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Tom Shelton, American wine industry leader, dies at 55

Tom Shelton, the former head of Joseph Phelps Winery and champion of the Napa Valley appellation, has died aged 55.

Widely respected in the industry and Napa Valley in particular, Shelton quickly rose to become CEO of leading California producer Joseph Phelps Winery, as well as spokesman and president for Napa Valley Vintners.

In his capacity as one of the regional standard-bearers, Shelton successfully helped fight off a bid by the Bronco Wine Company to allow use of the term ‘Napa’ on its wine bottles, even though most of the fruit that went into the wine was not from the region.

‘He was an intelligent, well spoken, well thought-of leader,’ said Terry Hall, Communications Director for the Napa Valley Vintners Association. ‘He took the time to understand complex issues and he turned them into easily digestible bits that we could all understand. When the challenge by Bronco came up, well –thank God Tom was here.’

He was also instrumental in getting more housing built for seasonal vineyard workers and working with the Napa Green program, dedicated to land resource protection throughout Napa Valley.

At Phelps, Shelton, along with winemaker Craig Williams, was credited throughout the industry with the turnaround of the brand.

‘It’s a sad time here at the winery,’ said Bill Phelps, Chairman of Joseph Phelps Winery. ‘Tom was a very valued part of our team and an important leader for us. There are many who will miss him.’

In May this year, however, both Shelton and Williams resigned their positions over a compensation dispute.

Shelton lost his battle with brain cancer on July 26. He is survived by his wife Laurie and his five children – Bryan, Jonathon, Jessica, Trevor, and Camille.

Written by Mark Storer

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