Gerald D. Cresci, a retired college administrator who was well known in the wine community as a grower and competition judge, died June 24 of cancer, his family said. He was 92.
After a long career as an executive at the California Community Colleges, Mr. Cresci put down roots in a new venture as wine-grape grower in 1983. With his wife, Nellie, he planted vines on 10 acres in the Herald community in south Sacramento County and began producing grapes for a growing number of hobbyists and connoisseurs who produce their own wine.
“We were making wine at home, and at that time small batches of grapes were hard to come by,” his wife said. “So he just said, ‘Why don’t we buy a small piece of land and plant some grapes?’ ”
Mr. Cresci learned about farming and making wine from the ground up. Besides taking courses, he planted and grafted vines, set up drip irrigation systems, picked grapes and did much of the hedging and pruning. He shared his knowledge with wine lovers and presented tutorials to Sacramento Home Winemakers. With grape varieties known for their quality and diversity, his operation also added a few commercial clients.
A quiet gentleman with well-considered opinions, he became a popular and respected judge on the wine competition circuit. He coordinated the annual “Best of the Best” competition at Cal Expo and judged at many wine events throughout California. In addition, he volunteered at tasting events at Cal Expo and as a taster for commercial wineries.
The son of a bread salesman, Gerald David Cresci was born March 11, 1922, and raised in San Francisco. He joined the Marine Corps during World War II, fought in the invasion of Iwo Jima and earned the Bronze Star for heroism.
“He said it was pretty scary,” his son Damien said, “because they didn’t have enough flares when they hit the sand, so they only set them off every 15 minutes. They were blinding, and after they went out, everything was pitch black – and you couldn’t see anything in front of you.”
Mr. Cresci returned home after the war and earned graduate degrees in business and education and teaching in addition to teaching and administrative credentials from University of San Francisco, UC San Francisco and UCLA. He taught at San Francisco City College and worked for the state Department of Education before serving for many years as dean of vocational education and in other administrative positions in the chancellor’s office at California Community Colleges. He retired in 1979.
He settled in Sacramento in 1957 and had five children with his first wife, Catherine. The marriage ended in divorce. He married Nellie Cresci in 1972 and spent the last 34 years living and growing grapes in Herald.
“He’d go out into the vineyard in the morning, stay out until noon and come in for a small lunch,” his wife said. “In a half-hour, he’d be back out there until about 2. He loved it.”
In addition to his wife and son Damien, survivors include two other sons, Guy and Gerald; two daughters, Chris Ferguson and Regina Southard; two stepsons, Jim Filippi and David Filippi; and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A funeral Mass was held Wednesday. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Sacramento Children’s Home.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.