Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970. Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and most recently the October 2018 "Fall of California Redux.")

According to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish while, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci), Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new and more perfect civilization. Read more about the blog.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Saturday, October 13, 1990

Sunday, September 23, 1990

Steps to Success: Renaissance's Terraced Vineyards Are Leading Its Wines to Medals

[ed. - Sourced from]
By Robert Lawrence Balzer
Los Angeles Times
23 Sep 1990

It took a decade for the only vineyard in North Yuba County to get its wines on the market, but for Renaissance Vineyards and Winery the wait has been worthwhile.

Since its initial releases in October, 1988, Renaissance has been winning international awards left and right, giving credence to the winery's philosophy of not releasing wines for general sales until they are deemed to be outstanding. The most recent award was in May from Wine Magazine's International Challenge in London. Four thousand wines were entered in the competition, but in the Bordeaux Style Wines" category, only two gold medals were awarded. One went to Renaissance 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon.

This medal is the latest in a series of victories that began in June, 1989, when I first heard about this winery. At VINEXPO, the most formidable wine exposition in the world, the Renaissance 1985 Special Select Late Harvest Riesling was the only American wine to come home with a gold medal. It also won two of the three other awards that American wines received: a silver for its 1982 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc and a bronze for its 1987 Dry Riesling. In October, Gault Millau, a well-known European wine publication, rated 70 of the world's luscious dessert nectars. The Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling was ranked in the Top 10, the highest rating for any American wine and the highest rating for any Riesling in the world.

Renaissance, a 1,400-acre forested mountain retreat on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is one of the few wineries in the country with terraced vineyards. It is owned and operated by Fellowship of Friends, an international nondenominational organization that is committed to the arts. (In fact, there's a 300-seat auditorium for performances and a fine arts museum filled with Ming Dynasty furniture on the 365-acre winery.)

The group bought the land in 1971 as a place for its members, who today number 1,500, as a place to gather and take classes in the arts, philosophies and languages. But Robert Burton, head of the organization and a student of the writings of philosophers Georges Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky, decided to go commercial with a winery.

"We treat winemaking as an art, although we try not to take ourselves too seriously," says James Bryant, president of Renaissance.

Planting was started in 1975 on the forested, granitic mountain site after the slopes were cleared of manzanita, scrub oak, pines and cedars. About 175,000 12-inch holes were drilled into the granite and filled with compost, into which the vines were placed. Ultimately, 103 miles of contoured terraces on elevation ranging from 1,700 to 2,300 feet were completed and planted with clover, annual grasses and other native ground cover, which prevent erosion on the slopes.

Renaissance's winery is the inspiration of its late, founding wine master, Karl Werner, who died in 1988 after a successful harvest. He designed a circular winery, with stainless-steel fermenters in concentric circles. This construction permits efficient handling of the wine as gravity moves it from fermenters to German oak cooperage for aging and then later to the bottling line.
Production is at 10,000 cases, with a potential for 40,000 cases annually. With the vineyard yield of but two tons per acre-in Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and White Riesling-the dedication is to quality, not quantity. Distribution, therefore, is limited.
Eight wines are currently in release, including the luscious late-harvest wines mentioned earlier. Don't miss the 1988 Sauvignon Blanc ($10) and 1988 Dry White Riesling ($8) both wines of silky finesse.

Another wine to look for is the 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon, which will not be released until next spring. It's like all the First Growth clarets of Bordeaux rolled into one. It has the color and depth of Chateau Latour, the fragrance of Margaux, the delicacy of Haut-Brion, the complexity of Lafite, and the charm of Mouton.

PHOTO: COLOR, Terraced vineyards are part of the picturesque landscape at Renaissance, 70 miles northeast of Sacramento.

(Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1990 all Rights reserved)

Tuesday, September 11, 1990

Roger Green "completes his task"

[ed. - Fellowship of Friends member Roger Green "completed his task" on September 11, 1990. This is Robert Burton's way of saying he died. (According to Burton, our lives are scripted by "C Influence," "Higher Forces," also known as the gods. A member's role is scripted to benefit both their personal evolution and that of the Fellowship.) Roger was a member of the Fellowship's London center for five years. It is reported (see below) that his final bequest to the Fellowship, a substantial sum of money, was misappropriated by Burton and squandered for his own pleasure.]

