Connoisseur passed on love of wine to generations |

Connoisseur passed on love of wine to generations

Wine was Norman Gates’ religion, and for decades he was a devout missionary of this nectar of the gods.

“He wanted to share his love of wine with anyone who was interested,” said Carol Bade of Santa Rosa, executive director of the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine, a wine-appreciation group Mr. Gates founded in California in 1964 that now has chapters across America, in Europe and Japan.

“We have friends all over the world because of him.”

Mr. Gates, a wine columnist for The Union in recent years, died Friday, June 18. He was 84. Services for Mr. Gates will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Hooper and Weaver Mortuary, 459 Hollow Way in Nevada City.

Mr. Gates, who was born in Nevada City in 1920, first gained an appreciation for wine while a road maintenance supervisor in France in the 1960s.

Mr. Gates’ father-in-law, Alois Deschler, who came from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, introduced Mr. Gates to the country’s wine-making traditions, said Mr. Gates’ daughter, Nancy Gates Douglas.

“He was a good student,” Mr. Gates’ daughter, Nancy, said Monday. It was in France and Morocco ” where Mr. Gates lived after serving as a member of the Army Air Corps in the North African campaign ” that he gained a European appreciation for lengthy meals that centered around stimulating conversation, adventurous food and a glass of fine wine, Gates Douglas said.

Mr. Gates grew to embrace those traditions, teaching them to his friends and the curious for the rest of his life.

Mr. Gates was initiated into French wine brotherhoods, where members wore ribbons and elaborate costumes. They weren’t necessarily for the rich, just for those who wanted a better understanding of wine.

Throughout his career, Mr. Gates met some of the most powerful names in the wine-making industry, including the families of California titans Robert Mondavi and the Gallo brothers. He helped develop new wines in tandem with the Sebastiani winemakers from Sonoma County and met former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Gates Douglas said.

“It was his life,” she said. “He never wavered from it. He was always trying to educate people. … He would always say that Americans were born with the taste of Coca-Cola in their mouths. He believed that Americans needed to educate their palate.”

Later, Mr. Gates helped establish scholarship funds in enology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis and four other universities.

His most important accomplishment, Carol Bade said, might have been that he used wine to cultivate friendships all over the world.

“Even if you can’t speak the language, you can speak the language of wine,” Bade said. “He should be proud to know that he brought so many people together.”

In addition to Gates Douglas of Woodinville, Wash., Mr. Gates is survived by a sister, Levon Rickard of Nevada City and a granddaughter, Nannette Gates Douglas of Lake of the Pines. He was preceded in death by his wife, Nicole C. Gates; grandson, Remy Gates Douglas; his parents, Robert and Zelma Gates; and his sisters Agatha Williams and Darlene Reisberg.

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