In what he described as a surprise takeover, Gary Eberle was removed as head of Eberle Winery in Paso Robles on Dec. 13. “This just came out of the blue,” said Eberle. “If you hit me on the back of the head with a two by four I wouldn’t be more surprised.” Eberle, 70, was one of the early pioneers of Paso Robles, and one of the first to show the potential of the region.
"We have no comment at this time," said new general manager Willis Blakewell. Blakewell—who previously managed Rutherford Hill, Chimney Rock, Alderbrook and Sanford Winery as vice president of winery operations for Terlato Wine Group—added that he would meet with the managing partners and a statement may be released later.
According to Eberle, the change in leadership was possible due to family issues. While general manager until now, Eberle owns only 35 percent of the winery's shares. His brother, Jim, is 94 and being treated for Alzheimer’s, which has given Jim's wife, Jeanne Giacobine, power of attorney over 39 percent of the winery. With the help of minority partners Abe and Rob Flory, she has voted Eberle out.
Eberle moved to Paso Robles in 1973 after studying enology at the University of California at Davis. He established Estrella River Winery, then founded Eberle in 1979. The brand is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah, a variety which Eberle was one of the first winemakers in California to champion.
Eberle thought the reason for his ouster might be because he opposed plans to increase production volume substantially, something Blakewell refused to comment on. So far all Eberle employees—including Gary—still have a position at the winery. Eberle said that he will remain with the brand, his role reduced to marketing consultant. “I have no fallback plan,” said Eberle. “My net worth is this winery. My retirement is this winery. I’m 70—this is my whole life. I will do everything I can to make this work.”