"Lust for Life" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 17, 2007:
Kiran, your story about the FOF wanting you to sign your business over to them while you were at death’s door reminds me of a student in London called Roger. He was an older gentleman, who was dying and signed a lot of money over to the FOF on his passing for the purpose of building a hostel for students who were unable to afford a visit to Renaissance (as it was then). Plans were drawn up and he was convinced that it would be built but it never was and who knows what happened to the money? That left a very nasty taste in my mouth, he was such a generous man, and this betrayal was one of the factors that helped me to see that RB has no conscience.

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 22, 2007:
Fat boy,

I’m just going to study your first paragraph. You said,
my feeling and verification is that FOF is managed very efficiently and cautiously with monies and if there is any mishandling it is minor (nobody or no organization is perfect.
No one is seeking perfection…but let’s have a look at “verification”.

If you indeed went to the Ouspensky Office and asked to look at the books, and if indeed you were shown them, and if indeed you have at least done Accounting 101 at college and know what double entry book-keeping means, and were given and took the time to sit down with a calculator and check the arithmetic—I’d be very surprised.

If you then took the next step and looked at all the bank records, income statements, cash flow reports, credit card expenses of both the FoF and the vineyard/winery, and did your own trial balances to check, I’d be even more surprised.

If you did all this with a forensic accountant at your side, someone with the knowledge and authority to look at true copies of wage stubs, interview the FoF accountants and recipients of those wages separately, look at the bank account, credit card accounts, tax returns and financial activities of those receiving wages (including Burton) from both organizations, and then look through all the hard drives, backups through the years, searching specifically for evidence of a second set of books, then I’d agree you are on the road to verification.

If you continued and explored the financial connections of the companies that are “privatized” spin-offs from the two entities, such as Hans–Michael H’s marketing operation and the various others, with all their financial records (including loans and startup costs), reports and tax returns, together with the all relationships to Burton’s financial records including all bank accounts domestic and foreign—still under the guidance of the forensic accountant—then I would agree, you have verified the finances of the FoF.

If after all this, you could now look at the setup, both generally and specifically, of the FoF as a non–profit organization, at the FoF canons, and can tell me how Burton lives the lifestyle he does, spends as he does, and can still say with a straight face that the FoF is managed very efficiently, using standard financial terms such as “Rate of return on investment”, then we are indeed living in quite different realities here on the planet. I mean, $85 million or so input, assets $5 million at the most… But, I’m prepared to be surprised.

Look, here’s just one example. We know about Roger Greene’s estate, how he carefully and intentionally and in full generosity liquidated all his assets as his death approached in London. How he got together the quarter million dollars in cash. How he planned his gift, so the FoF could build a decent place to stay for visiting students. How he was led on, making plans for the building, playing “what ifs”, taking joy in the expectation that he was solving a practical problem, how he could express his love for his fellow students. How he made his farewells, how his son helped turn his wishes into reality at his death. How the cash was smuggled into the States against the law and brought to Renaissance—and how Burton spent most of it at the Toyota dealership on cars for the boys within two weeks, and the rest within the month. Do you know all this? Did you find out sleuthing through the books? Did the FoF CFO or Treasurer tell you? [Bolds added]

So, Fat boy, surprise me!

[ed. - See also this telling of Roger's story by Ames Gilbert.]

Saturday, September 1, 1990

The Classical Chinese Furniture Society

[ed. - The Classical Chinese Furniture Society was created by the Fellowship of Friends to support and promote its Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture. From 1990 through 1994, the Society published the well-regarded Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society. Fellowship member Curtis Evarts was President of the Society and a journal Contributing Editor.]

