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Brother Timothy Diener, legendary winemaker, 94

NAPA, Calif. -- Brother Timothy Diener, who helped shape the California wine industry as longtime cellarmaster for the Christian Brothers' wines and brandies, has died at age 94.

Brother Timothy died Tuesday at the Christian Brothers Mont La Salle novitiate.

Born Anthony George Diener in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1910, he worked for more than 50 years at the Mont La Salle Vineyards in the Napa Valley, retiring in 1989 when the Brothers of the Christian Schools sold their wine and brandy-making operation to the Heublein Fine Wine Group.

''He was a legend. He was the heart of the industry," prominent vinter Robert Mondavi said of Brother Timothy at his 75th anniversary as a Christian Brother last year.

The Brothers of the Christian Schools, commonly known as the De La Salle Christian Brothers -- a Roman Catholic religious order dedicated to education -- had run a small business making sacramental and medicinal wines since the late 19th century. The order bought the larger Napa Valley vineyards in 1930.

Brother Timothy, then a high school chemistry teacher, was assigned to be ''wine chemist" at the winery in 1935.

''I guess it was because I was big and strong and young and all that," Brother Timothy told The Napa Valley Register shortly after his retirement.

Production was then no more than 10,000 gallons a year, but with the help of German immigrant Alfred Fromm, the sales and reputation of Christian Brothers wines grew. Profits went to support the order's programs.

Brother Timothy was asked whether he saw a conflict between making wine and belonging to a religious order. He didn't.

''I've always been aware of the danger of abuse of wine," he said in one interview. ''I've always taken the attitude that everything one does should be in moderation. We should make judicious use of God's creatures and blessings.

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