Dick Bush, an El Dorado Wine Region Founding Father, Passes Away
Long recognized as one of the founding fathers of the modern El Dorado County wine region, Richard Harding (Dick) Bush, born April 4, 1934, passed away peacefully on January 30, 2020, in his beloved El Dorado wine region home of Camino, California.
Raised in Vallejo, California, Dick Bush attended Stanford University, where he received his doctorate in metallurgic engineering. While attending the university, he met his future wife and partner, Leslie, who was then attending San Jose State College. Familiar with the beautiful high-elevation community of the Sierra Foothills, the couple were married in the Federated Church in Placerville. After finishing university, they lived in Detroit for six years, where Dick worked in research for the Ford Motor Company.
Dick and Leslie returned to Placerville in 1967, and with his brother-in-law, Dick partnered in their engineering firm, Sierra Hydro-Tech. In 1972 the Bushes bought property in the small neighboring community of Camino. In 1973, under advisement from the agriculture commissioner and agricultural advisor, they planted 32 acres of own-rooted vines on the site that is now Madroña Vineyards.
In 1973, to take his family abroad and to help finance his farm, Dick took a job teaching math at The American School in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire). While there, he sent money back home to keep the farm going. Dick, Leslie, and their kids returned at the end of the summer of 1975.
Innovative, hardworking, and industrious, Dick pushed the envelope as to where you can grow quality grapes in California by being one of the first to plant at high elevations. His vineyard at just under 3,000 feet was among the very few vineyard acres in the Sierra Foothills at this time. Leslie was very much involved in establishing the vineyard and helping sell their grapes to other California wineries. Their four children all helped in the vineyard and eventually the winery.
Placerville, Calif.—Starting a winery in a rural area with no tourists to taste the wines took a real leap of faith and foresight. Wines were sold just through distributing companies at the time, not through tasting rooms. But the Bushes saw their vineyard and a plan to build a winery as an investment in permanence and their family’s future.
Along with others who saw the region’s potential for eco-tourism, grape growing, and winemaking, Dick helped found El Dorado Winery Association and helped make El Dorado an official American viticulture area (AVA) in 1983. Unique at the time was Dick’s effort to see that the Camino-Fruitridge area within the AVA was designated as an agriculture-exclusive region, with parcels of 20 acres and larger. Ultimately this move established the region as agriculture land and limited it to small country roads.
In building Madroña, the Bushes didn’t know exactly that the winery would eventually receive visitors, host events, while serving as a production facility. Today it has had a long life as a hospitality and production winery. The first vintage under the Madroña label made from grapes from the Bush property was its 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was crushed at the neighboring Boeger Winery. Madroña’s maiden crush was in 1980.
Madroña became a community winery of sorts. Here Sierra Foothill wine pioneers such as Scott Harvey of Scott Harvey Wines, the late John McCready of Sierra Vista Winery, and Les Russell of Granite Springs Winery honed their craft before they went on to open their own businesses. According to the current owners and stewards of the winery, Paul and Maggie Bush, the property still has the original varieties planted in 1973, still the original own-rooted vines and nothing on rootstock.
Dick was passionate on many levels. As strong devotees of the arts, he and Leslie were longtime supporters of the region’s community concert series and the El Dorado Arts Council. They also helped fund theaters to showcase the region’s talent. An environmentalist, Dick was part of the American River Conservancy and closely followed environmental issue that affected his community. To Dick, protecting the environment and protecting the community were equally important.
Dick is survived by his partner in life and work, Leslie Bush. He is also survived by his four children. David Bush and his wife, Sheila, own a pollution monitoring company and Sumu-Kaw Vineyards in El Dorado County. Diane Bush writes curriculum for safety programs and lives in Oakland with her husband, Michael Kushner. Carolyn Bush works for the California Natural Resources Agency in the grants unit.
Paul Bush and his wife, Maggie, own wineries Madroña Vineyards and Rucksack Cellars as well as the Enyé Vineyards in Pleasant Valley. Dick is also survived by his six grandchildren and his brother Don, who worked with Dick building the winery and worked in the cellar for 25 years.
A memorial in Dick Bush’s memory is planned for February 22nd at 11am at the Federated Church in Placerville, CA.