From the California Secretary of State website:
Entity Number:C1817669
Date Filed:03/17/1992
Entity Address:P O BOX 707
Entity City, State, Zip:OREGON HOUSE CA 95962
Agent for Service of Process:CURTIS EVARTS
Agent Address:12668 RICE'S CROSSING RD
Agent City, State, Zip:OREGON HOUSE CA 95962

Statement of Officers File Number: 0149200
Statement of Officers File Date: 03/19/1996
President: Curtis Evarts
Franchise Tax Board Suspension: 10/01/2001

From website:
NTEE Category: A Arts, Culture, and Humanities A40 (Visual Arts Organizations)
Ruling Year: 1993
Revocation Date (effective date on which organization's tax exemption was automatically revoked): 15-May-2010
Employer Identification Number (EIN): 68-0263458

Mailing Address: 20436 SEA GULL WAY, SARATOGA, CA 95070-3128

Exemption Type: 501(c)(3)
Revocation Posting Date (date on which IRS posted notice of automatic revocation on 09-Jun-2011

Sunday, July 1, 1990

The Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture

[ed. - The date of this post is approximate. The Fellowship of Friends' focus on Ming furniture began with a 1987 journey to Paris, where Robert Burton, his Secretary Wayne Mott, and future museum curator Curtis Evarts observed a Ming era chair (link inactive). (See translated text below.) Over the next few years, the Fellowship's Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture was created.]

Excerpts from Austere Luminosity of Chinese Classical Furniture, by Sarah Handler:
"In 1990 the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture opened in Renaissance, California. Founded by the Fellowship of Friends in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California, this museum was the only one in the world devoted exclusively to Chinese furniture. To promote the study and appreciation of furniture, the fellowship also published the quarterly Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society."

"San Francisco was again the site of a Chinese furniture exhibition in 1995–96, when the collection from the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture was shown at the Pacific Heritage Museum and a catalog published. The Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society ceased publication at the end of 1994, and in September 1996 the museum’s entire collection was sold at Christie’s in New York for unprecedented sums.The collection had been formed during the 1980s and ’90s, when many excellent pieces of classical furniture were coming out of China."

"This book had its origins in the high-spirited rediscovery of classical furniture in the 1990s and developed from a series of articles I wrote about pieces in the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture."

From: (link inactive)

(Translated from the Chinese) "California Museum of Chinese classical
furniture is a specialized collection of the world's first museum of
Ming furniture, hiding it in the vineyard under the foothills of the
Sierra Nevada from San Francisco to Reno direction dealers than three
hours, you can arrive Manor of 'outposts.' Park trails meandering, with
the potential ups and downs."
(Translated from the Chinese) "Here was a Ming-style
furniture traces exotic appendage premises Home-Page
of the owner in May 1994 allowed to visit the museum,
and the curator Curtis Evarts (right) and Chinese
Classical Furniture Society Quarterly editor
Jeanne Chapman (left) photo."
(Translated from the Chinese) This 18th century rosewood South Armchair [pictured above] led to the birth of Chinese classical furniture museum. In 1987, painter Wayne Mott and the Fellowship of Friends founder Robert Burton and future curator Curtis Evarts were on a tour in Paris. This armchair captured this group of people's heart, stunning them: "It's almost like a beautiful sculpture."

From New Perspectives on Chinese Furniture: (link inactive)
This emphasis on Chinese hardwood furniture continued as late as 1987 when the Fellowship of Friends, a non-profit organization in Renaissance, California chose to collect Chinese hardwood furniture as part of their belief that art elevates the spirit. The formation of the Renaissance Museum of Classical Chinese furniture and its subsequent sale at public auction of the collection some 9 years later was to magnify the importance of Chinese hardwood furniture. Firstly, by driving up the prices as they sought out the best pieces in the market, secondly through the scholarship that they promoted through their quarterly publication - the Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society - and finally when the pieces sold for record prices at auction.

[ed. - From: Ming Furniture Ltd.'s website. They would later be named in a Fellowship lawsuit.]
Ming Furniture Ltd.
New York, NY
Telephone: 212-734-9524

Ming Furniture Ltd. specializes in the sale of rare Huanghuali, Zitan, and Jichimu hardwood and lacquer furniture from China's golden age of furniture design, the Ming and early Qing dynasties, circa 1500-1775.

