Sean Thackrey, an autodidactic polymath who, in between gathering antiquarian books, operating a San Francisco artwork gallery and studying 5 languages, developed a cult following as one among California’s most intriguingly eccentric winemakers, died on Might 31 in Walnut Creek, Calif. He was 79.
His former spouse and longtime associate, Susan Thackrey, mentioned the dying, at a hospital, was from most cancers.
Mr. Thackrey didn’t imply to enter winemaking. The son of two Hollywood veterans, he had no coaching in viticulture — or any type of agriculture, for that matter — when in 1973 he settled in Bolinas, an remoted Bohemian burg on the Pacific Ocean, in southwestern Marin County.
Bolinas is only a few miles from San Francisco because the crow flies, however even right this moment it may possibly take hours to get there, partially as a result of locals have a behavior of stealing street indicators exhibiting the route from Freeway 1. Mr. Thackrey, who had soaked within the West Coast counterculture at Reed School, match proper in.
He began to enhance the property, together with including grape vines to a fence. On a lark, he made some wine from them, appreciated it, and determined to strive it once more. He purchased grapes from the esteemed Fay Winery, in Napa Valley, and launched his first wine, a cabernet/merlot mix he known as Aquila, in 1981. He named his vineyard Thackrey and Co.
Although he made a vanishingly small quantity of it, and by no means various thousand circumstances a 12 months, his wine was a right away hit among the many Bay Space’s enological cognoscenti. He quickly moved on from cabernet, working with varietals that have been then obscure, like merlot and syrah, or no varietals in any respect, mixing grapes and vintages to get the style he appreciated.
By the point he left his San Francisco artwork gallery to make wine full time in 1995, he had developed a world following, with virtually half his wines going to Europe and Japan. Fans fell in love along with his brawny, expressive releases, typically labeled “editions” — not “vintages,” since he would possibly cancel an annual launch if it didn’t meet his expectations — and named for constellations: Orion, Pleiades, Andromeda.
Even on the top of his recognition, Mr. Thackrey stored his operation small, even home. He by no means owned a winery, made a lot of his wine in his yard, and employed only a few assistants — all the higher, he insisted, to permit him to concentrate on his craft.
“Sean was of this cohort of winemakers of an earlier technology who I might say actually pushed the mental boundaries of the place California wine might go,” Jon Bonné, the creator of “The New California Wine” (2013), mentioned in a cellphone interview.
Mr. Thackrey was tired of developments, both setting or following them. He appreciated to say, “My solely goal in all the universe as a winemaker is to provide pleasure,” and he meant it. Not for him the standard knowledge and superior winery administration methods taught at faculties just like the College of California, Davis; winemaking, he insisted, was an idiosyncratic craft, extra like cooking or portray than farming or manufacturing.
“Does anybody ever a lot as counsel that the rest in gastronomy is a matter of crunched numbers, actual figures, onerous information and all the remainder of it? after all not,” he mentioned in a 1992 interview with Freedom of the Press, a publication about wine. “Artwork is about unreproducible outcomes.”
He was particularly opinionated about makes an attempt to categorize and elevate vineyards over winemaking — that’s to say, rising grapes over making wine. He known as terroir, or the concept that wine expresses the soil and local weather through which its grapes grew, a “self-serving piety” and even “viticultural racism,” and he thought-about appellations, legally outlined areas of wine manufacturing, to be a “gerrymandered advertising and marketing gimmick.”
For steerage he as a substitute turned to classical texts like “Work and Days,” a group of directions by the Greek poet Hesiod to his youthful brother about operating his property. Hesiod advisable letting newly picked grapes relaxation within the shade for as much as three days, and Mr. Thackrey adopted go well with — regardless that most enologists would shrink on the danger of bacterial an infection.
Over time these texts amassed at Mr. Thackrey’s Bolinas dwelling, finally numbering about 740 and starting from a sixth century A.D. receipt for vines, written on papyrus, to “The American Vine-Dresser’s Information,” printed in 1826. He offered the gathering in April for $2 million.
Mr. Thackrey was admired virtually as a lot for his nonchalant class as he was for his winemaking prowess.
Fast along with his wit and capable of sling quotations from classical poets and existentialist philosophers with ease, he wore his cult standing with lighthearted humor — actually: Many days he may very well be discovered working in denim bib overalls with the phrases “Well-known Winemaker” sewn into the chest in gold letters. In 2017 Esquire featured him in an article titled “A Century of Fashion.”
Although he eschewed the wine world’s obsession with varietals, Mr. Thackrey knew his method round a grape, and he was significantly taken with these dominant in France’s Rhone area, like syrah. However not like different California winemakers within the Eighties who tried to duplicate the area’s advanced wines — a unfastened alliance generally known as the Rhone Rangers — Mr. Thackrey used them merely as an fascinating base materials to make one thing sui generis.
“My wines are like an individual,” he advised The San Francisco Chronicle in 2004. “They speak, they modify, they let you know one thing totally different each sip. They style totally different from at some point to the subsequent, from one hour to the subsequent. That type of complexity is what makes wine fascinating.”
Sean Haley Thackrey was born on July 9, 1942, in Los Angeles. His father, Eugene Thackrey, was a journalist and playwright, and his mom, Winfrid Kay (Knudsen) Thackrey, was a script supervisor, among the many few girls to carry that job on the time. When she was 101, her son helped her write an autobiography, “Member of the Crew” (2001).
Sean’s easygoing attractiveness got here early: In junior highschool he got here in second within the metropolis in a contest, sponsored by a neighborhood dentist, to seek out the most effective smile in Los Angeles.
He studied artwork historical past at Reed School, in Oregon, and on the College of Vienna, however he didn’t graduate from both faculty. As a substitute he moved to San Francisco in 1962 to work for an educational guide writer.
Eight years later he opened his gallery along with his spouse, Susan Thackrey, and a buddy, Sally Robertson. They specialised in Nineteenth-century images at a time when the sector was simply starting to be taken critically by museums and collectors, and shortly they have been working with the world’s main artwork establishments.
He and Ms. Thackrey separated however remained in a relationship. She is his solely quick survivor.
Mr. Thackrey lived on and off in Bolinas earlier than settling there completely. In time his dwelling, set again from the ocean, grew to become a yogi’s mountaintop for artists, celebrities and passionate wine followers desirous to commune with the grasp. Until he was onerous at work, Mr. Thackrey would at all times invite them in for a drink.
“All I understand how to do is to make wines I like myself after which attempt to discover folks on the market who agree,” he advised the podcast Barfly, in an interview recorded in 2018 however launched after his dying. “And if we agree, then it’s actually easy.”