Event,Obituary,Vineyards,Viticulture,Wine,Wine Business,Winery

Napa Valley Wine Icon Aldo Biale Passes Away

Born: October 24, 1929

It’s with great sadness that I’ve just learned that Aldo Biale has just passed away ~ Saturday, December 12, 2009 ~ in his home after a short illness.

My friend and passionate Petite Sirah producer, Aldo has been at every Petite Sirah event, since I started working with the variety in 2002. Our events just won’t be the same without his smiling, happy face, gentle style, and always that mischievous twinkle behind his knowing eyes. The wine industry has lost one of its quiet icons; an icon, never-the-less.

Another of my Robert Biale friends, proprietor and marketing director Dave Pramuk wrote the following to me. Dave and Robert Biale grew up together in Napa, and with Bob’s father founded Robert Biale Vineyards. The following came from Dave’s sister MaryAnne, who lives in Santa Rosa, and is a testament for how his family regards Aldo Biale:

“He carried through with a true pioneer spirit growing grapes in the Napa Valley, which lead to the creation of your great winery.”

Aldo was a true gentleman, with lots of Napa Valley history. A wonderful story about him on the Robert Biale Website demonstrates his cleverness, and is a tribute to a great vintner who knew a good thing when he had it in the old days…

In the 1940’s when Aldo Biale was a young man, he and his mother, Christina, operated in Napa what was essentially a relocated Italian farm. Walnuts, prunes, vegetables, fruit, white leghorn chickens and eggs, and of course, Zinfandel grapes that had been planted by Aldo’s late father, Pietro Biale, were the basic products emanating from the fields along El Centro Avenue. Out in the barn by the coops were hidden barrels of the homemade Zinfandel that Aldo had discovered was worth substantially more than grapes. Besides, Christina and the surrounding family enjoyed wine on a daily basis.

Orders for fresh eggs and produce regularly came in over the Biale’s party line telephone – the old multi-family shared system that was common out in the country in those days. So as not to have customers spill the beans to nosy neighbors that he had illicit Zinfandel for sale, Aldo instituted a code name for customers to use on the phone to protect his cover and order a jug of wine –“black chicken”. This discreet system for ordering eggs, produce and “black chickens” went on for decades.

Even Aldo’s newly arrived Italian spouse Clementina wasn’t sure why customers wanted black chickens. “You want the white ones – they are better,” the English-learner advised in her best phone sales pitch. “Just tell Aldo,” came the regulars’ replies. And what a deal – free delivery on Friday nights – Aldo in his blue 1940 Studebaker.

Black Chicken went legit’ in 1999 when we bottled our first one from the vines out by the coops behind Aldo and Clementina’s home.

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10 Responses to “Napa Valley Wine Icon Aldo Biale Passes Away”

  1. Randy Watson says:

    He will be missed but not forgotten!


  2. Dave Pramuk says:

    Thanks to all for the numerous condolences and tributes coming in. I think this tribute from Michael Skurnik Wines in New York says it best:

    “His vision and perseverance helped shape not only the Napa Valley landscape for generations to come, but delivered Zinfandel from jug wine to its rightful place amongst the noble grapes.”

    Dave Pramuk

  3. Anthony says:

    Sorry to hear about your friend passing. The best thing people can do is continue his legacy with his passion for wine I think.

  4. Jo says:

    Randy, Dave, and Anthony. Thanks for sharing today.

    Dave, I know how deep your grief must be, since you and Aldo go back to the days when you and Bob Biale used to run through Aldo’s home.

  5. Monte says:

    I just happened to read the blog while I was waiting for my wife to arrive so I could start dinner. I pulled out a bottle of their Black Chicken that I picked up at the winery last year. It was nice to raise a glass in his honor tonight.

  6. Rod Dahlgren says:

    I met Aldo when I went to work for the City of Napa in the early 70’s. He was a City of Napa Water Department employee at the time. Aldo drove his 40 Studebaker to work every day for years.

    Since I am very involved in the special interest vehicle hobby, a few years ago Aldo asked me to restore the Studebaker for him.

    It was an honor to restore the car for him so that he could again enjoy the car.

    He will be missed by all that knew him. He leaves behind a great legacy.

  7. Jo says:

    Rod, you’re the one who restored his old Studebaker. How sweet… He just loved that car.

  8. Jo says:

    Monte, What a wonderful tribute for a very dear man.

  9. Lara says:

    I live in one of those homes off the Black Chicken vineyard, and for me, my dutch husband, and my 3 year old son, living close to that vineyard is a dream come true. We love the Biale wines and drink them often as we watch the seasons of the vineyard. We are grateful for Aldo and Robert’s commitment to that very special place, with its history and wonderful zinfandel, in spite of all the changes that have happened around it. We enjoyed meeting him at the winery, he never lost his passion. He will be missed!

  10. Michael Blasquez says:

    Aldo Biale was a true Napa Valley Legend. I first met Aldo just after moving to Napa. His son Robert, certainly the most gracious and genuine man I have yet to meet in Napa Valley, took after his father and looked up to him with distinct love and respect. Would that we all could have had such a wonderful, loving father. We will all miss Aldo.

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