San Rafael, Calif.
Tim Patterson works in his garage winery, Subterranean Cellars, in Berkeley, Calif. Photo courtesy of Frances Dinkelspiel
— Tim Patterson, the author of Wines & Vines’
long-running Inquiring Winemaker column, died May 17, several weeks after undergoing surgery for a brain tumor. The witty and irrepressibly curious writer lived in Berkeley, Calif., and also was a regular contributor to WineMaker
magazine, author of Home Winemaking for Dummies
and co-author of Concannon: The First One Hundred and Twenty-five Years
Patterson’s approach as the Inquiring Winemaker columnist since 2003 was not to foist his own views about winemaking upon his readers, but to scout out perplexing issues in grape or wine production, and then reach out to professional winemakers and academics for their insights. He synthesized in his writing what these experts had learned about the topic. His current column in the May 2014 issue, “In Search of Grapevines and Terroir
” is a very good example of this approach.
Patterson was an easy person to spot at wine industry events, wearing his signature Panama hat and squinting through a special spyglass that helped him overcome severe vision impairment. Patterson’s eyesight didn’t stop him from collaring winemakers to probe them for information and cornering publication editors to pitch them story ideas. 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.
He took up amateur winemaking in 1997 and soon filled his garage with micro fermentations of dozens of grape varieties, enlisting friends and neighbors to help in the process and learn about winemaking. One of those helpers, Frances Dinkelspiel, wrote a feature article about Patterson
and the hobby that fueled his writing for BerkeleySide.com in 2012.
In the 2000s Patterson began a second career as a wine writer in earnest, after many years of working for Wells Fargo as a programmer and technical writer. His wife, Nancy Freeman, said they both worked at jobs they didn’t love for many years to support the equivalent of half-time jobs for causes they believed in.
“I broke away from my job first and became a freelance food writer,” Freeman said. “A couple years later he realized I was having a whole lot more fun than he was, and (he) left his job to become a freelance wine writer.”
Patterson’s articles appeared in Wines & Vines
and other books and periodicals including Wine Enthusiast
, Adventures in Wine
, the Livermore Independent
, Central Coast Adventures
, The Vine
and Opus Vino
, an international wine encyclopedia.
With veteran California winemaker and educator John Buechsenstein, Patterson had been compiling and editing a book about the science behind the concept of terroir
Born in 1946, Patterson earned a bachelor’s degree from Reed College in Portland, Ore., and a master’s degree from Stanford University. He worked toward a doctorate at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.