On 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.
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
When 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!”