Dry Creek Valley grape grower Tom Maple dies at 70

Friends are remembering Tom Maple, who owned Maple Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, for his passion and dedication to the art of growing.|

Dry Creek Valley grape grower Tom Maple came to Sonoma County 30 years ago looking for sunshine and found a half-acre patch of old zinfandel vines that grew into a passion and his legacy as an iconic nurturer of zinfandel grapes.

Maple died in his sleep May 14 at the Dry Creek Valley home he shared with his wife and Maple Vineyards partner, Tina, and their beloved dogs, Shorty, Maggee and Roy. He was 70.

Tom Maple died from heart problems that started in 1990, Tina Maple said. “The vineyard kept him alive, the vineyard, the dogs and me.”

Friends and business partners in the winery industry remembered him for his ultimate dedication to his vines - which included pruning on Christmas Day - and his dedication to the craft of traditional farming methods that resulted in a world-class vineyard.

“His passion carried over and affected not only the winemakers and owners and consumers; his passion got into the pores of our young professionals and our future. I think that’s a special gift that he had,” said Debra Mathy, owner of Dutcher Crossing Winery. “We lost one of the leaders in the grape-growing field.”

“He was like a brother to me, a mentor,” said Bruce Cousins, co-owner of Armida Winery. “He and Tina together have been so quality-driven and so hands on, they’ve propelled that vineyard, Maple Vineyards, into one of the tops.”

Tom Maple’s path to Sonoma County began in eastern Oregon in the small town of John Day where he was born and raised, the youngest of five. An accounting degree from the University of Portland landed him a job in San Francisco at the U.S .Federal Reserve Bank.

In the mid-1960s, there were five years in Australia working at odd jobs before he moved to Hawaii then San Francisco, where he worked as chief financial officer for international courier company DHL.

Tom Maple met Tina at DHL and their lives in the Bay Area soon changed dramatically.

“The summer of 1986 in the Bay Area was so cold, we’d go in any direction to find sun,” Tina Maple said. One day, driving north on Highway 101, the fog lifted as they passed through Healdsburg. Several trips later, they’d bought a home in Dry Creek Valley.

The property, at Dry Creek and Lytton Springs roads, came with a half-acre vineyard of 1940 zinfandel vines, which the couple planned to ignore.

But the vines grew right up to their porch and it didn’t take long, with the encouragement of knowledgeable neighbors, and they were smitten with the idea of farming. They soon acquired 13 adjacent acres and in 1990 they bought another neighboring ?13-acre plot.

Initially, Tom Maple still was working in San Francisco and coming home weekends. Then semi-retired, Tina Maple took viticulture and tractor-driving classes at Santa Rosa Junior College.

“We knew nothing. We plunged in,” she said.

They rehabilitated the old vines using traditional farming methods - dry farming with winter rains - and foregoing trellises. Friends talked of often seeing them each on their “his and her tractors” in different parts of the vineyard and how annually the couple pruned their 27 acres - all 15,000 vines - themselves.

With a desire to brand their rising reputation, Tom Maple moved into designating their fruit to particular wineries. For the past several years, Armida, Bella, Dutcher Crossing and Mazzocco wineries have featured a Maple Vineyard-designate wine.

As well as developing a love of the vines, Tom Maple also developed a deep love of dogs, encouraged by his wife, who came to their relationship as a package deal with her mutt, she said. In their 31 years together, including 27 years of marriage, they’ve adopted nine dogs, including six German shepherds.

To anyone wanting to remember her husband, Tina Maple said she tells them, “Drink zin and adopt a dog.”

As well as his wife, he is survived by his sisters Joan Hornecker of Klamath Falls, Ore., and Mary Farmer of Kansas City, Kan., and brothers James Maple of John Day, Ore., and John Maple of Papaikou, Hawaii.

At his request, there will be no services, but a celebration of Tom Maple’s life will be set for a later date.

Randi Rossmann

Bob Belden, ?jazz musician

NEW YORK - Bob Belden, a Grammy-winning jazz musician, composer, arranger and producer who was the first American musician to perform in Iran since its 1979 revolution when he toured there earlier this year, died Wednesday. He was 58.

Belden died at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan after suffering a heart attack in his apartment, his sister Elizabeth Belden Harmstone said. She described her brother as a pioneer and a “jazz musician true and true.”

In February, Belden and his group, Animation, went on a four-day tour of Iran, performing tunes by Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Belden’s own compositions.

Belden was known for conceiving and producing multi-artist thematic albums, including “Miles From India,” on which Indian and American musicians performed Miles Davis tunes, that received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 2009. He followed that up with “Miles Espanol” which matched alumni of Davis’ band such as Chick Corea and Ron Carter with Spanish musicians.

Considered one of the leading experts on Davis, Belden won three Grammys (Best Historical Album, Best Album Notes) for his work in the 1990s on boxed sets of the trumpeter’s work for Sony/Columbia.

A saxophonist, Belden mixed electronica influences and jazz on the Grammy-nominated albums, “Animation/Imagination” and “Re-Animation: LIVE!” with trumpeter Tim Hagans.

Belden, an adventurous arranger, also released a series of albums that turned the music of Puccini, Prince, Sting, Carole King and the Beatles into jazz.

One of his most popular releases was the 2001 Blue Note album “Black Dahlia,” an orchestral suite inspired by a notorious 1947 case involving the murder of a young actress.

Associated Press

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