2023, April 13 – On Friday, February 10, 2023, Manfred Esser, loving husband and father, passed away peacefully at the age of 85.
He was born September 1, 1938, Germany, to his parents Peter and Else Esser. He grew up during WWII and overcame many adversities. In 1974, he met his beautiful bride, Barbara Matznetter, at a carnival party in Munich. They fell madly in love and were married seven weeks later. Manfred and Barbara moved to Chicago for “a year” to open the American offices for Pieroth, the European wine company. Manfred enjoyed the U.S. so much they stayed.
Manfred truly lived the American immigrant’s dream, building a company from nothing to millions, leaving Pieroth with 30 offices and over 500 employees. In 1986, Manfred, Barbara, and their two little girls left the cold winters of Chicago and moved to the beautiful Napa Valley. There he became president and partner at Cuvaison Winery. He was an early member of the Napa Valley Vintners Association and helped build the Valley’s renown worldwide. Manfred’s ambition and charm gave him international success.
Amidst his storied career, he fulfilled a lifelong dream of returning to school through the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. He saw the key to his success as building and cultivating relationships, which he did with exceptional skill and charisma. After his time at Cuvaison, Manfred became a celebrated wine-marketing expert, pioneering the burgeoning field of Customer Loyalty. He coined the phrase “Guilt Marketing,” which aimed to inspire a sense of obligation in customers to not only return to your brand but also become Brand Ambassadors.
In 2002, he launched his own business Esser Vineyards, with the motto “Exceed Your Expectations,” which described his ambition to provide excellent wine at an approachable price.
Manfred’s love for food, wine, and family was evident in his enthusiasm for cooking for loved ones and sharing meals at his table. He and Barbara were well known for entertaining atop their Spring Mountain home, where he would showcase his Italian cooking skills and whip up apple pancakes for his children.
Manfred was a daily reader of The New York Times, an endless learner, and an activist for refugees and migrant workers. He was an avid tennis player and was well-known on the Meadowood courts for his humor and tenacity. His youth in the Navy instilled a lifelong love of sailing. His passion and enthusiasm for classical and opera music was infectious. Perhaps you heard him blasting his music while driving through the Valley he so loved.
Manfred is survived by his wife of 49 years, four daughters, and eight grandchildren.
A Memorial service will be held on Thursday, April 27, 2023, at 10:00 AM at the Grace Church in Saint Helena.
Published by Napa Valley Register on Apr. 13, 2023.
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