Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Thursday, April 11, 1991

High On Yuba County`s Windy Slopes, Renaissance Winery Crafts Aesthetic Wines

The Chicago Tribune

April 11, 1991
By Larry Stone

There never was much of a call for the wines of Yuba County, California. In fact, no vines had grown there since Gold Rush days, until Karl and Diana Werner planted some in 1975.

Yuba County is in the northern Sierra foothills, where the soil is rocky, thin and winds can blow the flowers off the vines in spring. One could have predicted the low yields, about 2 tons per acre, or one-fourth that of Napa Valley, something that would scare off most profit-oriented entrepreneurs.

Yet when the Fellowship of Friends - a philosophical group inspired by the Russian writer - mystic George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff and his spiritualist disciple P.D. Ouspensky-invited Karl Werner to plant 365 acres of vines, they made him an offer that is hard for any self-respecting winemaker to resist. They told him to take his time and make only the finest wine he could.

The resulting Renaissance Winery and its vineyards are to the members of the Fellowship another expression of their belief-originally expressed by the German poet Goethe-that art should be a part of everyday life. Making wine here is indeed an aesthetic project.

The altitude is high in Yuba, between 1,700 and 2,300 feet, ensuring cool nights during the critical ripening period. The vineyards were terraced and landscaped to minimize wind damage and erosion. About 200 miles of drip irrigation were laid, supplied by well water from the estate. Pesticides and herbicides are avoided and the vineyards are fertilized with a natural compost made on site.

The Werners started off by conducting eight years of experimental planting with nine grape varieties, including a fantastic petite sirah, but have since concentrated on cabernet sauvignon, riesling and sauvignon blanc. Cabernet sauvignon represents about half the acreage of Renaissance, which now produces 10,000 cases of wine a year and plans to reach a capacity of 40,000. The Werners also gave the winery an ergonomic, gravity-driven design arranged on three levels. The top level contains the crusher/stemmer, press and fermenting area, which is set up in three concentric circles of stainless- steel fermenting tanks. The barrel-aging room on the next level has about 2,800 oak barrels maintained by an in-house cooperage, a luxury unheard-of in a winery of this size. The winery is so self-sufficient that it made its own stainless-steel fermenting tanks.


At the lowest level is the bottling line, bottle areas (enough for aging more than 35 years of their entire production) and labeling equipment. This multi-level layout reduces the amount of pumping necessary to move the wine from one stage of winemaking to the next. All stages of winemaking after fermentation are underground, representing about 60 percent of the winemaking facility.

One unusual tip of the hat to Karl Werner`s German background is the use of German white-oak barrels that have been steamed rather than toasted. These barrels are excellent for making riesling and other light white wines. The German oak is preferred over French because of its relative neutrality in flavor and its lack of porosity, which helps to preserve the fresh acidity of a wine.

The Werners` departure from normal California practice seems to be quite successful for Renaissance`s dry and sweet rieslings as well as for its exceptionally elegant sauvignon blanc. The German barrels also serve for aging cabernet sauvignon, which is a touch too austere as a result.

It took Renaissance about 12 years since planting its vineyards to release its first wine late in 1988. Even though Renaissance hesitated to finally push its "children" out of the cellar, the wines managed to win medals.

While judging at the Los Angeles County Fair in 1988, I was on a panel that awarded one of the highest honors-a double gold medal-to the non-vintage, second-label "Da Vinci" Petite Sirah. Since then the wines have won 26 awards and have been served to royalty and heads of state in Europe and America. What is more, they are reasonably priced.

In addition to Renaissance Vineyards and Winery, the Fellowship of Friends also maintains an elaborate rose garden, museum and cultural center, called the Goethe Academy, on the estate in the Sierra foothills.

Tasting notes

Renaissance Sauvignon Blanc 1988 - The most elegant of the wines from this producer is wonderfully complex and elegant. The aroma is not grassy, but subdued melon, peach and fresh fig, with a hint of anise and tarragon. The body of the wine is medium-light, but has a round texture despite its lively acidity. $9.50 (****/90 points)

Renaissance Dry White Riesling 1988-Light with a clean, dry feel, lemony and firm, it has the aromas and flavors of lemon grass, apricot and honeydew. This is a nicely made dry riesling that has a lot in common with "Trocken" wines from the Rhine. $8. (***/85 points)

Renaissance Special Select Late-Harvest White Riesling 1985-In 1989 this won two coveted international gold medals, one at Vinexpo in Bordeaux and the other at the London Wine and Spirits Competition. It richly deserved them. The wine is complex and well-structured for long-term aging, with a racy acidity rarely encountered in rieslings from California. Yet with its 13 percent residual sugar and botrytis ("noble rot")-affected grapes, it sings with golden ripeness of honey, apricot nectar, peaches, orange peel and grapefruit. $15 for a half-bottle. (****/92 points)

Renaissance Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 1983 - Also affected with noble rot, this wine is soft and waxy, with a Sauternes-like medium sweetness. It could be drunk with a pate or foie gras, or for dessert with fresh peaches, apricots or pears. $12.95 for a half-bottle. (***/88 points)

Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon 1986 - This is a firmly tannic wine with a classic blackcurrant and cedar nose. The color is dense and dark purple, indicative of youth. On the palate the wine seems quite firm, with noticeable acids and tannins putting a rough edge on the otherwise-ripe fruit character of cherries, blackberries, cocoa. $15. (***/85 points)

Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon 1984 Reserve - This has won attention in Europe for its youthful character, even after three years in the barrel and another three in the bottle. It is still purplish with a hint of red. On the nose one has the classic cabernet cassis and cedar, with anise, clove and rose petal. It is, however, even more firmly acidic and tannic than the 1986 cabernet. As there is a little sediment, decanting the wine an hour ahead will help. $32. (***/84 points)

Star/point system

* 60-69 points (poor)
** 70-79 points (average)
*** 80-89 points (good)
**** 90-100 points (outstanding)

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