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William A. Seavey – In Memoriam

William Seavey, Napa Valley vineyardist, vintner, lawyer, and educator, passed away at his St. Helena home on September 21st surrounded by his children and the hills he loved.


Bill was born to Arthur and Dorothy Seavey in Los Angeles on August 28, 1930. As a young boy, he delivered newspapers on his bicycle to his LA neighborhood, and during World War II served as a neighborhood messenger, running from house to house to announce blackouts. In his youth, he developed a life-long passion for swimming in the Pacific Ocean and other cold bodies of water around the world.


He attended public high school in Coronado, CA, graduated from Princeton University in 1952, and then went on to Harvard Law School where he met his future wife, Mary van Beuren, a junior at Radcliffe College. An accomplished jazz pianist, he wooed Mary by playing Cole Porter in the living room of her college rooming house as he waited for her to descend for their dates. Marrying in 1955, their life together spanned 53 years before Mary’s death in 2008.


The first half of Bill’s life was dedicated to public service, the law, and education. After spending a year in Switzerland studying at the University of Geneva, the couple moved to Bill’s hometown of Coronado where he served as Councilman and then Mayor, and also Assistant U.S. Attorney. In 1965, he returned to Switzerland for two more years. There his family grew to five children and he completed a doctorate in international studies and climbed Mont Blanc. The family then relocated to Piedmont, CA where for seven years Bill was a lecturer in international law and economics, and Assistant to the President at Mills College.


Following Mills, Bill returned to the law once again practicing in San Francisco with an emphasis on international matters. He represented a number of French wine interests as well as an art forgery case involving Joan Miró and a French art gallery. He also served as a founding director and for many years Secretary of the French-American Chamber of Commerce, President of the Alliance Française, President of the English Speaking Union, and a long-time member of the board of directors of the French American International School.


One year before his 50th birthday, Bill and Mary decided to purchase a remarkable parcel of land at the base of Howell Mountain near Lake Hennessey, acreage rich in viticultural and winemaking history. They founded Seavey Vineyard in 1981, and the second half of their lives was devoted to stewarding this land. The couple set out to replant south-facing vineyard blocks first planted to grapes in the 1870s and then abandoned with Prohibition. They restored an 1881 stone barn as a winery and barrel-aging cellar, and in 1990 began making wine from their own estate-grown grapes.


Bill was convinced that excellent wines could be made from the property’s steep hillside fruit and he patiently persevered in producing an age-worthy Bordeaux-style Cab that has come to be held in high acclaim. He immersed himself in every detail of viticulture and winemaking with a hands-on approach, laying out new vineyard blocks, tending the vines, constructing a larger tank room and cave, making harvesting decisions, and directing blending. After a day’s work, he loved to close his days with a walk in the hills with the dogs, a dip in the pool, and family dinner accompanied by Seavey wine.


Suited up for a bike ride to Lake Hennessey or a jaunt on his ATV, Bill was a daily visitor to the tasting room until a couple years ago. He could often be heard remarking “I’ve never bought a grape,” his characteristically understated way of reminding us all that not many old-school Napa Valley vineyard/wineries remain.


While he strongly encouraged his children to pursue their own paths, Bill harbored a hope that Seavey Vineyard would remain a family-owned winery for generations to come. His vision became a reality: all of his children are active on the land, and currently three of them serve as managing directors of Seavey while one of his granddaughters assists with branding and marketing.


Bill leaves behind his five children (Dorie, Art, Will, Fred and Charley), two granddaughters (Sarah and Annie Jefferson), and two grandsons (Jason and Cole Seavey).


The family would like to thank Diana, Jenny, Jose, Maira, Max, Robert, and Trini for their unparalleled caregiving, warmth, and love.


In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Land Trust of Napa County. Details about a memorial service will be shared at a later date.