Hanukkah gifts & food | Russian River vintner toasts life, tea and Jewish causes

In 2009, Ron Rubin was 60 years old and in great physical shape. A runner for more than 30 years, he was in the midst of training for his eighth marathon when he was felled by an attack of cardiac arrhythmia.

Ron Rubin (left) with winemaker Joe Freeman

Rubin was rushed to the hospital where cardioversion — electric shocks to the heart — saved his life. He had suffered a type of arrhythmia that could have been fatal. The attack changed his life in many ways, including a decision to fulfill a 40-year dream: to own a winery.

“You hear stories about people who say, ‘I wish I would have done this or that,’” said Rubin, a resident of Sebastopol. “I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. It was the right time and I wanted to make it happen.”

Rubin owns River Road Family Vineyards and Winery in Green Valley, a sub-appellation of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. He is in the process of launching the first label bearing his name, the Ron Rubin 2012 Pinot Noir.

The label bears an illustration of the bearded Rubin wearing his signature backwards baseball cap, proudly displaying the logo of his alma mater, U.C. Davis.

Rubin is primarily known as the owner and CEO of Novato-based The Republic of Tea. He also has a reputation as a philanthropist and supporter of Israel and Jewish causes. A former board member of the Birthright Israel Foundation, he serves on the board of directors of Moishe House, an international network of subsidized houses for Jewish young adults.

Rubin’s background, however, is in wine. He studied viticulture and enology at Davis and spent 22 years working for his family’s Mount Vernon, Ill.-based Central Wholesale Liquor Co., where he managed the distribution of wine, liquor and beer.

Rubin holds a bottle of his newest signature-brand wine. photos/gail b. appleson

After the family business was sold, Rubin and his family moved to St. Louis, where he and his wife, Pam, still live part of the year — and where he experienced the near-fatal attack.

The couple underwrites “The Rubin Israel Exper-ience,” which annually offers 10 Jewish young adults a first-time trip to Israel. Rubin also serves on the board of directors of the city’s Jewish federation and the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where he had surgery to receive a small defibrillator implant following his cardiac arrhythmia. While he was still in rehab, he started searching for the right location for his winery, working with a broker for two years to scour Napa and Sonoma.

“My gut told me to go to Green Valley,” Rubin said. “Napa was Hollywood, but Sonoma was more like southern Illinois. It felt like home.”

In 2011 he purchased River Road, which was founded in 1976. The estate’s vineyards are blessed with sought-after fine sandy loam “Goldridge” soils, named for their golden color. Included with the vineyard purchase was highly regarded winemaker Joe Freeman.

Their newest venture, the Ron Rubin brand, is produced at River Road but not yet in stores. The label is a gold color that matches the hue of the vineyard’s soil, and the text describes Rubin’s “Forty Year Dream.”

Thinking back on his decision to buy River Road, Rubin takes out his cellphone and shows a photo he keeps stored in its memory. The photo show a street sign near the winery: It reads, “Mt. Vernon Road.”

“When I first saw that, I had to stop my car and catch my breath. I thought of my mom and dad,” said Rubin, his voice starting to break.  “How do things like that happen? It’s crazy.”