RIP: DavidBruce/SCM Legend...

As MelKnox noted this morning, David Bruce recently died:

I did not follow DavidBruce from the very start. Was not into wine yet. But closer to the very start than most folks still alive.
He made his first wine in 1964 from Concord grapes from the famed CaleraVnyd. As was his wont, he gave it a ton of new Fr.oak. Almost nobody was able to identify it as Labrusca. Unfortunately, I never was able to taste that wine. He was a highly-regarded dermatologist in Cupertino and continued his practice clear into the '90’s.

But he planted his vnyd up on BearCreekRd high in the SCM. To Cab/PinotNoir/Chard/Riesling. And started making wines from them in the mid-'60’s. I first discovered them up at Boulder’s LiquorMart in the early '70’s. The wines from the late '60’s were still plentifal at LM in those days. As was his wont, they were loaded w/ a ton of new Fr.oak. His aim was to replicate Burgundy in the SCM and he felt he could best do this by using Fr. Burgundy oak.
He, along with Ridge, made the first White Zin in the mid '60’s. He, along with Ridge, made the first Sweet LateHrvst Zin Essence in that same time frame ('68 I believe).

In the '69-'70-'71 vintages, he made a bunch late hrvst/highly-extracted Zins/PetiteSirahs/Carignanes/Grenaches from MaryCarter’s OV vnyd down in SanBenitoCnty. They were monumental wines, with high-alcohols pushing 18%.
The SanDiego wine writer, JohnBrennan (who still owes me $15 for a pre-release copy of his last book of TN’s), who published for 4-5 yrs a very comprehensive book of TN’s on Calif wines. He predicted these wine would age out to 2040. Like most wine experts, he was dead wrong. By the early '90’s, when I tasted thru them w/ David in SantaFe, most of them were already pretty shaky and turning into alcoholic stewed fruit messes.

David used to hold tastings every Sun afternoon, by reservation, in his home up above the wnry/vnyd on his Estate of his current releases. Blair & I attended one around the Fall of 1975. David could easily be provoked to dig down into his basement cellar & pull out a few of his library wines.
In the '73 vintage, he made a LateHrvst Chard from his Estate grapes that was around 16% alcohol. A first in Calif. Again, loaded w/ a ton of new Fr.oak. It was a monumental wine that went out almost 20 yrs.

His Estate WhiteRiesling was absolutely amazing. Again, an alcohol well North of 15%. And a ton of new Fr.oak. Riesling lovers went apoplectic over this bizarre rendition of Riesling and heaped it with scorn…as Riesling lovers are wont to do if it doesn’t taste German. They were idiots. The wines went out easily 20 yrs and evolved into a very accurate expression of old German Auslese, with greatly diminished oak.
His Estate Cabs were likewise amazing…and with…yep…you guessed it…a ton of new Fr.oak. Very structured, I thought they rivaled the MtEden and Ridge MB Cabs.

In '77, he made his first GWT from Mendocino grapes. No oak to speak of, totally dry, fairly ripe, it was one of the best Calif GWTs I recall from that era and rivaled those VendageTardives of Alsace. This was afore Zind-Humbrecht. Subsequent vintages he hit it with…yep…a ton of new Fr.oak. They, too, aged into amazing wines.
David continued to make strong wines well into the early 2000’s. Then, as he started buying more grapes, and expanding production, the quality started to slip. They started showing up in BevMore & TraderJoe’s. At much cheaper prices.
At some point, David & his wife divorced. A few yrs later, he remarried to a lady who had a pair of assets to which he was attracted. She was far more interested in her poodles than the wnry…or David. My impression was that she pretty much raped the assets of the wnry and ran it into the ground. Around this time, David developed Alzeheimer’s and was pretty much powerless to do anything against this powerful bulldozer of a wife.

I last saw David some 5-6-7 yrs ago when I by happenchance stopped by the wnry. They were closed, but doing a tasting of his wines w/ his growers of PasoRobles PetiteSirahs. He was, of course, delighted that I showed up and urged me to join them. It was clear that the Alzeheimer’s was compromising his grasp of reality. The wife sashayed into the tasting with her two assets and I was not the least bit impressed.
I’m not sure if Dimitri is still the winemaker there. Their WebSite no longer exists. But Dimitri was very good and struggling to hold this legendary wnry together.

Anyway, I was greatly saddened to hear today about David’s
death. He was a legend in his day. We lost a real pioneer & I lost a very dear friend.


We were give one of his wines as a gift around 25 years ago . It was our first foray with a bottle of “real” wine.
He was a true trendsetter. RIP.

And Tom thanks as always for your brilliant posts .

California loses a legend. RIP David.

Hey, Bruce…I’m a LosAlamos guy…we make stuff up!!! [snort.gif]
See if anybody picks up on the Calera reference…prolly not!

Wonderful remembrance of a remarkable man

RIP to a real legend. His Pinots were often hit-or-miss, but when they hit they were very good. I have a couple '96s (one regular, one reserve), I’ll pull one out soon to toast!

It seemed to me that the winery underwent various transitions. Until 1980 they were doing crazy things, like the late harvest chardonnay, then they were kinda normal during the 80s. Then the Loma Prieta earthquake struck a few miles down the road. The cellar was on the cover of the Spectator, barrels all over the ground.
The winemaker moved to Portugal after his girlfriend’s ex threatened to kill him. Was it Ken Foster who replaced him?? American oak…not good news for me. ThenDean DeKorth for a while.

