Millie Howie, a Sonoma County wine writing legend, quietly passes away

Mildred Carter ~ born on June 13, 1922 in San Francisco, passed away on Thursday, March 31, 2011 at a hospital in Millbrae, California. She was married to and divorced from Ken Howie…

Now, what am I to do about our annual holiday luncheon, when we shared our wine secrets and talked about our daughters… catching up with each other… I will have to celebrate in her honor each year. That’s one tradition that is going to be hard to lose.

She was my inspiration and my mentor. When I moved to wine country and I learned about Millie, she was writing for Wine County This Week at the time. I remember telling her, “I want to be like you some day,” and we became fast professional friends…  after her initial skepticism. After a few years of learning that our tenacity was pretty similar, I asked her to have lunch with me at John Ash Restaurant. That lunch started our annual holiday tradition. I’d bring her wine, and she’d bring things to me, like Marjorie Mosser’s Good Maine Food cookbook… All the recipes I had left behind, but she didn’t want me to forget my Maine roots or my mother’s pot roast, which I still cook on chilly winter days while thinking of Millie.

She shared with me that everything she’s written in her career is in the Sonoma County Wine Library, but what she never told me is that she was responsible for starting it. I didn’t realize that until I read her obituary this morning in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, a story written by Derek Moore:

In spearheading efforts to create a wine library, Howie had to get the cooperation of both winery owners and county library officials, who initially thought she was advocating for a place to stack bottles alongside books.

The wine library opened in 1988 inside the newly built Healdsburg Library, said Bo Simons, the library’s current branch manager.

“She was very charming and soft-spoken, but she made her points. You couldn’t just slough Millie off. She’d keep on it,” Simons said.

The library today offers about 5,000 books and 40,000 articles on the subjects of wine and viticulture, “all because Millie kept at it,” Simons said.

Millie Howie ~ A Trail Blazer

Millie Howie was not only a wine writer, but she was also a publicist. She initially did publicity for KGO radio in San Francisco.

We shared that parallel… both starting in radio. We both segued to wine country. How much more similar could we be?

Her wine career began in the 70s, at a time when such a career didn’t exist in Sonoma County’s wine business for men or women, she blazed that trail for us all.

  • Millie, who had her own public relations firm, moved to Alexander Valley in the early 1970s.
    • Geyser Peak Winery was a client.
    • Korbel and Foppiano were, too.
  • As noted above, Millie Howie started the Sonoma County Wine Library.
  • In the 1970s, Howie brought Sonoma County’s pastoral wine region into the national consciousness.
  • She convinced winery owners in the Russian River area to collaborate on a visitors map.
    • This gave birth to the Russian River Wine Road.
  • She was a wine judge. From The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Website:
    • Based in Sonoma California, Millie Howie is a highly respected West Coast wine writer and one of those magic characters who seems to know everyone in the wine industry. She began as a wine writer in the early 70’s and has followed the development of the West Coast wineries ever since. Millie was on the first and founding judging panel of the Cloverdale Citrus Fair along with Mike Lee, Richard Arrowood, Joe Vercelli, and John Parducci. She has only missed a couple of the judging competition’s of the Cloverdale Citrus Fair/San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition since the late 1970’s.
    • From Facebook: Mike Dunne thanking Jim Caudill for a link to Millie’s obit: for the link: Thanks, Jim. Millie was a quiet and gracious force whose affection for the California wine trade extended beyond Sonoma County. She was as interested in the Sierra foothills as she was Russian River Valley, and I believe it was as recent as 3 or 4 years ago that she still was making the pre-dawn drive to Angels Camp to judge wines for the Calaveras County Fair.

Millie was a very sweet woman, loved by all who knew her. She has written about so many Sonoma County wineries that I know many, many people are feeling the void that she is leaving and mourning her loss. She was such a treasure, and I’m already really missing her gentle laughter and her sense of grace. We’d have wonderful phone conversations. She never hesitated to call and ask questions for upcoming stories, and she’s always made me look good to my clients, because she delivered wonderful stories. What a treasure is lost to us all.

Rest in peace, dear friend…

No services will be held. The family has suggested donations to the Sonoma County Wine Library, or to the Defenders of Wildlife non-profit.

8 Responses to “Millie Howie, a Sonoma County wine writing legend, quietly passes away”

  1. Jo,

    Thank you for capturing the essense of Millie. She was such a Treasue and such a great person. I will miss her, but I am so honored to have known her and hopefully we can all carry ourselves more like Millie. She was genuine in every way.

    God Bless

  2. David Hance says:

    Millie was delightful. A kind and generous person. There was a sort of graciousness in the wine business when I first joined in, back in 1981. We were all excited about so many new things: new wineries, new ideas, new opportunities.

    I’ll miss Millie, and, and that gentler time in our industry which she represents for me.

  3. Millie was a lovely woman. She was very special. Sadly an era is ending.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Glenn, I agree with everything you’ve said.

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    David, Ah… the gentler time… well put. What a treasure we’ve lost.

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Richard, Sadly what she brought to the table was her own style and so admirable. What an inspiration.

  7. Bo Simons says:

    Millie was the first woman to be allowed to attend the Old Timers lunches. This informal gathering of prominent old wine men has been a monthly affair for decades. Robert Mondavi, Ernest and Julio Gallo, Brother Timothy, John DeLucca, Joe Ciatti, Bob Meyer, Joe Vercelli, and a whole lot more, all got together and ate lunch and swapped stories. Years ago, I got to go one time when Joe Vercelli hosted and they used the Healdsburg Library as a venue, and Joe’s daughter, Anne, cooked Oso Bucco. It is a measure of Millie’s professionalism and honor that these old piasans would let a journalist in their midst, much less a woman.

    Rollie Atkinson has written a nice obit that appears in today’s Healdsburg Tribune. It is front page, above the fold.

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    Wine industry loses local pioneer wine writer

    “It’s a safe bet that no one has ever written more “wine words” than columnist and industry publicist Millie Howie who died last week (April 5, 2011) at the age of 88.

    “It is also no exaggeration that Howie’s words put Sonoma County’s wine industry on the world map. In fact, she was the prime catalyst behind Sonoma County’s first wine map and the formation of the Russian River Wine Road.”

    And it goes on to list her many accomplishments, including your amazing library, Bo.

    Thanks for commenting. You did her proud!

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