Since 1987, our gallery has been advising museums, foundations, corporations, and private collectors in their purchase of important Chinese furniture. Over twenty (20) pieces from our holdings have been sold to and can now be found in the great museum collections of Chinese furniture and art: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; the Detroit Institute of Arts; and the Guanfu Museum, Beijing. Ming Furniture Ltd. also played an instrumental role in the formation of the collection of the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture in Renaissance, California.

Wednesday, May 16, 1990

Wine Renaissance in Yuba County

Image from a Renaissance Vineyard & Winery brochure. Original photo by James Kline.
San Francisco Chronicle
May 16, 1990

Religious fellowship runs winery

by Gerald D. Boyd
Special to the Chronicle

Renaissance may be the most unusual winery in California, or even the world.

Isolated against the Sierras in the northeast corner of hilly Yuba County, Renaissance Vineyard and Winery is the centerpiece of a 1,400-acre retreat for the Fellowship of Friends, a non-denomiinational church that emphasizes the arts.

Renaissance is also an unincorporated private community posting a population of 347 at its controlled gate, although no one has a permanent residence on the grounds. Besides the winery and vineyards, which together employ a full-time staff of 75, the estate has its own shops, a community dining hall, a small cafe, and a town hall that doubles as a theater and a showpiece museum.

The Fellowship, founded in 1970 by former Bay Area resident Robert Burton, is based on the teachings of two early 20th century Russian philosophers, G. I. Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky. Works of the Renaissance and the German poet and scholar Johann Wolfgang von Goethe are also influential.

Contoured Vineyards

The only winery in Yuba County, Renaissance farms 365 acres of estate-grown grapes, 200 acres of which surround the winery on dramatic contoured stair-step terraces.

In 1975, members of the Fellowship first planted 10 varieties of wine grapes at the urging of one of the Fellowship's members - the late Karl Werner, a winemaker who saw wine as an expression of the arts and believed passionately iin the superiority of the German style of winemaking.

After eight years of trial and error, the plantings were reduced to about 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, plus some Sauvignon Blanc and Johannisberg Riesling. Renaissance President James Bryant says they are experimenting with Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Before the vines could be planted, a massive clearing project was launched to remove the dense ground cover of scrub oak, manzanita and digger pine. Then the terraces were carved out of the hillside.

Tradition of Grape Growing

"There is a history of grape growing in this area," says Hanns Heick, director of sales. "there was a large vineyard at nearby Collin Lake in the 1850s and the name of the county, Yuba, comes from the Spanish uva for grape."

In 1983, most of the major plantings were completed, including laying 200 miles of drip irrigation pipes along 100 miles of terraces and digging three deep wells to feed the system. Bryant estimates that the winery and vineyard investment thus far is in excess of $10 million. "when the Fellowship first developed this estate as a retreat in the early 70s, land was $185 an acre."

Before 1986, Werner and his crew made Renaissance wines under a huge white inflated air dome. Bryant recalls that the distinctive dome became a local landmark as well as a navigational aid  for U.S. Air force pilots landing at Beale Air Force Base outside nearby Marysville.

Today, the dome has been replaced by a monolithic winery, built entirely by members of the Fellowship. Although the main part of the winery building is complete, construction continues as funds become available. Because Renaissance is so far removed from sources of building supplies, the Fellowship operates its own cement pant. It also fabricated some of its first stainless-steel fermenting tanks.

The core of the winery is a hulking octagonal concrete building set on a broad concrete base that will eventually hold a spacious patio with lawns and an extensive garden. This building is in the middle of the vineyard and, thus, in an ideal position because grapes can arrive at the crusher within minutes of being picked.

Werner's design fro the winery, 60 percent of which is underground, employs the principle of gravity flow. He placed crushing, pressing and fermentation on the top level, barrel aging on the second level and storage, bottling and shipping on the bottom level.

All fermenting is done in stainless steel in an unusual circular fermentation room on the first level. Werner arranged the upright fermenters in three concentric circles. Grape must (unfermented juice) is fed from the crushers through a line that rotates around the room on an overhead track.

German oak is at the core of Werner's wine-aging philosophy. The hundreds of thick-steved barrels and casks on the second level are made from German oak.

Taking Up the Mantle

Werner died just after the harvest in 1988, but his winemaking beliefs are followed today by his widow, Diana Werner, who shares the winemaking duties with associate winemaker Edward Schulten.

