Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery added to Boycott

sebastiani_then_MOn the last evening of the 2008 Wine Bloggers Conference, we climbed aboard buses to Sonoma and headed to Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Visitors Center for dinner with keynote speaker Alice Feiring. Wine glasses on the table bore the etching of the familiar tree with “Family Owned Since 1904” underneath. And so did the labels on the bottles available there, as well as in my local retailer.

Sebastiani began with an immigrant’s dream, and went on to weather phylloxera, Prohibition, two world wars, The Great Depression, recessions, and the ebb and flow of wine booms and busts. In the 1980s, it survived the turmoil of a family succession struggle…It was a rarity in California — a family winery that had defined the odds to grow and prosper from one generation to the next. – Wine Spectator, Nov. 15th issue.

But the labels on the 2008 Chardonnay looks a bit different. Now it says “A Sonoma Tradition Since 1904.” Go ahead, click on the labels and you can see them large enough to read. The labels changed because Sebastiani is no longer owned by the Sebastiani Family. Sebastiani_now_md

We produced a little calendar last year that includes pictures from our trips to Sonoma Wine Country. And it was rather fitting that the photo for the month of December was a Christmas display in the Sebastiani Gift Shop. We had no idea when we put the calendar together that Sebastiani Vineyards had been sold. And not just sold to anyone. But sold to William P. Foley II, a former Texan and Chairman, chief executive officer, and president, Fidelity National Financial.

When William “Bill” Foley purchased Sebastiani winery for an estimated $50 million last December he was a man on the move. From owning a single label in 1996, to a portfolio of more than a dozen wineries today, Foley has quickly emerged as one of the most energetic players in the California wine industry, and beyond. from “Growth & Acquisition” in Wine Spectator, Nov, 15, 2009 issue

I first heard about Foley from “twitter.” In the course of talking wine with winebloggers and other ne’er do wells, I met a blogger by the name of WineDog. WineDog had “tweeted” something about a boycott of Foley wines. WineDog’s blog, Pink Bunny Ears, has a number of posts about Foley. This latest 2-spread feature on Foley, following the 7-page spread, “The End of an Era at Sebastiani”  in Wine Spectator set the WineDog off. Because, as I once read somewhere, the “WineDog is all about accountability.”

So now he’s taking his business “acumen” into the wine business. He’s buying up vulnerable wineries and vineyards and creating another empire. And the wine industry is wetting themselves trying to saddle up to him. Well, you know what? It’s all fun and games until 18,000 people lose their jobs. It’s all bread and roses until he doesn’t want to pay the salaries of a qualified winemaker. It’s his MO, like the scorpion, it’s in his nature. I’ve seen it. Twenty five years of it. This is your future wine industry. You can choose to do business with this man and embrace these business practices or you can choose to opt out. As consumers, we can speak with our wallets. As business people we can choose to not do business with a morally reprehensible character. As employees, we can seek work elsewhere. This man must not be allowed to do to the wine business what he did to the title business. – Pink Bunny Ears, October 20, 2009

wineglasses_smWhen we first saw the agenda, we wondered why the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference itinerary did not include another dinner at Sebastiani, because there were events with other 2008 WBC wineries, including Michel-Schlumberger. It looks like our previous dinner might have been part of Sebastiani’s Swan Song.

In any event, go read the entire post to get a better picture of WineDog’s take on Bill Foley, in “I bet a fiddle of gold against your soul,” posted on October 20, and make sure you read the comments. Check out the link Boycott Foley Family Wines for additional posts. And while you’re at it read some of the other wine reviews and social commentary. WineDog hates phrases like this, but I think it’s appropriate here:

The WineDog “tells it like it T-I is!”


Posted in Best of AWB, Featured, Posts, Rant

Amy Corron Power View posts by Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and legions of twitter, Instagram and Facebook friends and fans. Amy holds certifications through the International Sommelier Guild, and is also certified, with honors, as a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). She is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events. Amy is also a contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, and was most recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude.
  • Are you guys serious…lol. This practice of buyouts and takeovers has been going on for years..( I still say wine bloggers (most ) have never been in the business). People start writing and suggesting things like boycott.. Whatever! Its business and if someone wants to sell a winery to Foley and so be it.

    The funny thing about this is, the original post is from 2008 and omg this like i said takeovers like these have been going on for YEARS!

    The end of an era at Sebastiani… so what! There are plenty of people (small businesses) coming up now to take that place of creativity…

    Let me tell ya… if it wasnt for people like Foley many of these wineries would go out of business. It takes a lot of dough to run a winery and most don't make it without help.

    Spend 20 plus years in the wine business as a retailer or resturant owner and come back and start commneting… And tell a store “I am boycotting that label” Ohh great !! lol .

    Sure anyone can boycott whatever but if you really knew what goes on in the wine business you probably would not buy wine anymore…It si business folks not fantasy land.

    Keith Miller

    Hows that for stirring the pot?

    • Perhaps you'd like to read the referenced post on Pink Bunny Ears, and all those regarding the subject, and as you say, then “come back and start commenting.” Or perhaps just read this one through — and figure out that reporting on a boycott, and organizing a boycott, are, of course, two different things. Because, even though we just started posting in, omg, 2008, we learned to read in the 60s. Cheers!

    • Well, Keith, maybe you should stop by your optometrist. The post is from yesterday and is a direct reference to the WS article of 11/15. The point, which seems to have eluded you is that the wine business will irrevocably change, just like the title business did, and not for the better. The product that title companies now provide is substandard at best. Bill Foley is absolutely to blame. I suspect you know very little about title companies and title insurance. I've got 33 years experience in the field. Actually longer than Bill Foley, who made his original money with Carl's Jr.

