Mike Lee’s legacy is a life well lived. Playful, compassionate, generous and a mentor to many, he was a gregarious man who loved his work, cherished his family and took delight in his many friends. Mike’s sense of humor and endless optimism carried the day.
Mike passed away Monday, May 2, 2011. Born June 11, 1944 in San Francisco, he was the youngest of five children. Mike grew up in the city’s Sunset district, attending St. Cecilia Grammar School, St. Ignatius High School and the University of San Francisco, where he obtained a BA in Business.
In 1970 Mike, his brother Marty, brother-in-law John Sheela and father Martin Lee Sr. purchased the old Pagani Winery and founded Kenwood Vineyards, together with friend Neil Knott. Kenwood Vineyards grew from a boutique winery to an internationally renowned brand before the family sold it to Gary Heck in 1996. Mike stayed on as winemaker through the 2003 vintage.
In 2005, Mike joined Patianna Organic Vineyards in Mendocino County. He worked alongside his friends Patti Fetzer and her husband Gregg Hileman for six years, acting as winemaker and brand ambassador. “I have the perfect job,” Mike told his family this past Easter.
“Mike never passed up an opportunity to celebrate life,” said his wife of 37 years, Kaarin Lee. A lover of the great outdoors, Mike appreciated Sonoma County’s unspoiled beauty and easy hospitality. He enjoyed playing golf, sharing a meal with family and friends, and he took pleasure in hosting Sunday afternoon barbeques punctuated by Pavarotti blasting from his old boom box. Known for putting people at ease, he liked to seal a business deal over lunch and a handshake.
Mike Lee is survived by his wife Kaarin, daughters Britt and Katherine, sister Patricia Vick (Gary), brother Marty Lee (Kristina), sister Margaret Maraschin (Robert), sister Elizabeth Sheela (John), many adoring nieces and nephews and countless friends.
A celebration of Mike’s life will take place Monday, May 16, 11:00 AM at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa, California. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions to the Casey Burke or Tom Hobart scholarships at the Santa Rosa Junior College c/o SRJC Foundation 1501 Mendocino Ave. Santa Rosa, CA 95401-4395.