George MacLeod – The Final Journey
By Susan MacLeod Murphy and Jay Gamel
George MacLeod, husband, father, Sonoma Valley grape grower, Silicon Valley pioneer, and author of the popular Kenwood Press column, “Journey to Harvest,” passed away following complications from the flu on Jan. 21, 2018, at the age of 96. George lived a full life and was truly grateful for all his many blessings, including his wife of 69 years, Greta Fisher MacLeod.
George was a Stanford-educated geophysical engineer who built his career around the early electronics industry in Palo Alto, first working for Fisher Research Laboratories, and then moving on to the early manufacturer of silicon wafers, Knapic Electronics. George joined Monsanto in 1961 where his team of engineers and marketers developed and introduced the world to the emerging Light-Emitting Diode (LED) technologies. Monsanto took the family to St. Louis, Missouri, for several years before returning to Silicon Valley in 1968. By the mid-1970s, George was able to parlay his success at Monsanto into an early retirement and begin yet another career, this time as a grape grower.
The hand of God had to be at work as it led George and Greta to 50 rocky hillside acres overlooking Kenwood. His ranch would become the third great love of his life. They purchased the land which became Indian Springs Ranch in 1974. George loved to stop at the beginning of his driveway, look down the long avenue of overhanging oak trees and whisper to his mother, “Mom, it’s not Tara, but it’s close enough.” Olive MacLeod, a southerner, had always urged her sons to restore the family’s estates lost after the Civil War.
From the start, George attacked the business of growing wine grapes with gusto and thoroughness, commuting from Palo Alto to take weekend courses at Santa Rosa Junior College and even driving to U.C. Davis for more courses on weekends. He contacted everyone in the Sonoma Valley who was growing to find out as much as he could about the process.
“We bought George’s grapes from day one,” former Kenwood Vineyards partner John Sheela said. “He was a good farmer, very intelligent, a well planned person who thought things through. He did a lot of research. When he planted Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc, he talked to Mike (Lee) and me, asking what variety to plant, what’s best for his ranch. He would laugh about his lack of experience farming.”
Indeed, the “Old Patron” frequently joked about his amateur ideas when he first approached the task of converting Indian Springs Ranch into a vineyard. One of the first was his assumption that the thousands of rocks in the 50 acres of fields could be moved by the family in a few weeks. That job took professional field hands and a bulldozer more than a year to accomplish.
But telling the story of the gold medal they won for their very first Sauvignon Blanc harvest made all the hard work worthwhile.
George contributed his boundless energy to his adopted industry; he helped write the constitution for the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance and was elected its first president. In August 2015, George was the first to be honored by his peers by being inducted into the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance Hall of Fame.
George was also the first president of the Alliance. “He has left a beautiful legacy of family, agriculture, literature and love,” SVVGA Executive Director Maureen Cottingham said. “Anyone who ever spent time with George will always remember the incredible stories, long lunches and vineyard walks.” Some of George’s stories were preserved in the Sonoma Valley Legends Series - Part 1 and Part 2 at the group’s website.
George, a lifelong Democrat, never gave up his belief in the liberal agenda. He lived with great integrity, optimism, and generosity. Along the way he reached out and helped many people improve their lives. He will be remembered as a loyal friend, wonderful father and husband, and upstanding citizen. He came to understand that the terroir required for growing great grapes is the same as the terroir for a happy life …love and affection.
In his later years, he authored several volumes of his collected “Journey to Harvest” articles from the Kenwood Press, several family history books, and a groundbreaking book on terroir and its impact on wine flavor and production.
His fictional characters, the lovely Sauvignon Blanc vine “Marie” and the hardy, hardworking Zinfandel “Javier,” no doubt wish their patron a fond farewell and will miss his rapt, avid attention to all the details that make happy, healthy vines produce award-winning wines.
George is survived by his wife, four children, seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, 16,500 grapevines, and 1,339 cases of wine.