      In ten years when no one is making good wine because the little guys have been forced out… well, I for one hope that day never comes. I hope that wineries continue to be family owned and continue to nurture the land like Mike Benziger and Michael Keenan do. I hope that they continue to move towards sustainability and merging the earth, the vines and the elements into an experience in a glass. In my Fantasyland, businesses like Frog's Leap and Spottswoode can coexist with Kendall Jackson and Graziano. They don't have to worry about being bought up by some guy who cares more about increasing his distribution than he does about the product and the people who make it happen.

    • OMG! Reading comprehension and stuff like grammar and spelling are so 2008 too!

  • Buzz

    Read the article in the Nov 15th issue of Wine Spectator. This guy saved a business the family ran into the ground and lost interest in. All of them have other wine interest and one is responsible for Smoking Loon…boycott him not the guy thats cleaning up the mess. The article says he is adding staff and investing money to bring it back to a profitable business for years to come. Whats wrong with that?

    • Perhaps reading the referenced post on Pink Bunny Ears would give you more information.

      • Buzz

        I read the rant of a scorned man with an axe to grind. What does any of that have to do with wine?

    • Oh, and note that I not only mentioned the November 15th issue of Wine Spectator, I also quoted from it, which would indicate that I probably read the entire article before reading the PBE post, as well as writing this one.

      • Buzz

        Perhaps you dont answer the question about what that has to do with wine because the answer is a obvious as your agenda.

        • Buzz

          Oh, and note that people like you and the Wine Mutt make me want to buy more not boycott. Foley should offer higher case discounts if people enter your name as the coupon code…: )

          • Buzz

            final note is dont bother defending yourself or the mutt because this blog sucks and I wont be back to see the response. Also, who you kidding about learning to read in the 60's…more like the 40's

          • Wow, “Buzz” who peed in your Wheaties?

            If you can’t post something constructive, please stop wasting your (and our) time with your vile bile. You don’t have to agree, but you have a duty to the community to be civil.

          • Hey Buzz, excellent name, my man…only someone completely f**ked up could post anything that stupid. Thanks for not coming back. Everyone concerned is grateful!

            Look, as was pointed out above, we are not organizing a boycott, just spotlighting an issue that exists. Try being a shill without the attempted snark, we're better at it than you are. Snark, that is…you've got the shilling part down pat.

          • I'm trying to figure out exactly what a guy in his early 40s who sells computer software in Dayton, Ohio would know about the wine business? Do tell!

          • Fred

            Amy what is your background??? You have never been in the wine business… So why are you commenting on him being in the computer business??? I dont get that…

          • Hi Fred, thanks for commenting. Got anything to add to the actual subject of the post?

          • Fred, I'll refer you to the blog, comments and PBE to find your answers. Reading: it's Fundamental!

    • TitleSlug

      Sebastiani was a family business that no longer served the family's needs. Like the Mondavis, the Sebastianis worked, loved and fought side-by-side for generations. Over the past 20 years more and more family members drifted from the business. Finally, it made more sense to sell the winery rather than continue to run it.
      Bill Foley bought Sebastiani because it was good deal. Tradition means nothing more than value add over product. If the perception of tradition means the product is worth more, than Mr. Foley will sell tradition. More than likely he'll leverage existing distribution contracts and business practices he's “fine tuned” throughout the rest of his grape juice empire and apply them to the “Sonoma Tradition”. If he can boost earnings per share by importing grapes or exporting juice he'll do it. If the multiples of the wine industry can't be bent to his expectations he'll sell it. Creating quality wine is NOT his interest. Collecting more of your dollars IS his interest. His past tells us so.
      There are many, many great wine producers in Sonoma, Napa, Santa Barbara and the rest of Northern California. We as consumers have choices. We don't have to suffer MBA inspired wine. We can buy elegant wine that is an expression of where it was grown and an expression of the winemaker's vision. We don't have to buy wine that exhibits an expression of the CEO's vision for expanding profit above all else.

  • Well, this sucks! I was completely smitten with Sebastiani's Merlot for several years, and visited the winery in 2005. Thanks for this post, and to Wine Dog. I OPT OUT.

    • Kelly, thanks for “getting it”. There are a lot of awesome merlots out there. I'm a huge fan of the merlot in spite of Sideways. :-) Two great ones are the Unti, which may be hard to find depending on where you're located and Longboard's DaKine Merlot. For companies with bigger distribution try Trentadue or Freemark Abbey. And do be sure to see the movie MerLove. It's out on DVD now. Cheers!

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  • Century City Tax Lawyer

    Of course they had to change. It's survival. It's a recession. It's big business. Let's just hope the wine doesn't get lost in the gentrification.

  • Of course they had to change. It's survival. It's a recession. It's big business. Let's just hope the wine doesn't get lost in the gentrification.

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  • Margie

    As a Sonoma local, I find the changes at Sebastiani better for the community. They have added live music on Friday nights and reach out to (and give to) the community much more then when owned by the Sebastiani's. Further, wineries such as this are not forced to sell, the family wanted out, and believe me, none of them are hurting financially. I also find it ironic that one of the “protests” you have is that you (or pink bunny ears) fears “loss of thousands of jobs” so your answer is to boycott, which, if successful will lead to, yes, loss of thousand of jobs. Flawed thinking…

  • well, I first heard about Foley from “twitter.” In the course of talking wine with winebloggers and other ne'er do wells!

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