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 an ominous, yet unspecified new threat late in 2018.) While non-believers shall perish, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (including his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers will be spared, founding a new, and more perfect civilization.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws on official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the (former) Fellowship Wikipedia page, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wiki project, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

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

Monday, September 30, 1996

Fellowship Gathers for Harvest

[ed. - This is an Internet Archive capture of the Fellowship webpage.]

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Appeal-Democrat 1996
Peter Searle offers a sampling of guitar music
Sitting in the middle of the vineyard, his back pressed against the vines, Peter Searle used his guitar to lull fellow harvesters who were sipping coffee and chatting while on a short break from the work that started at dawn.

Each year, the 20 to 200 workers, most of them Fellowship of Friends members, come from all over the world, many dedicating their annual vacations to working sunrise to sunset harvesting the grapes grown in the vineyards of Renaissance Winery in Oregon House.

“It’s a special time of year for us,” said Fellowship of Friends spokeswoman Cynthia Hill.
“On the slopes you will find the CEO of the winery and president of the fellowship ... so whether you live and work here or are visiting from St. Petersburg or Palo Alto, suddenly we’re all here for the same thing,” she said.

“All year we’re working on different things. Then at harvest we’re all working on the same thing. It unifies us,” Hill said.

The 100 miles of terraced vineyard that colors the Yuba County foothills is the largest mountainside vineyard in North America. The 365-acre vineyard comprises more than one-fourth of the 1,200 acres that are home to the Fellowship’s 600-member Apollo Center in Oregon House.
Planted 20 years ago, it has since produced world renowned award-winning wines on a picturesque mountainside reminiscent of European vineyards.

“The location of the vineyard is what makes (the wine) special,” said wine maker Gideon Beinstock. “Like a fruit tree, if you plant the same tree here and in Yuba City, they will produce very different fruits.”
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Peter Searle, originally from Ireland and now a Yuba County resident, offers a sampling of guitar music during a morning harvest break in the shade of the vine rows.
Photos by Craig Kohlruss
Norbert Dugas snips grapes
The vineyard is owned by the Fellowship of Friends, a 2,000-member worldwide association that follows the Fourth Way tradition of spiritual development established by Greek-Armenian philosopher George Gurdjieff and respected Moscow journalist P. D. Ouspensky.

“In the slopes, higher up, soil is lean and that makes the grapes very tiny, which creates a very concentrated juice,” Beinstock said. “You get very deep colors and very deep flavors,” he said.
Generally, the mountain soil is leaner, which forces the vine to work harder, said assistant harvesting manager David Darby.

“Mountain harvest puts more stress on the vine, which is what you want, because the more pressure you put on it, the better the quality of fruit,” Darby said.

“It’s unusual to use mountain soil for wine making. Mountain soil decreases the yield, but increases the juiciness of the grape,” Hill said.

“In the end, it’s the taste of the land that comes through in the wine,” she said. “The uniqueness of the land here and soil all become very critical.”
The conditions of the mountain soil vary every 10 feet, which combined with the microclimates of the terraced vineyard, pushes the vines into varying stages of maturity and gives every vine its own characteristics.

“Ten-thousand vines are like having 10,000 people,” Darby said.

When harvest begins and ends is dictated by the weather. Harvest of the white grapes generally starts the first week of September, but because of this summer’s heat wave, began in mid-August. The reds, however, remained stable during the blast of heat.

Rain earlier this month slowed harvesting of the reds some, but doesn’t seem to have hurt the crop, Darby said.

“You can’t pick the grapes when they’re wet because the stagnate water on a picked cluster of grapes will dilute the fruit’s sugars and acids,” Darby said.

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Norbert Dugas, who lives at Apollo, snips grapes along with about 20 to 30 other Fellowship of Friends members during the morning harvest at the Renaissance vineyard. The members, many from all parts of the world, take care to pick only the finest grapes to make a high-quality wine.

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Appeal-Democrat 1996

Simon Ford dumps picked grapes into a bin

Harvesting of the whites has to be done in the cool hours of the day, so picking begins around 5:30 a.m. and ends around noon. The reds, however, can withstand the heat, and will be harvested sunrise to sunset.

Pickers are primarily fellowship members who come to enjoy harvest time, Hill said. Extra workers are hired only as needed.

People are working together in small groups, for up to 14 hours a day, and conversing about their different cultures, Hill said, so harvest is also a time for members to bond with each other.

“I think for all cultures, harvest has been a time for being together, getting together,” Hill said.
Searle moved with his wife from Ireland to Yuba County five years ago to work in the winery full-time.

“You start at a quarter to five and go through till sundown,” he said. “It’s a massive effort. Time tends to stand still. I tend to forget what day it is.”

 “You get that energy level going and by the second week of red harvest, you’re almost in a different world,” he said.

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Simon Ford of London dumps picked cabernet sauvignon grapes into a bin to be taken to the winery for crushing.

Thirty-thousand cases of wine are bottled at Renaissance each year and sold all over the world, with about 20 percent sold in the Far East and Europe.

“The Orient, China, Japan and Taiwan are really opening up,” said Iona Brode, the winery’s director of marketing.

The cabernets and late harvests are especially popular overseas, she said.
In domestic sales, “we’re just beginning to get into other states,” she said, with distribution in New York and Florida. She couldn’t estimate how much wine is sold outside of California.

“People are seeking out the regional wineries more so within the last four to five years,” she said, whereas in the past, the Sonoma and Napa wines were the most popular.

“People are ready to move on and experiment with different wines now,” Brode said.

Sherry Barkas

At a glance - Renaissance Winery facts

1976 Vineyard:
365 acres
48 % cabernet sauvignon
30 % sauvignon blanc
11 % riesling
6 % chardonnay
4 % merlot
1 % cabernet franc
1,700 to 2,300 feet with slopes up to 50 degrees
Average yield:
1.8 tons per acre
Winery storage capacity:
61 fermentation tanks, 1,800 oak barrels
Winery tours:
Wednesday through Sunday by appointment
For tour information and reservations:
(800) 655-3277

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Winemaker Gideon Beinstock tastes grape must
Winemaker Gideon Beinstock tastes grape must, of a merlot blend that has fermented for one week, while working in the winery at A

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