John Duffy, engineer who became grape grower and developed Vintners Inn, dies

John Duffy, a nuclear engineer turned grape grower and hotelier who developed Vintners Inn, the home of famed restaurant John Ash & Co., died June 20 of an unexpected illness. He was 72.

"He was a brilliant, fascinating man," said his wife, Cindy Duffy of Santa Rosa. "He made a lot of contributions to Sonoma County."

Duffy moved to Santa Rosa in 1976 after retiring at age 35 from a career in nuclear engineering. He and his first wife, Francisca Van Lith, bought a 50-acre prune orchard on Barnes and River roads. The couple, who later divorced, tended the farm for a few years and Duffy became active in the Sonoma County Farm Bureau before replacing the fruit trees with grape vines.

In 1983, he built the 44-room Vintners Inn on the property. The upscale lodge nestled in vineyards later became home to John Ash & Co., a restaurant that helped pioneer Wine Country cuisine. Duffy sold the property in 2000.

Born Feb. 26, 1942, in New York City, Duffy graduated with an engineering degree from SUNY Martime College and later received master's degrees in both nuclear and mechanical engineering.

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