Richard Sauret was an old-school Paso Robles grape grower.
When Sauret was starting out in the early 1950s, he had the chance to go to college on football scholarships but decided to stay in San Luis Obispo County and farm, said his friend, Hank Donatoni. Sauret was known for his zinfandel grapes and his knowledge of dry farming, which is a method of growing grapes that uses very little water.
In addition to grapes, he also had a parcel of land that he grew vegetables on, giving most of the crop away to senior citizens in Paso Robles, as well as to his friends, Donatoni said.
Sauret died in a car crash on Sept. 30 just a block away from that 10-acre plot of land, Donatoni said. He was killed at a notoriously dangerous intersection when he turned left on northbound Highway 101 at Wellsona Road into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
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Sauret, who was born in the 1930s, was a third-generation resident of San Luis Obispo County, an icon in the Paso Robles wine industry who helped create the Independent Grape Growers of Paso Robles Association.
“He was just a good, strong personality — very nice, very willing to help out anybody, all the time,” said Lowell Zelinski, the IGGPRA president. Zelinski added that Sauret reminded him of John Wayne.
“The biggest thing about him that impressed me was his desire to help others in an educational way,” Zelinski said.
Libbie Agran, the director of the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County, had been working with Sauret over the past few months. She said Sauret had her doing everything from planting the grapes to harvesting and pruning them.
“He felt I’d never be the best at my project unless I knew everything a grower knew,” Agran said, calling Sauret a “walking encyclopedia of history.”
“He was one of those unusual people you meet once or twice in your lifetime,” Donatoni said. “He was a character and one of the hardest workers you’d ever meet.”
Sauret was still pruning his 23-acre vineyard by himself at 82, Donatoni said, and he was always studying the nutrients plants needed in order to grow well.
Donatoni, who owns his own winery and had been buying grapes from Sauret since 2005, said Sauret did such a good job on his grapes that “the wine made itself.”
“The grapes came in about perfect,” Donatoni said. “He was reliable. When he said something would be done, he got it done, and he always knew way ahead of time when he was gonna pick and kept his word.”
Donatoni said his favorite memory of Sauret is sitting together on a swing set near his winery on Sunday afternoons, where the men would talk and discuss politics.
“It was the pleasure of my life knowing him, and we had a lot of fun together,” Donatoni said. “He’s going to be missed for a long time.”
IGGPRA and the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance are planning a memorial service for Sauret for Wednesday, October 25th at Rava Wines.
Correction: this article has been corrected to reflect that Sauret was a third-generation SLO County resident. It has also been updated with information about Sauret’s memorial service.