Uncorked: A storied vineyard changes hands
by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star
Jul 06, 2011 | 1959 views |  0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week’s column dealt with the American Dream being alive and well at Randal Wilson’s successful White Oak Vineyard, just off Highway 9 at Iron City.

But this is not the case with many family-owned vineyards, especially multigenerational ones like the Seghesio family, whose ancestors made wine in this country as far back as the late 1800s in Sonoma.

It was somewhat shocking when the family announced last month it is selling Seghesio Vineyards to Crimson Wine Group.

The Seghesio family has been in the wine business since 1895, when founder Edoardo Seghesio, an immigrant from the Piedmont region of Italy, and his wife, Angela, purchased 56 acres in the Alexander Valley, in what is now one of the prime wine-growing areas in Sonoma.

They raised five children while acquiring additional parcels of land. They survived Prohibition, but Edoardo died in 1934. Angela took over the business, proving to be an astute businesswoman. Aided by her sons, she ran the business until her death in 1958.

The business prospered by selling bulk wines to other producers. But in 1983, under the direction of fourth-generation winemaker Ted Seghesio, the winery started concentrating on fine wine made from estate fruit bottled under its own label.

Unlike some sagas of large Italian winemaking families selling off the family business because of familial acrimony, the recent divestiture of Seghesio was non-acrimonious and insightful.

CEO Pete Seghesio told his local newspaper, The Healdsburg Tribune, that “trying to get businesses down to third, fourth, and fifth generations is incredibly difficult as the family gets larger. We had 11 owners, and the next generation would probably put it up to 30.”

He elaborated on challenges presented when older family members want to retire and receive payouts for their shares. In this economy, when cash flow is very tight, it is impossible to pay retiring family members what their holdings are actually worth.

Another factor precipitating the sale is size.

Seghesio is an independent brand, and marketing the vineyard’s award-winning wines without corporate backing is increasingly difficult. Also, the family’s investment is such that they cannot produce a cheaper product to compete with all the bargain stuff hitting the market.

Crimson Wine Group has promised few changes in Seghesio. Many family members will remain. Current winemaker Ted Seghesio will stay in his capacity, as will current CEO Pete Seghesio.

The sale will allow the winery to make needed upgrades, increase production capacity and use distribution channels already established by the Crimson Group.

With bankruptcies and sales to large corporations, family-owned wineries may soon be a thing of the past. While sad, their demise may be inevitable as families cash in on the riches amassed in land, facilities and brand reputation by preceding generations.

Seghesio wines have been favorites in our area for some time. Hopefully, Crimson Group will keep its promise not to change things and allow Seghesio to continue what it does best, making appellation specific wines.

Tyson’s Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs has a complete range of Seghesio wines. These are among my favorites:

Seghesio Russian River 2009 Pinot Grigio. $17.50 at Tyson’s. New World pinot grigio at its best. Floral nose, luscious fruit, silky mouth feel. Not bone dry like some versions of pinot grigio. Lovely with food.

Seghesio 2009 Alexander Valley Barbera. $27.50 at Tyson’s. Barbera, an Italian varietal from the Piedmont region of Italy, was planted in homage to the family’s history. Medium-bodied red wine. Delicious fruit, some acidity and a hint of vanilla from oak barrels. Versatile.

Seghesio 2008 Sonoma County Zinfandel. $23.25 at Tyson’s. Seghesio farms hundreds of acres of zinfandel and bottles single vineyard offerings, as well as those from broader appellations like Sonoma. This is a Seghesio entry-level zinfandel. Big red fruit bomb with balance and finesse. Great with barbecued anything.
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Uncorked: A storied vineyard changes hands by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star

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