Diane Teitelbaum, 1946-2014

Diane TeitelbaumThe next Dallas Morning News wine competition will see many changes — new name, new people in charge, new format. But the biggest change will be that I won’t drive Diane Teitelbaum to the judging.

Diane died this morning, and there is no way to express how much she will be missed. I might still be an ex-sportswriter looking for something to freelance about if not for Diane, and I’m not the only person she helped. She was a force in the wine business — not just in Dallas, but internationally — for some 40 years, whether as critic, judge, consultant, buyer, confidant, and retailer. She answered questions, offered advice, and listened to complaints, and always with an open mind and a keen intelligence.

She was a professional, and I know of no higher compliment. She cared about wine, and she cared about helping others love wine as much as she did; that’s a much rarer quality than it should be. Drinking wine with Diane was both a treat and a revelation. Her palate was impeccable, and not just because she could taste something I couldn’t. It’s because she understood how the wine fit together, and she could explain it so that something that was usually lost in winespeak and gobbledygook made perfect sense.

I tasted 26 pinot noirs with Diane two summers ago for a freelance story. In the process, I got a history lesson about red Burgundy, pinot noir from France; details about how the wine import business worked; and insights into how pinot noir had changed over the last couple of decades. All of that was wonderful, but the best part was that she helped me figure out the wines in a way I never would have by myself. Her patience for those $10 pinots, most of which were very ordinary, was remarkable, as was her sense of humor as we slogged from wine to wine. I wrote a better story because of her, and I’m a better wine writer because of her. I’ll never be able to thank her for that.

The other thing to know about Diane is that she always spoke her mind. When you were right, she told you so. When you were wrong, she told you so, and many of us over the years were forced to listen, often sheepishly, as Diane explained how we had screwed something up. I never resented this, because I appreciated her honesty. Diane was a woman in the wine business when there weren’t many, and she would not have done all that she did if she had not stood up for herself.

And why did I drive Diane to the Morning News competition? Because she was famous worldwide for her inability to get anywhere on time. We both knew that if I didn’t pick her up (“and tell her you’ll be there 15 minutes before you will be,” everyone who knew her always said), there was a 50-50 chance she might not make it at all. Which would be a damn shame, because judging with Diane made every competition that much better.

16 thoughts on “Diane Teitelbaum, 1946-2014

  • By Janet -

    Thanks, Jeff, for remembering our friend Diane in such a thoughtful way. We will all miss her for sure.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Thanks, Janet. I can’t imagine wine without Diane.

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  • By David Currier & Kevin Kalley -

    Jeff, Thank you. Diane and Bill are among our (few) best friends. Your comments made me smile and cry.

  • By Mike Dunne -

    You captured the complete Diane. She was a character – inquisitive, funny, candid…and dramatic. She knew how to make an entrance. A competition couldn’t get under way until she stepped nobly into the room.

  • By Eugenia Keegan -

    Thanks SO much for this post. I LOVED Diane and tasting my wines with her was always educational and delightful. I know that I am a better winemaker thanks to her impecable palate, great sense of humor and straigth talk. In vino veritas, Eugenia

  • By Jim Caudill -

    Nicely done. I met Diane the very first couple of days that I started in the wine business and she was kind and understanding about my complete and utter lack of knowledge or insight. She became not just a contact but a friend, someone I could bounce a question to and know I would get good insights (and direction, even if I didn’t ask for it). Truly classy, a grand dame in the very best sense of the concept. Way too young, gone way too soon.

  • By Mark -

    Great article about Diane. She was one wonderful woman. I had the pleasure of working with her several times. She was the ultimate professional. I will miss her dearly.

  • By Tom Wark -

    Thanks for this excellent article on Diane, Jeff.

  • By Melba Sears Wood -

    I lost contact with Diane after we went to school together in Denison, TX, when she was Diane Suomala. Diane was my friend in 8th through 10th grades. She was a pretty, sweet girl with beautiful red hair. I am so sorry to learn of her passing and sorry that I did not know her as an adult. May she rest in peace.

  • By Barbara Drady -

    Diane was a true professional and a wonderful friend. You captured her beautifully. She will be missed!

  • By Wine Curmudgeon -

    Thanks to all for the kind words. I just wish I could tell Diane about all the nice things everyone said.

    • By Doreen Schmid -

      I am so saddened by this and my heart goes out to the family.

      Her generosity in spirt, word and deed; her humor and delightfully playful manner coupled with rock hard seriousness about quality and standards; her wine erudition???all of these things made her shine in the wine business. And she knew how to be and remain the best kind of friend, even if as years went by one didn’t have frequent contact with her.

      The first time I took her to Italy on a wine writer trip, she presented me with a book on Tiepolo at the end of it, having heard me say that he was one of my favorite painters, and having gone out of her way on a small trip break to find such a book. On a subsequent trip she gave me a beautiful lace bedspread (having heard me admire those from the island of Burano when we were in Venice) that she bought on another break. This is the kind of loving thoughtfulness she embodied.

      I would appreciate receiving Bill’s and David’s emails, if anyone is willing to share them. . Many thanks.

  • By Elin McCoy -

    Thanks, Jeff, for posting this about Diane.
    She was such a terrific person, and I want to share one memory of her.
    We were both on a press trip to Sicily, which was sort of like the press trip from hell, but definitely NOT because of the wonderful women on the trip.
    The ultimate moment was when we pulled into the parking lot of the hotel we were supposed to be staying at at 11 pm. It turned out the hotel wasn’t actually finished — electrical wires were still sticking out of the walls in our rooms, some were missing toilet seats — you get the picture. I can still see Diane, in her nightgown, calling the press trip organizer on her cell phone at midnight.

    Very imperiously she insisted that this was impossible and if we weren’t moved the next morning, she and all the rest of us would on our way to the airport. We were all wildly grateful to her.
    It was a pleasure to know her.

  • By Lana -

    Diane took me under her wing on a press trip to Austria six years ago and has been a friend, mentor and confidant ever since. She always told me there was no reason I couldn’t be a success in the industry, even on days when I whined about my terrible palate, my inability to tell one riesling from a another, a northern Rhone from a southern … She was a gentle but insistent guide.

    She was also too modest about her notoriety and accomplishments. I remember she took me to two major events when I visited her for the first time in Dallas. She made no big deal of it, but when we arrived, it was as though the waters parted for her when she arrived. I felt like I was with the wine nobility. And, really, I was.

    She touched everyone she met. Her fingerprint will always be on me.

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