Friday, April 8, 2011

The Sebastiani Family

Next week we will be offering Sebastiani Secolo; a red bordeaux blend comprised of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 7% Malbec, and 6% Petit Verdot. Sebastiani is an historic Sonoma County estate with an elite Cabernet called Cherryblock ($80/btl). The juice for Secolo (century) comes from both the Sonoma Cherryblock estate and Alexander Valley estate property added ten years ago. The aromatics of the wine suggest blackberry and blackcherry which lead to mocha and truffle on the palate with rich black cherry layered with dried herbs, cigarbox, and sandalwood. The wine is complex and deserving of its cost; the description however, is creative writing from the website. The suggested retail is $35/btl. Citing this blog will make it $20/btl.

Truth is stranger than fiction, right? Throughout the 1980's Falcon Crest, an evening soap that was set at a fictitious California vineyard, featured destructive interpersonal relationships between family members. During that same 1980's time period the Sebastiani family was destroying itself in real life Sonoma. Here is a thumbnail sketch starting at the beginning...

Patriarch Samuele Sebastiani immigrated to California from Tuscany in 1895. A brickmason by trade, Samuele was able to save up enough to buy a vineyard nine years later. Samuele died in 1944 leaving the estate to son August who greatly grew the business until his death in 1980. For the first 76 years of its existence Sebastiani was a force in the "vin ordinaire" wine category. When son Sam took over in 1980 he had a vision of growing the company into a premium wine producer. With great success in the 80's Sebastiani expanded their product line with new upscale labels, reserve quality estate wines, and a line of 1.5l varietals created with juice from property purchased in the central valley. The new 1.5l varietal category greatly helped to bring "jug" consumers into varietal class wines.

All was not well at home though. Sam was fired by his mother in 1986 for unclear reasons and brother Don took the reins at that time. Don further expanded the line of products including both higher end fare like Cuneo and Cecchetti-Sebastiani labeled wines named after inlaws and roughly a dozen new grocery store wines. Sam went on to form Viansa , which included a Tuscan style winery, an Italian food emporium, along with a premium label of Italian varietals that was actually marketed through the mail to consumers. Atlanta briefly had a Viansa storefront retail operation in the early 90's.

In 2001 Sebastiani sold its central valley property to Constellation Wines and in 2008 the estate itself was sold to Bill Foley of Foley Family Wines. In 2005 Viansa was sold after accumulated losses over an extended time. So what happened? It appears that the Sebastianis are only a recent representative of a class of disfunctional winery-owning families in America and around the world that begin as a vision of a utopian lifestyle and legacy for future generations only to crash and burn for varying circumstances. Specifically beginning in 1980 the family involved too many members in its operations with disparate opinions about the direction to be taken and invariably business decisions resulted.

Sam Sebastiani now lives in retirement on a 200 acre farm in Nebraska while Don continues as "Don Sebastiani and Sons" a wine negotiant firm in California. Currently we have Don's Project Paso Cabernet and Chardonnay in the store at $12.99/btl.

C'est la vie, Don

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