Craig Williams and Tom Shelton, winemaker and president/CEO, respectively, of Joseph Phelps Vineyards, resigned from the Napa winery on Friday afternoon, according to their attorney.
The two longtime executives' departures from the famed Phelps winery was not a surprise, sources said, since they had been been mired in a drawn-out dispute over compensation.
Both Williams, a winemaker at Phelps since the 1970s, and Shelton, the company’s president since 1995, were limited partners in the winery and at the heart of the popular winery’s winemaking and business departments.
News of their resignation came in a Friday afternoon e-mail from their law firm, Goodwin Procter, LLP, in San Francisco.
Williams, who joined the winery 32 years ago, has been closely tied to the winery for years, not only as its winemaker, but also its spokesman in many matters. He oversaw winemaking, including the 2002 Phelps Insignia (96 points, $150, 15,000 cases), Wine Spectator’s 2005 Wine of the Year. He was not available for comment.
Winery chairman Bill Phelps, son of founder Joseph Phelps, said that there had been differences between the three parties for some time. But he declined to get into specifics.
“It’s something that’s been a matter of discussion for some time,” Phelps said. “It’s a business fact of life [that differences develop].” Shelton has been battling brain cancer for nearly a year and has not worked for the winery for some time, Phelps reported.
“Certainly Craig and Tom made great contributions to the winery [and the winery is] in great financial hands,” Phelps said, but added that “change is inevitable” and there were “internal differences" at Phelps [and] “philosophical differences, differences related to partnership interests."
“We wish Tom and Craig the very best,” he said
Damian Parker, who has been at Phelps for 26 years, takes over as winemaker, Phelps said. “One of the great strengths of this company is it’s a place where people come and don’t leave,” Phelps said. “That’s why we’re blessed with a great winemaking team.”