David Kernberger, a retired teacher who documented local history and helped establish Rianda House’s wine project, recently died of kidney failure. He was 79.
Vineyard manager Linda Neal, who worked with Kernberger on the wine project, remembered the retired Napa High School math teacher as a “renaissance man” with broad knowledge of math, science, photography, farming, history and winemaking.
Julie Spencer, executive director of Rianda House, said she’ll always remember Kernberger’s curiosity, tenacity, intelligence and big smile.
“You could see the light go on in his mind when he was thinking about something and getting excited about a new concept,” Spencer said. “He opened up new avenues for Rianda House because of his involvement and his interests. Dave is part of the fabric at Rianda House. He always will be.”
Rianda’s vineyard group formed in late spring 2009 with the goal of reviving the St. Helena Beautification Foundation’s old vineyard at Meily Park and expanded into the production of wine to be served at Rianda House events.
Neal launched the volunteer effort at the request of the late Joice Beatty. Early volunteers like Neal, Kernberger, Mike Hardy and Kathy Carrick formed a committee that worked with the city and planted 175 Primativo vines.
“Dave was there from day one. He was a friend and a teacher to all of us,” said Neal. “I was the vineyard mentor, but Dave and Mike taught us the science of winemaking and made it really fun for us.”
Kernberger offered to let the group make wine at his small home winery north of St. Helena.
“It was so ideal to work out of this little stone winery in the middle of a Cabernet vineyard,” Carrick said.
When the winemaking apparatus needed to be reconfigured for technical reasons, Kernberger remodeled the facility at his own expense.
“Almost everything we used to make our wine belonged to Dave,” Carrick said. “He would find some old parts or get ahold of something another winemaker was throwing away and repair it. He was very generous.”
In 2014, Kernberger told the Star he’d been making wine at home since 1972 and had no formal training, “just seat of the pants” knowledge.
He and his first wife, local historian Kathy Kernberger, collected a vast array of historical photos and negatives that once belonged to local photo studios, said Mariam Hansen of the St. Helena Historical Society.
Historic Photo Publishers, owned by David, donated some of the most notable photos contained in the St. Helena Historical Society’s “Images of America: St. Helena.”
The couple also published “Mark Strong’s Napa Valley, 1886-1924,” a collection of photos by local photographer Mark Hopkins Strong.
“Both of them were very passionate about local history,” Hansen said. “They had one whole room in their house that was all archives.”
Spencer remembers the first time Dave Kernberger visited the center, a few months after Kathy died in 2008.
“He was kind of a lost soul because he’d lost such a key person in his life,” Spencer remembered. “Someone suggested he visit Rianda House, and it changed his world around.”
In addition to the winemaking project, Kernberger became a greeter at Rianda House and a member of the weekly “lunch bunch.” On Feb. 20, 2017, he and his second wife, Rose, were the first couple to be married at Rianda House.
Dave Kernberger is survived by Rose and his daughter, Heather MacKenzie.
A celebration of Kernberger’s life will be held at Rianda House on Dec. 11, which would have been his 80th birthday.