Wine Expert and Educator

Photo: James Forbes

As an undergraduate, he studied psychology and played football on the team led by Heisman trophy winner Jim Plunkett, ’70. But Bruce Cass’s true love was wine. He instituted Wednesday night wine parties at his fraternity, Sigma Chi, and he went on to become one of California’s most prolific wine educators and writers.

Bruce Cass, ’69, died at his home in the Sierra foothills on September 20. He was 68.

Three years after graduating from Stanford, Cass launched Wine Associates, a wine education company. He taught at Stanford and UC-Berkeley, among other places, and offered what he dubbed a “varietal series,” six classes focused on a different wine varietal from Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon. Cass ultimately developed the curriculum that became the Wine on Campus package, which was used for wine appreciation classes at colleges across the country.

As the wine industry in California became more established in the 1970s, Cass was tapped by the Wine Institute of California, a trade association dedicated to the responsible production, promotion and enjoyment of wine, to develop a more formal Wine on Campus curriculum. His passion for and knowledge of wine led him in 1977 to become one of the West Coast founders of the bicoastal Society of Wine Educators, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance wine education through professional development and certification. 

Cass traveled the world exploring different wine production methods in places such as Chile, New Zealand and South Africa. He published The Winewright’s Register in 1985, a book designed to help small California wineries advance their understanding of enology and viticulture. As a renowned expert on the wines of North America, Cass penned the original Wine Educators Handbook that won several awards for California’s Wine Institute. 

Cass worked with James Halliday on the Wine Atlas of California, published in 1993, and collaborated with Jancis Robinson, a British wine critic, journalist and writer, on The Oxford Companion to the Wines of North America, a multiauthored book published in 2000. She recalls, “Bruce threw himself into this project, but only with myriad complaints about the archaic nature of print and repeated (and ignored) suggestions for an online version. He was ahead of his time in so many ways. He always used to say he felt fired up by my talks on wine, but he was a famously good teacher himself, always with some new scheme based on how crazy and antediluvian everyone else was.”

After moving from San Francisco to the Sierra foothills to immerse himself in the wine-growing region there, he found joy tending his garden and continuing to teach classes locally and in the Bay Area.

His survivors include his sister, Janet Cass-Baxter.

Julie Muller Mitchell, '79, is a writer in San Francisco.