Longtime Alexander Valley vintner and journalist Dick Hafner dies at 96

After a career in journalism, Hafner became a spokesman for his alma mater, UC Berkeley, before buying 100 acres in his 60s and committing to the life of a farmer, a role he embraced to his dying day.|

Newspaperman and longtime Alexander Valley vintner Dick Hafner wrote some extraordinary stories. Then there’s the one he lived.

Hafner, who died Nov. 17 at age 96, was a child of the Great Depression whose parents sought greater opportunity when they brought him and his sister to California from Missouri in 1933. Hafner studied journalism at UC Berkeley, and, as an adventurous young man, filed news reports from exotic lands that included Indonesia, where he helped start the country’s first English-language newspaper.

He wrote editorials for the Oakland Tribune and was a senior editor of the Hayward Daily Review before he made a change and became a special assistant to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. In 1961, he went to work for UC Berkeley as its public affairs officer — just as the university was headed for a historic run of protests and agitation over issues that included the free speech movement, the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, revolutions in Central America, People’s Park, South African apartheid and civil rights.

Hafner was fully engaged in his work but imagining a more peaceful and pastoral future when, in 1967, he and his wife, the former Mary Hagar of Berkeley, purchased a 100-acre Alexander Valley ranch planted with prunes, pears and a patch of wine grapes. For about 20 years, the Hafners devoted what time they could to the ranch while living still in Berkeley.

“By 1974,” Dick Hafner once wrote, “the one hundred acres were planted with premium wine grapevines.

“That put us on the farming calendar: Raise the grapes. Endure weather and battle bugs. Sell the grapes. Survive slumping grape prices. Deliver the grapes to wineries. Pay the banker.”

The grape-growing operation grew into a robust family winery. The Hafners’ eldest son, Parke, trained to become the winemaker and played a major role in the creation of the Hafner Vineyard winery, which completed its first crush in 1982.

Several years later, Dick Hafner retired from Cal, and he and Mary relocated to Alexander Valley. Then in their 60s, they eagerly became full-time rancher-vintners.

Their winery focused on making estate-grown cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, rosé and a malbec blend, and selling the wines not in retail stores but directly to patrons and restaurants.

Mary Hafner was integral to Hafner Vineyard until her death in 2017. Younger son Scott said that as his father aged, the retired journalist and university officer applied joyful resolve to the goal of “working to the end of his life, which is what farmers do.”

The last day of Dick Hafner’s life began routinely, then he fell unconscious at his home. Both son Parke, the winemaker, and Scott, who directs the winery’s marketing, were with him. They came to greet the realization that, 20 days short of his 97th birthday, their father had died with his boots on.

Richard P. Hafner Jr. was born Dec. 7, 1925, in St. Louis. His parents, Richard P. Hafner Sr. and Frances Wilson, operated a lumber yard. It burned down, and suddenly the couple and their children, Dick and Frances, had no source of income.

Dick Hafner was 8 when the family packed up and left for Southern California, where one of his grandfathers lived. Richard Hafner Sr. went to work for the John Deere tractor company.

The day Dick Hafner turned 16 — Dec. 7, 1941 — Imperial Japan launched the surprise attack on U.S. ships and installations at Pearl Harbor that drew America into World War II. The following year, Hafner’s father went to war to command the John Deere Ordnance Battalion in England and Belgium.

Frances Hafner returned to St. Louis with her two children. Dick Hafner graduated from high school there in 1944 and was promptly drafted into the Army. He served stateside through the end of the war, then he and his entire family went back to California.

Hafner enrolled at Cal Berkeley and earned both an undergraduate and master’s degree in journalism. His career began dramatically: he boarded a freighter bound for Indonesia, and along the way filed freelance stories from the Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore.

In the fall of 1953, when he was nearly 28, he was invited to attend a dinner party in Berkeley, and to share tales of his adventure to Indonesia. The guests heard also from a second beneficiary of a Cal education, Mary Hagar. She was one of several students who had stories to tell from the goodwill trip they took to the newly independent countries of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Dick and Mary hit it off at that dinner party. They married on April 24, 1954, and would be a most dynamic, fascinating and endearing duo for the next 63 years. They gave birth to two sons and two daughters.

Dick Hafner’s background as a reporter and editor was invaluable when he became the spokesman for UC Berkeley. He served as a link between the university and the news media and community through the tumultuous and sometimes violent era that burst open with the “Bodies Upon the Gears” speech that Mario Savio delivered on the steps to Cal’s Sproul Hall on Dec. 2, 1964.

Over time, Hafner was given responsibility for oversight of major public events at the university, events that included visits to the campus by leaders of France, Germany, Italy, India and Nepal, as well as the Dalai Lama.

In July of 1967, Dick and Mary and their children were celebrating Independence Day at the home of friends on Clear Lake. Dick would write, “We had just been beaten at horseshoes when I joked to my partner, who sold farms, “If you ever have a ranch for sale in wine country …”

Not long later, that friend phoned to share details of a rural property for sale in northeastern Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley. Hafner wrote, “We’d never been there, but two weeks later we visited the one hundred acre farm of prunes, pears and Zinfandel grapes.”

With the subsequent land purchase, Hafner Vineyard was born. More than 50 years later, Dick Hafner wrote in a statement posted on the winery’s website, “Many have written eloquently of the deep feeling that comes from working with the earth. We can attest to that.”

Hafner is survived by sons Parke Hafner of Alexander Valley and Scott Hafner of Santa Rosa; daughters Julianne Farrell of South Berwick, Maine, and Betsy Hafner of Washington, D.C., sister Frances Emery of Visalia, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Hafner’s family suggests memorial donations to Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County, 1201 Piner Road, Suite 500, Santa Rosa 95403, and to Sonoma Land Trust, 822 Fifth St. Santa Rosa 95401.

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