'Passionate' man: Winemaker Neumeister dies in Earlysville crash
On what appeared to be a glorious day during grape harvest time, winemaker Dan Neumeister climbed aboard his beloved Suzuki TL 1000R motorcycle after meeting his bride for lunch. The weather was clear, and the skies were bright on October 4, but the Crozet resident was about to encounter William T. Thompson of Ruckersville.
Police say that a drunk Thompson lost control of his Ford Taurus on the two-lane road, and swerved into Neumeister, before rolling the Taurus over and over. Thompson, age 58, was airlifted to UVA Medical Center and has been charged with driving under the influence–- and now faces a manslaughter charge, say police. Around 2pm, Daniel Mark Neumeister, 31, died at the scene.
Neumeister was the award-winning winemaker for Sugarleaf Vineyards in North Garden, and his 2008 Petit Manseng was served at the White House at the 2010 Governor's Ball.
"Everybody would use the word 'passionate' to describe him," says Sarah Gorman at Cardinal Point Vineyard and Winery. "Dan didn't have formal oenology training. He was an active learner who took the time to learn the chemistry and the details to make fine wine."
"Passionate," echoes Sugarleaf owner Lauren Bias. "Humble, dedicated, enthusiastic."
Sugarleaf hired Neumeister in 2002 to tend its just-planted vineyard. "He fell in love with the craft," says Bias. "It was natural he grew into our lead winemaker."
Neumeister also was assistant winemaker at White Hall Vineyards, and head winemaker Mike Panczak was his mentor and friend for eight years.
"Dan wanted to get into the wine business so much, he kept calling and calling," remembers Panczak, who says the phone calls became something of a joke–- but also showed "his intensity."
Panczak cites Neumeister's attention to detail and exactitude in winemaking. "You have to be," he says, "and you have to be smart and physically tough." He gave Neumeister more and more responsibility, and Neumeister became such a skilled winemaker that his Sugarleaf wines won national awards. Neumeister previously worked at King Family Vineyards.
"He could have taken my job," says Panczak. "He could have been head winemaker at any vineyard in Virginia."
Neumeister attended high school in Baltimore, where he was an excellent lacrosse player, says Panczak, and spent his senior year at Covenant. After a couple of years in California, he returned to Albemarle.
He knew philosophy and martial arts, and "had that warrior attitude, which he definitely displayed," says Panczak. Along with his skill in making wine, Neumeister could do mechanical work–- or accounting and taxes. "Anything," says Panczak.
Panczak served best man at Neumeister's wedding to Adriane Allen last year, and the couple took a belated honeymoon this past August to Austria and the Czech Republic, where they enjoyed the Moto GP, the grand prix of motorcycle racing.
Sarah Gorman recalls Neumeister's care following another motorcycle accident in which a young man had been killed. It was on Route 810 between Crozet and White Hall. "Dan had gone back to put reflectors on the curve," she says.
Her favorite memory of Neumeister: "We were having dinner at Three Notched Grill, and we see him skating by on his long board. He'd had a full day of work, and that's what he did to relax."
Neumeister's wife, Adriane, is in nursing school.
"You couldn't write anything more tragic," says Gorman, "than what happened to this couple."
–Corrections October 7 on the location of the Moto GP and local high school Neumeister attended.
–Updated October 11 to reflect additional charge (manslaughter) against Thompson