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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
2 Oct 2016

Bad news travels fast. I woke this morning to an email from Napa Valley vintner Gregory Rodeno telling me that his ex classmate Bruce Cass had been found at home by the local sheriff, having succumbed to a fatal stroke or heart attack. 

I knew Bruce best when we worked together on The Oxford Companion to the Wines of North America, a multi-authored book published in 2000 and a project he threw himself into - but only with myriad complaints about the archaic nature of print and repeated (and ignored) suggestions for an online version. He was way ahead of his time in so many ways. Dangerously so as the world never quite caught up with him and he was therefore never as well rewarded and recognised as he deserved to be. 

A big, gruff man, he was known chiefly for his wine courses in the Bay Area and was a member of the Society of Wine Educators. When I last heard from him he had left San Francisco to live in the Sierra Foothills, a wine region he had long championed. I knew him best when he had a large, slightly neglected apartment just south of Mission (it must be worth a fortune today). All of us contributors to the North American book were gathered there by Bruce in 1999 to discuss wine and show examples from all over the continent. It was typical of him to insist on this collegiate approach. He always had ideas of how to change the world for the better. 

He went to La Serna High School and then to Stanford where he met Greg Rodeno (whose wife Michaela, ex Domaine Chandon, ran St Supéry in Napa Valley for the French company Skalli for many years). 

Greg writes: 'I knew Bruce from university, and mostly through football and rugby. An immediate and enduring friendship. We were involved in many conversations, including a scheme to outwit the three-tier system. Nothing came of it. That was OK. Bruce moved on quickly. At one point, I connected him to a Napa friend who holds a Scottish baronetcy. "Bloody baronet", he said. "My Scots grandmother would have been embarrassed!" Always a story. Always a good laugh. Twenty years ago now, I was in my office hard at work. The phone rang; I answered. "Bruce Cass here. Rodeno, I am in Buenos Aires. And you're not!!" Click. That put a grin on my face that lasted for days.'

A high point for Bruce was working with Australian wine writer James Halliday on his Wine Atlas of California published in 1993. He had boundless admiration for James and the feeling was mutual. 

I'm sad that the world wasn't quite ready for Bruce.

Marco Capobianco adds Saddened to learn this morning that my friend Bruce Cass is no longer with us. Our wine bond goes way back further than my launch of Sostevinobile. Initially we were acquainted through playing squash and some epic matches throughout the 1990s. In many ways, Bruce was like the human version of the scientific proof why bumblebees cannot fly. The massive frame of his torso attested to his football/rugby prowess, yet he had long, spindly legs that looked like they belonged on an anorexic's body. In short, he looked like oughtn't to have been able to move - and certainly not with any semblance of alacrity - but, boy, would you have been mistaken if you made that assumption! His was a most ungainly presence on the court, yet more often than not he would triumph in our matches. Convincingly. Emphatically. Addio, mio amico.