Saturday, June 14, 2014

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Sebastiani, Mondavi, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Duckhorn, and to be more specific for our purposes here today, the Zinfandel makers like Ridge, Ravenswood, and Rosenbloom, all have seen the corporate dollars waved before them and they all have made the ultimate decision to sell.  In 2011 Seghesio, the largest high quality Zinfandel producer in Sonoma County, followed suit.  The reasons for selling are clear: global competition, succession issues, inheritance taxes, and corporate consolidation choking off the distribution channels.  All of these factors are oh-so-real that the smart money screams, "Sell!", and do it as soon as the right big offer comes in.

The stinger for me as a history buff is the loss of something as vitally fulfilling as a great-grandfather's dream gamble come to fruition.  Edoardo Seghesio emigrated from Piedmont, Italy to America in 1886 and went directly to work as a winemaker for Italian Swiss Colony wines in Sonoma County.  He remained there until 1902 but purchased his Home Ranch property in 1895, planted it in vines, and built his winery there in 1902.  In '03 he left Italian Swiss Colony and began selling his own wines in San Francisco.

Then through the ensuing years the Seghesio family added to their Zinfandel empire with many shrewd land and winery purchases which today translate into five proprietary Zinfandel labels: Sonoma Old Vine, Home Ranch, San Lorenzo, Cortina, and the one we tasted here just recently, Sonoma Valley.  Three hundred acres constitute the land holdings today, which is large but short changes the Seghesio history substantially.  In 1919 Seghesio bought Italian Swiss Colony and its 1,100 acres and for a twenty year period between 1960 and 1980, Seghesio made half of all of the red wine made in Sonoma County.

In some ways 1980 may be seen as the beginning of the modern era in the California wine industry.  The cultural changes incorporating wines into the American lifestyle were already becoming apparent and the more ambitious sizeable wine companies were increasingly investing in land and winery assets.  As stated above Seghesio had historically also been into land and winery acquisition.  In 1983, after eighty years of farming and selling their juice to others, the first Seghesio Family Vineyards wines were produced and marketed as such.  Ten years later in '93, Seghesio doubled down on quality with hand farming and small-lot fermentation and the critical accolades abounded.

In 2011 Leucadia National Corporation, an eight billion dollar Park Avenue holding company with interests in insurance and banking, bought Seghesio and added it to their Crimson Wine Group which already included the prestigeous Pine Ridge of Napa Valley, Willamette Valley's Archery Summit, and Edna Valley's Chamisol.  Other labels were created internally.  In 2013 Leucadia spun off the Crimson Wine Group, retaining an 18% interest in the company which exists now as the lone publicly traded luxury wine portfolio in the country.

Vineyard manager Pete Seghesio says midsized brands are especially in trouble going forward.  One can only assume that distribution is the issue and that the clout that is wielded by the corporate players is formidable.

On Friday June 20th between 5 and 8pm, Tommy Basham of Continental Beverage will offer up new high end Italian Red Blends along with his always popular Coto de Hayas Spanish wines.  On Friday June 27th Taylor Moore of Eagle Rocks pours tastes of his popular Small Vineyards Italians along with new California wines.  Please join us.

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