Toad Hollow Founder Todd Williams Dead at 69

Affable Sonoma County vintner known for wit and innovation

by Jane Firstenfeld
Toad Hollow Founder Todd Williams Dead at 69
Robert Todd (Toad) Williams
Santa Rosa, Calif. -- Robert Todd (Toad) Williams, who founded Toad Hollow Vineyards in the Russian River Valley with the late Rodney Strong in 1993, died Aug. 14 at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, following heart surgery.

Born in Versailles, Kentucky, he started his career as a saloon keeper, and discovered a passion for the California wine business in the 1980s, working in sales for small, premium producers and eventually as national sales manager for Shafer Vineyards, where he perfected his personal art of "guerrilla marketing." He later founded Hillside Estates, which brought national attention to boutique wineries, including Sonoma's Hanzell.

After Strong sold his iconic namesake winery in 1993, the two pursued their "retirement" dream with Toad Hollow, starting with a 1994 release of 3,000 cases. The brand has since grown to 120,000 cases annually, labeled with ever-changing, but instantly recognizable, whimsical images lending its premium wines an approachable image, similar to that of Williams himself, who was most often seen in Hawaiian shirts.

He is survived by two brothers, actor Robin Williams and McLaurin Smith, and eight nieces and nephews. Memorial services are pending. The family suggests contributions to the Boys and Girls Club of Healdsburg, P.O. Box 89, Healdsburg, CA 95448, or the Norma and Evert Person Heart Institute, c/o memorial Hospital Foundation, 1154 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa, CA 95405.

There will be a public celebration of Todd's life on Saturday, Aug. 25, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., at Richard's Grove and Saralee's Vineyard, 3575 Slusser Rd., Windsor, Calif.
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