Local wine industry veteran Collins dies

In a career in viticulture that lasted 35 years, Modesto native Dennis T. Collins worked with such names as Gallo and Bronco and made sure California wines were served at embassy dinners worldwide.

But overcoming a new obstacle was what drove Mr. Collins, said Fred Franzia, Bronco Wine Co.'s chief executive officer.

Mr. Collins, 60, died Thursday at his ranch in Paso Robles from complications of multiple myeloma.

Born March 11, 1948, Mr. Collins became a strong advocate for California wines, though he joked that his first job in the industry came through a modest method: He waited outside E.&J. Gallo Winery's Modesto headquarters until they interviewed him.

That was in the early 1970s, when Mr. Collins worked in Gallo's quality control department. Ten years later, he set out on his own and founded Vintner Supply Co., a winery equipment business that sold to clients internationally.

One of his first clients was local: Bronco. Franzia said Mr. Collins gradually became more involved with Bronco's operations, and Vintner Supply became a sub-business of Bronco's.

"He was a genuine good guy," Franzia said. "It's sorry to see a member of the industry pass who was touching a lot of wineries."

Mr. Collins eventually became Bronco's head of international wine sales. That role included directing Bronco's exports, and that led to him overseeing the Ambassador Wine Program, which sold mostly California wines to embassies worldwide.

Franzia said that when Mr. Collins headed that program, about 110 embassies stocked wines from California.

"He was always looking for the next mountain to climb and the next challenge that was out there," Franzia said.

In 1996, while working for Joseph Ciatti Co., a wine brokerage firm, Mr. Collins moved with his family to Paso Robles to establish Big Red Vineyard. At the time of his death, he had been general manager since 2002 of Treana Winery in Paso Robles.

Mr. Collins was named the Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year in 2005, was a board member of the California Wine Institute in San Francisco and was a former board member of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

He also was involved in Boy Scouts and had been honored in January with that organization's Silver Beaver award, the highest honor given to a Boy Scout volunteer.

Mr. Collins is survived by his wife, Kathy Collins of Paso Robles; sons, Tennyson Collins of Los Angeles, and Carter Collins, attending college in Chico; daughter, Amanda Collins, attending college in Santa Clara; father, Roy Collins of Turlock; brother, Mike Collins of Madera; and sister, Deborah Gonsalves of Turlock. He was preceded in death by his mother, Virginia Collins.

A celebration of Mr. Collins' life will be Saturday at 1 p.m. at Treana Winery, 4280 Secondwind Way, Paso Robles.

Donations in his name may be made to the Collins-Salisbury Eagle Scout Scholarship, in care of Boy Scout Troop 60, P.O. Box 940, Paso Robles, 93447.

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at or 578-2331.