The End of an Era at Sebastiani

The sale of a historic family winery reflects broader trends in the California wine industry
James Laube
Issue: November 15, 2009

For more than a century, Sebastiani Vineyards beat the odds. Founded in 1904, it ranks among the oldest wineries in continuous operation in California, and remained a prosperous, family-owned enterprise throughout most of its history.

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 grew to be one of the largest wineries in California before slimming down to focus on quality and wines from its Sonoma County home. In the past few years the venerable label has made some of the best wines in its history, and appears poised for an even greater future.

It was a rarity in California-a family winery that had defied the odds to grow and prosper from one generation to the next. But then, on a still, wintry day a week before Christmas last year, word leaked out: To the surprise of many, Sebastiani Vineyards had been sold. There were no fireworks, no family histrionics, no finger-pointing about what had gone wrong, who was to blame, or where the winery was headed.

For the full article, check out the new issue of Wine Spectator, on newsstands October 27, 2009.

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