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Brother Timothy Diener, 94; Pioneering California Winemaker

December 05, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Brother Timothy Diener, a prominent and pioneering California vintner who was the winemaker for Christian Brothers for many years after the end of Prohibition, has died. He was 94.

Diener, who was born Anthony George Diener, died Tuesday at the Christian Brothers Mont La Salle novitiate in Napa, Calif.

He had retired in 1989 when the Brothers of the Christian Schools sold its wine- and brandy-making operation to the Heublein Fine Wine Group. Before that, Diener spent more than 50 years making wines, becoming an unlikely leader in shaping California's wine industry.

"He wasn't alone, but he certainly was one of the giants," said John De Luca, executive vice chairman of the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. "He was in the forefront of that whole renewal of reestablishing our image, reemerging from the extraordinary shadows of Prohibition."

Born in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1910, Diener began his career as a Christian Brother teaching high school chemistry in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1935, two years after the end of Prohibition, he became a wine chemist at Mont La Salle Vineyards in the Napa Valley.

"I guess it was because I was big and strong and young and all that," Diener told the Napa Valley Register shortly after his retirement.

Production was no more than 10,000 gallons per year, but with the help of German immigrant Alfred Fromm, sales of Christian Brothers wines grew.

The brothers take a vow of poverty, so profits went to schools on the West Coast and paid for a retreat house and summer camps.

De Luca said this commitment to education helped reestablish the wine industry in California after Prohibition.

"Right from the start, the Christian Brothers and Brother Timothy gave a moral tone and moral compass to this industry," De Luca said.

Diener was asked if he saw a conflict between making wine and belonging to a religious order. He didn't.

"I've always been aware of the danger of abuse of wine," he said in an interview. "I've always taken the attitude that everything one does should be in moderation. We should make judicious use of God's creatures and blessings.

"All I can say is that a little wine in moderation seems to have been good for me."

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