Dr. David Bruce ##Photo by Jo Diaz

Remembering Dr. David Bruce

A California Pinot pioneer

By Rusty Gaffney

Why pay tribute to a California winemaker in an Oregon wine publication? Read on.

Dr. David Bruce, who recently celebrated six decades as a winemaker, passed away at the age of 89 on April 28, 2021. During the 1960s, he was one of the first to produce credible Pinot Noir in California. Viticulturist Mark Greenspan has remarked, “David Bruce did Pinot before Pinot was cool.”

Bruce grew up in a teetotaler family but acquired an interest in wine while attending Stanford Medical School from 1953 to1956. He had an epiphany after drinking a bottle of 1954 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg. He would say, “As I was drinking that wine with supper, I was imagining myself on top of some mountain, walking through a Pinot Noir vineyard, and I was simply making the greatest Pinot Noir ever made.”

After graduating from medical school and serving a one-year internship, Bruce completed a dermatology residency from 1957 to 1960 at the University of Oregon Medical School Hospitals and Clinics in Portland. During that time, he made beer on several occasions and, in 1959, acquired some local Concord grapes to make a palatable wine. He was intent on practicing dermatology and operating a winery.

Bruce believed the Willamette Valley was an ideal region for growing Pinot Noir. However, he was drawn back to the Santa Cruz Mountains of California where Martin Ray had produced California’s first credible estate Pinot Noir.

Looking back, Bruce always said if David Lett and Dick Erath had started their Willamette Valley vineyards and winery earlier, he might have remained in Oregon to make Pinot Noir. If he had pursued this option in 1960 after finishing his residency, he would possibly have changed the modern history of Pinot Noir in Oregon.

Bruce released his first estate Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1966. In Los Gatos, he managed a full-time dermatology practice while running a winery and making wine at David Bruce Winery for almost 25 years. He carved out an impressive winemaking résumé in reaching for “the great Pinot Noir,” and his legacy will always be linked to the history of California Pinot Noir; but as fate would have it, not Oregon Pinot Noir.


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