterson, who could often be seen wearing a white Panama hat or a colorful Aloha shirt, also mused about wine on his blog Blind Muscat. The title was a word play on Patterson’s love of the grape and the fact that his eyesight was so bad he often had to hold a special spyglass up to his eyes to read printed material.

Writing about wine, though satisfying, didn’t quell Patterson’s desires. In 1997, he decided to make his own wine, naming the center of his operations (his garage on Derby Street) Subterranean Cellars. He got grapes from vineyards in Sonoma County or through Oak Barrel Winecraft on San Pablo.

From the start there was nothing underground about Patterson’s wine. He was a born tinkerer, fascinated with gadgets. He instantly loved the technical aspect of making wine – blending different grapes, playing with yeast, aging wine in oak or glass.

“At first, it was just so amazing that I could make something drinkable in my garage, I wanted to do more,” Patterson said in 2012 in an interview with Berkeleyside. “But what keeps me going is that it gives me something to do, a major something I do well, that’s mainly based on my senses and my muscles, which is entirely different from all the talky thinky stuff I’ve always done for a living. There are a lot of physical hobbies and sports and such that just aren’t on my agenda, because of my eyesight [legally blind], but this one I can handle just fine.”

Every year, a group of friends helped Patterson make wine, either by driving to Sonoma or through the streets of Berkeley to collect grapes, pressing or crushing grapes, cleaning out barrels and carboys, or transferring wine into barrels. Patterson always rewarded their efforts with a few bottles of his wine.

Tim Patterson

Tim Patterson in Subterranean Cellars, the name he gave to his home garage where he made wine. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Patterson’s sense of humor came through with the whacky names he gave his wines. One vintage had names that were twists on classic European wines: Toscono Falso (false Chianti), Rioja Falsa, and Douro Fabricado (false Portuguese). In 2011, Patterson used theoretical physics as a theme, naming his wines the Uncertainty Principle (a two-grape white blend), Unified Field Theory (a zinfandel-based field blend), and Le Photon Rouge, a lighter-bodied Rhone blend.

His homemade wines won numerous state and regional awards.

Patterson’s palate was also well respected. He served as a judge for the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition numerous times. He also helped select fellows for The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley and attended as a respected guest many times.

Patterson was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in early February.

Patterson married Nancy Freeman in 1987. For years they had a business together called Culinary Communications & Consulting and wrote copy for corporate clients in the fields of wine and food.

Patterson is survived by Freeman, his stepson Diego Rocamora, and three grandchildren, Mateo 17, Ella 14, and Luca, who turns 6 next week. They called him Papa Tim.

Freeman said that no date has yet been set for a memorial, but it “will be a great big party, the only way he’d have it.”

Patterson was born in Los Angeles in 1946. He got a B.A. from Reed College in Oregon and a Master’s degree in history from Stanford in 1969. He also did some doctoral work on the history of country music at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

Feel free to share your messages of condolence and/or memories of Tim Patterson in the comments.

Berkeleyside is always honored to publish, at no cost, obituaries of members of the Berkeley community. Please email text and photo(s) to editors@berkeleyside.com.

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  • Joel Teller

    Tim was a lovely guy and a fine winemaker. He will be missed.

  • Craig Hendricks

    I was saddened to belatedly learn of Tim’s passing. An old friend from Stony Brook days, I recall with delight Tim’s passion for music and good conversation. Rest in peace.