RIP: Al Rago

Just got this morning an e-mail from Ginnie Rago that Al Rago died recently from brain cancer.

Al was the farmer who planted the Que Syrah Vnyd out at the end of Taylor Ridge Rd to the West of Occidental. It was one of, if not the, coldest Syrah vnyds in Calif. Originally, the wines from this Syrah vnyd was made by Ehren Jordan at Neyers/Failla. Eventually, Al quit selling his grapes to Ehren and Kurt Beitler/Boheme started making the wine at the Caymus Wnry in St.Helena. Those early Que Syrah Syrahs were some of the greatest cold-climate Syrahs ever made in Calif. Eventually, Al dropped sales to Kurt and then sold his grapes to Arnot-Roberts. Their style of winemaking was not a very good fit for the grapes Al was growing & lacked the richness & lushness those grapes could deliver.
I first met Al years & years ago, in the Nuclear arena. The Summer of '66, I worked in the Reactor Physics group of Charlie Kelber (who went on to head the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) at Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago. Every day, we’d walk over to the ANL cafeteria, just the 6 of us, for lunch. Al was always part of that group. Al wrote a code called “ELMO” that was used throughout the World for Reactor Pin calculations, a code I often used at ANL. I took a great liking to Al, who was very talkative, outgoing & gregarious. Everyone thought the World of Al & he was one of the most competent Reactor Physicists in Charlie’s group. Al eventually left ANL & went to work for IBM in PaloAlto/Chicago/Boston/PaloAlto.
It was some 25 yrs later that I reconnected with Al. It was at an early HdR event in the early '90’s & Ehren was there to show his Neyers (or Failla) Syrahs, which included a QueSyrah Syrah. He had brought along his grower, Al Rago. I recognized Al immediately and approached him & asked if he remembered me from his ANL days. Of course he did, but didn’t realize I was a figure in the wine world. He invited me to visit him & Virginia at QueSyrah. Which I did at least 2 times, staying in their guest cottage. They had purchased a beautiful home modeled on a Palladian villa in the Veneto of Italy. Al loved to cook (and drink wine), so we had several wonderful meals w/ Al & Gennie & other guests there at the QueSyrah estate.

Because of its remoteness, and their advancing age, they eventually sold the property to Nathan Roberts of Arnot-Roberts, who continues to farm QueSyrah, after a replanting due to phylloxera. They moved to a condo in Healdsburg. We had lunch together back around 2018, which was the last time I saw the two of them.

Al was one of my most special of friends in the wine (and Nuclear) World. He had the personality to attract (and make) friends wherever he went. And the stories he could tell even rivaled those of Susan. I will miss him dearly & my visits to Healdsburg will have a big hole in it. I’ll open an A-R Que Syrah (and a Boheme if I can lay my hands on it) this weekend to celebrate the life of a simple Chicago boy who went on to leave his huge mark in this World.


If anyone would like a copy of “The Story of Al” that Ginnie wrote up on Al’s life, please PM me & I’ll send it.


Surely you know, Tom- Al was very fond of you, too. He touched so many and left a fantastic mark on this world. May he rest in peace. :pray:


Tom: I just saw this today after hearing Ehren Jordan discuss it on his weekly video. Some of his first syrahs were from that vineyard. Bruce L. and I had dinner with Al at the famous Lotus of Siam in Vegas a few years back; only time I met him. Didn’t realize you knew him from the lab.

That was a wonderful writeup Tom. I’m sorry for your loss.