Unlike other wineries that stack their barrels on racks for easy movement, Renaissance puts the heavy oak barrels in place and moves them only once a decade. Every nine years, each row of barrels is dismantled, the interior surfaces of the barrels shaved and the barrels reassembled and restacked. Renaissance has a fully equipped barrel cooperage operated and maintained by cellarmaster William Nordby.

When the wines are racked off for bottling, the barrels must be cleaned and prepared for the next aging cycle. The staff designed a portable Rube Goldberg-style machine that spray-cleans the interior of the barrel, then vacuums out the water and soda ash mixture. Werner says they are thinking of having the design patented.

Amid all the concrete, oak and stainless steel, a sense of the guiding philosophy of the Fellowship - a belief that art is an essential part of everyday life - can be seen in the reproductions of fine art, torn from magazines and taped or pinned to walls.

To date, all labeling is done by hand, although Werner says because of increased production and sales, it will soon go to automatic labeling. In 1989, the first sales year for Renaissance, it sold 5,000 cases. Werner says it expects to double that this year.

Renaissance winery has taken its time to come to market. And while the winery is still isolated from the North Coast mainstream, Renaissance wines are beginning to find their niche.

Gerald Boyd is beverage editor for Restaurant Hospitality magazine.

[ed. - Photo that originally ran with the article:]
Original photo by James Kline

Tasting the Wines

German-style Rieslings and, to a lesser extent, a light fruity Sauvignon Blanc are Renaissance's forte. They are available in several Bay Area liquor stores.

Although half the 365 acres of vines are Cabernet Sauvignon, no Cabernet has yet appeared under the Renaissance label. There is, however, a recently released Cabernet Sauvignon, $9.50, under its second label, Da Vinci Vineyards.

Renaissance white wines, all aged in German oak, are very accessible and have a characteristic softness, yet sufficient acidity and fresh fruit flavors. The 1987 Sauvignon Blanc, $10, is floral rather than grassy, with just a slight oak pungency, whereas the 1988, to be released this summer, is more stylized with a fruit-salad aroma and a mellow fruity flavor.

Renaissance 1988 Dry White Riesling, $8, is aromatic with a mellow tropical fruit flavor and an impeccably dry finish. The 1983 Late Harvest White Riesling, $9.50, has a mature nose of honied apricots with only 9.5 percent alcohol, but it is a bit low in acidity.

A sweeter 1985 Select Late Harvest White Riesling, $25, has greater depth and better fruit-acid balance, finishing with a slight pepperiness. Renaissance also makes Late Harvest Suavignon Blanc.

I also tasted barrel samples of two massive Cabernets that still need time to mellow. The 1988 Cabernet Sauvignon was very deep in color, with layers of berries and a firm tannic structure. The 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon was more dense and oaky, with some fruit hiding behind a heavy tannin cloak.

Saturday, March 31, 1990

Renaissance Vineyard and Winery advertisement

[ed. - Below is the text of a Renaissance Vineyard and Winery advertisement published in "The Wine Spectator," March 31, 1990. It was a large-format ad, full page, perhaps.]
 "What a Year!"

"We waited twelve years before releasing our wines. It was worth the wait. Within the first year of release, our California wines were awarded medals in Europe's largest and most esteemed wine competitions:

"VINEXPO: The World Wine and Spirits Fair, 5th International Wine Competition, of Blaiyais-Bordeaux, France, June 1989, 1272 Entries.

"At this, the world's largest wine fair, four American wines competed for medals. Renaissance is proud to have won three.

"International Wine and Spirits Competition, 20th International Competition, Guildhall, London, England, October 1989, 1175 Entries.

"At this major competition, 225 American wines were eligible to earn medals. Renaissance was awarded four. We were the only American winery to win gold medals in both this and VINEXPO.

"In our first year, Europe's acclaimed wine publication, Gault Millau, evaluated 70 late harvest wines. Renaissance was the only American wine to be listed amongst the top ten. During that same year, Wine & Spirits judged three of our first releases as 'highly recommended' or 'exceptional.'"