Winemaking legend John Parducci, a champion of Mendocino County viticulture for the better part of eight decades, died Tuesday at his home east of Ukiah. He was 96.
Parducci, who traveled alone cross-country at the age of 14 to sell his family's grapes during Prohibition, was the first to put Mendocino County and, later, the Anderson Valley, on wine labels.
Family and friends described him as a skilled winemaker and great salesman who helped put his home county on the winemaking map.
"I would call him the godfather of Mendocino wine country," said Mendocino County Supervisor Carre Brown, a rancher and longtime friend of Parducci.
"He was a pioneer," said friend and Potter Valley rancher Janet Pauli, who once worked for Parducci.
Parducci essentially died of old age, family members said.
"He'd been in declining health the last couple of years," said his son, Bill Parducci.
In the 1990s, John Parducci lost a legal fight to regain control of the winery founded in 1932 by his father, Adolph. More recently, he continued to be involved with McNab Ridge Winery near Hopland, which he operated with his grandson, Richard Parducci, until just a few years ago.
Richard Parducci, McNab Ridge's winemaker, said his grandfather wound down work when his mobility took a turn for the worse. His back was worn out from working hard all his life, and he had trouble walking, his grandson said.
With assistance, he remained living in his home with his wife of nearly 77 years, Margarett Parducci.
The news of his death saddened those who knew him, but they agreed he'd led a long, rich and successful life.
"He achieved a great deal, had an extraordinary life," Bill Parducci said.
John Parducci was born Jan. 22, 1918, and lived his early years in Cloverdale. His career in the wine business began at a young age with him working alongside his three brothers in vineyards owned by their father.
In 1932, a 14-year-old John Parducci was making trips alone via train to New Jersey to sell his family's grapes during Prohibition. The grapes were sold for home use, which was allowed in those days, he told an interviewer for a UC Davis oral history project.
Before that, while living in Cloverdale with his wife's family, Adolph Parducci had made altar wine and also sold bootleg wine, "like everybody else," John Parducci told the interviewer.
Adolph Parducci bought land in Mendocino County in 1921 and moved his family there in about 1927, according to the oral history.
When it appeared Prohibition was about to end, the family hand-built the first large, commercial winery in Mendocino County, completing it in 1933, Richard Parducci said.
In 1964, John and his brother George bought out their father and other brothers and continued to expand the operation.
His superb winemaking abilities earned hundreds of awards and helped him become an industry leader both locally and around the state. For more than 30 years, Parducci judged at California's top wine events. He was once honored as "Winemaker of the Year" at the Los Angeles County Fair.
But it was his philosophy that good wine should be available to everyone that brought much of his success.
"He really believed in wine value, that wine should be affordable and on everyone's table," said Glenn McGourty, a viticulture adviser with UC Cooperative Extension.