Adele “Boots” Brounstein, co-founder of Diamond Creek Vineyards in 1968, died on July 31, 2019, after a brief illness. She was 92.
Brounstein mythologized the early work of her second husband, Al, with whom she moved from Los Angeles to the western hills of Napa Valley in 1967. Long before he began to suffer from Parkinson’s disease, complications from which would eventually take his life in 2006, Al Brounstein had grown fascinated with European wine. Soon after Boots and Al met, they founded their vineyard at Diamond Creek.
Al was tall, thin, gentle, thoughtful and stubborn. Boots was petite, effusive, tough and filled with joy. I got to know the two of them in the late 1980s, through Charles Rubinstein, a computer scientist at Bell Labs who wrote for Wine & Spirits at the time. Rubinstein was a good friend of the Brounsteins and an early collector of Diamond Creek Cabernet. He helped set up my first appointment at what became, for me, an oasis in California’s desert terroir.
Their estate amounted to four discreet vineyards, three running alongside a creek on Diamond Mountain, the fourth on the shore of the lake above, where Al had dammed the creek. It was not only possible to see the differences in the soils and the different exposures, but to taste them in the wines, which Al made in the most artisanal, low-tech methods, long before the birth of the natural wine movement.
While Al was alive, he would tell the story of how he spent time with vineyard workers in Bordeaux, trying to learn from them what enhanced the difference in expression from one place to the next. They told him that the vines were the crucial link, so he went to the proprietors of two first-growth vineyards and convinced them to give him cuttings, promising to never divulge their identities. Then he flew the cuttings to Mexico, and piloted them himself across the border in a small plane.
Boots saw the mythological power of this story and added to it with her own. She would interject how, when Al came in after a day of ripping soil at the south side of the creek, his clothes would be red. On the days he worked the north side of the creek, he would come in covered in white. Boots assayed the terroir though her studies of a vineyard-worker’s laundry. How much her own observations played into the decision, from the first vintage, to make and bottle wines from each of the sites separately will never be known, as she and Al both described this decision as his own, one she supported.
After Al’s death, Boots continued to run the estate with a determination to sustain his legacy, which was, in the end, the foundation myth of Napa Valley terroir expression that she had woven out of their lives together. Had the wines not, from the beginning, held the fascination of collectors—a cult wine before the term was popularized in the 1990s—such a myth would be a lovely family story to be passed down to her sons, Phil and Chuck, her stepson, Gary, and her seven grandchildren.
As it stands, the wines have aged with the same energy and grace as Boots did herself, and their reputation helped her in her efforts to raise money to combat the disease that took Al from her.
Last summer, when I stopped in the visit Boots on my annual pilgrimage to Diamond Creek—the winery has been one of our Top 100 Wineries of the Year 16 times—I was not writing up the winery profile for our annual Buying Guide; I had given that assignment to Karen Moneymaker, our associate editor in LA, who loves the Diamond Creek wines as much as I do. Boots wanted to show me the wines from the latest vintage, and I allowed that I had just tasted them at the magazine offices. Instead, we spent time talking on the balcony of the winery, overlooking the vines at Red Rock, across to the stark white Volcanic Hill, then she drove me in her golf cart to Gravelly Meadow to inspect the replanting work Phil Steinschriber was doing there—a new generation of vines propagated from the originals. “I do love this place,” she told me.
The Brounstein family has planned a private service for Boots in Los Angeles, and will schedule a public celebration of her life in Napa Valley.
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