Now it seems like the winery is a destination for people who drive into the hills on weekends.

It’s a different business model.

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Where did you hear about his death?? I can’t find anything on-line about it. But not at all unexpected.

This was in my inbox this AM Dr. David H. Bruce (May 25, 1931 - April 28, 2021)

We have lost a legend. At one of the Santa Cruz Mountains Vintners tasting a attendee commented on how buttery his chard was. David told her he “put the whole cube” into the wine. Always a gentleman and really loved to interact with interested wino’s. RIP

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No question that David Bruce was a legendary figure with regard to Santa Cruz Mountains wine. I must admit that I didn’t even realize he was still alive, as I’d lost interest in wines from his label over the years. I visited the tasting room on Bear Creek Road 2-3 times in the 1990s but I felt the wines were hit-and-miss, and I haven’t been back there since then. Still, as several here have noted in the posts above, some older David Bruce wines can be exceptional. RIP

*The Mary Carter place is on Redwood Retreat Road in the Santa Clara Valley. Parallel to Hecker Pass, but separated by a ridge line. The upper block is now called Under the Mountain and sourced exclusively by Bedrock. The lower block is Lion Oaks, sourced by Storrs.

Bruce was inspired by the Martin Ray Chards and emulated his winemaking on them for the first decade.

We did a big '70s era tasting of his wines 4 years ago and have tasted older wines of his over the years (I have a selection back to '68 and a friend was a buyer, along with her late husband, from very early on.) I’d say these don’t have the batting average or a lot of other producers whose very mature wines I’ve collected, but there’s also greater bottle variation. I’ve had fantastic and dead bottles of the same wine within a short time frame. One example being a WOTY purchased from winebid and a then completely dead bottle purchased on release and perfectly stored.

I’ve heard from a few different former employees who worked there during the early 2nd wife era. I remember good wines that sold well and had good distribution disappearing. Apparently, she was indifferent to the successful business model and nixed wines she didn’t like.

My benchmark for RRV PN is '90s era DB. Apparently you got a better rating from certain critics making terrible, unbalanced, disgusting cola wines rather than lighter, joyful, pretty ones.

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Early into our wine explorations, we would go out of our way to make it to trade tastings or in-store events. David stoked our enthusiasm with his willingness to chat us up. He spent at least 45 minutes at Strohecker’s (a grocery store/institution in its day) talking at length about his experiences and the wines while he kept pouring for passers-by. He knew that a couple of 23-year-olds weren’t likely to be buying up a bunch of wine but we were interested and he got that. I bought two bottles of '92 Reserve pinot that day circa 1996 or 1997 and drank the second one in 2010. It was still going strong.

Thanks for sharing the memories here.


I didn’t know they were still making wines, always sad when a founder and trailblazer dies.
When I started buying wines in the mid 90’s his wines (at $8-9?) helped me explore some less common varietals. I thought I was living the life when I splurged on his Petite Sirah instead of Bogle’s Petite at $4. Those were the days! Haven’t had one of his wines in 15 years.


I think this was probably the first bottle of Pinot Noir that helped me realize I like Pinot Noir.

RIP and I’m sorry you lost your friend. Sounded like a delightful guy.

RIP - Cut my teeth on Bruce’s old Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. His 1980 & '81 Pinot Noirs still stand out as some of the finest California Pinot Noirs I have ever tasted.

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It is a shame and RIP David. A gentleman and kind man who always had a story to tell.

I was able to have a few glasses with him of some of his older stuff at the winery, though even his own stash was hit and miss. Today there is simply nothing left of the winery, and the 27 acres that he bought up in Sebastopol was sold off recently to try and stave off the banks. His legacy deserves better than the destruction inflicted by his second wife and sister-in-law.

I never met him, but bought his wine many times over the years. This is the last one I had. For me to give 91 points to a Pinot Noir, it must have been good!

  • 2001 David Bruce Pinot Noir Central Coast - USA, California, Central Coast (6/4/2020)
    Opened for the FKAFKALBTG virtual tasting. Decanted about an hour in advance. Not a huge amount of sediment, but enough to justify a careful decant. An extra hour of air would have been worthwhile, because it continued the blossom over the next ninety minutes. I removed the cork with a Durand, but there was only a tiny bit of wine infusion at may be the bottom 1 mm of the cork, and the Durand may not have been necessary. The color was excellent with no sign of bricking at first, and only perhaps a tiny bit of brick color noticeable at the end.

I probably got this bottle about seventeen years ago and, although I don’t remember the price, it was worth of the wait. Smooth palate with a mixture of bright cherry and dark cherry and a bit of spice something in the range of allspice. There was some classic California Pinot Funk on the nose, but not on the palate. The only thing that seemed slightly out of balance was the ABV. The label said 13.9%, but I noticed it on the palate, which is why I checked the label in the first place. Considering that 16%+ ABV from California is not a problem for me, this was a bit of surprise, but not really a big negative. I honestly don’t think this wine was finished reaching its peak and I wish I had another one to wait two or three years.

The label does not specify the vineyard, but does comment on the cold climate resulting from the winds coming in from the Monterey trench. It definitely had, at least for me, some of the characteristics of a cold climate Pinot, including the Funkyness and the spice (and balanced acidity) that was not overwhelmed by the fruit. (91 pts.)

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Ive got an old Petite Syrah I need to break out in his honor!