Legendary Winemaking Brother Among Elite Group of Vintners

Robert Mondavi with Brother Timothy in 2001.

The late Brother Timothy Diener ’33, cellarmaster for the Christian Brothers winery for 52 years, was inducted in March into the inaugural class of the Vintners Hall of Fame at Greystone Cellars in Saint Helena, the Brothers’ former sparkling wine and aging cellars and now home of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Brother Timothy, who died in 2004, was one of six “founders” inducted, along with two “icons” and “pioneer” Robert Mondavi. Dick Maher, a former president of the Christian Brothers winery, which was sold to Heublein in 1989, accepted the award on Brother Timothy’s behalf. The Brothers asked Brother Timothy to work as a winemaker at Mont La Salle in 1934, and he became a beloved member of the California wine community and a public face for the Christian Brothers winery in advertising campaigns, even appearing once on “What’s My Line?” The CIA plaque calls Brother Timothy “instrumental in reviving the wine industry in Napa Valley after Prohibition and in advocating technological advances that brought California winemaking into the modern era.” It also notes that Brother Timothy, long considered the spiritual leader of the wine community, was “known for his kindness, wit and uncanny ability to assess wine, all of which made him one of the most beloved architects of 20th century winemaking in California.” Brother Timothy also had a collection of 1,100 corkscrews, which is now housed at Greystone. Other founders inducted were Charles Krug, who first planted grape vines in California in 1858; Andre Tchelistcheff, dubbed dean of California winemakers while he was making legendary wines for Beaulieu Vineyards; Gustave Niebaum, who produced the first estate-bottled and Bordeaux-style wines in California; Georges de Latour, who founded Beaulieu and imported French wines grafted onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock, and Agoston Haraszthy, who planted some of California’s first European varietals in 1857 at his Buena Vista property and laid the groundwork for the California wine industry. The two icons inducted were Maynard Amerine, who helped make the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis one of the most respected in the world, and Harold Olmo, another UC Davis enologist who helped create the modern wine industry. The inductees and the wine community probably agree with Brother Timothy, who, when asked to connect his vocation to his life work, quoted Benjamin Franklin: “Wine is a constant reminder that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”