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.

Saturday, April 24, 1999

Making wine in the lap of gods

[ed. - The following article was accessed through proquest.com.]
Renaissance wine is produced at Apollo. Where else but in California, asks a perplexed Kieran Cooke

Financial Times of London
By Kiernan Cooke
24 Apr 1999

The flat, rice-growing lands around Sacramento were far behind. The car engine strained as the road wound up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. First, Marysville and then on, in the direction of Brownsville. Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe were in the distance, farther up.

Over the dinner table back in San Francisco I had heard talk of a winery called Renaissance high in the hills. A group of people, members of some obscure community, had battled with mountain rock and scrub to build one of California's premier vineyards.

The Renaissance winery is well away from California's main vine-growing estates in the Napa Valley and areas farther north. Yet the Renaissance label has a considerable reputation; its wines have been consumed regularly at White House functions, and have won a rack-full of awards, both national and international. Intriguingly, the winery also has its own opera and ballet companies, an orchestra, a lavish collection of antiques - and a seemingly limitless supply of cash. [italics added]

I met Paul Harvey, president of Renaissance, in the small village of Oregon House. "Wine production is only one aspect of our life," he said. "The whole property here, which we call Apollo, is a laboratory for the principles we study."

Apollo is run by a group called the Fellowship of Friends, founded in Carmel, California, in 1970. The group's philosophy is not easy to understand; it involves concepts termed self-remembering and the fourth way, and is based on the teachings of two turn-of-the-century Russian philosophers, George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky.

"We reject the idea we are a cult," said Harvey, as we bumped along in his Jeep, past a guard post and into one of the finest vineyards I have seen.


Cypress trees lined the road winding through the neat terraces of vines. There was an olive grove. Statues surrounded an ornamental lake. A white neo-classical pavilion - the Apollo Academy - stood amid a delicately patterned rose garden. "Everything is full of the Gods," said the inscription beneath the portico.

Harvey, who spent 20 years on Wall Street before joining the Apollo project, said the fundamental belief of the fellowship was that man as he was presented to the world was not a complete being. Only by using various psychological tools and through the pressure of work and other activities was it possible to induce evolution. "Intense self-awareness, a positive outlook and a commitment to art and high culture lead to a higher consciousness," says a fellowship brochure.

I had difficulty grappling with these ideas as we drove down the rutted roads of the estate. The Apollo project covers more than 1,200 acres; work on clearing the land began soon after the fellowship bought the property in the early 1970s.

Rocks were dynamited and 175,000 holes drilled and filled with compost before vines were planted. Wine production, covering 365 acres, started in 1986. The area is hilly and encompasses several micro-climates. As a result, more than a dozen varieties are produced under the Renaissance label, ranging from big reds to sweet dessert wines.

Output is relatively small by California standards - about 40,000 cases a year. The winery had a turnover of $3m last year and is, according to Harvey, moving towards break-even point. "We have a system of tithes through which members contribute a certain percentage of their income. Apollo's development came about entirely from the Fellowship's own income stream."

The fellowship says it has 2,000 members worldwide, about 600 of whom, of various nationalities, work on the Apollo project. The community has its own school - "The Lewis Carroll" - and its own baseball team.

Over lunch and a tasting session at the winery restaurant I met Gideon Beinstock, the chief winemaker, who describes himself as a French Israeli.

"This is not an easy operation to understand or to run," said Beinstock. "We are all amateurs, without any formal training in the wine-making business. The fellowship has certain rules - like no smoking or drugs. A member is asked to leave if he or she displays what we call excessive negativity. Negativity gets in the way of evolution. You must always try to be positive. That means I cannot shout or scream or criticise people. Sometimes it's frustrating."

Eliza Tudor is in charge of the arts programme at Apollo. Her voice is straight out of an English country house drawing room.

"Apollo is dedicated to preserving the classical traditions, and that includes both wine-making and the arts," she said. Up here, in what many would consider to be the back of beyond, the Apollo opera company is putting on The Marriage of Figaro while the theatre company is staging Othello.

I asked about adverse publicity the fellowship has received. Some former members have alleged they were subjected to brainwashing: there have been allegations of sexual impropriety involving Robert Burton, the fellowship's founder, who is referred to as "The Teacher" by fellowship members.

"In the past," said Harvey, "we have been rather secretive and ignored the adverse publicity. Now I think there is a wider understanding of what we are engaged in here. People can't help being impressed when they visit us."

Full of wine and good food, we came to the last stop on the tour - the Apollo Academy, which houses one of California's most prized art and antique collections and doubles as the home of "The Teacher". Burton was away in Europe, searching for artefacts. One of the tenets of the fellowship's teaching is the need for renewal and change. The academy's contents are regularly traded.

In the 1970s, Burton built up a valuable collection of 18th century porcelain and silver plate. After a while, this was sold off and a selection of Old Masters bought with the proceeds. Subsequently, the academy built up the world's largest collection of Ming dynasty furniture. In 1994, Burton and the fellowship abruptly sold off its Chinese antiques and turned instead to French and Italian decorative art.

"Burton must be immensely wealthy," I said as we drove past the guard post and out into the other world. "He has nothing," replied Harvey. "Everything belongs to the fellowship." [italics added]

It is all a little surreal. The fellowship's teachings and the source of its undoubted wealth, are still rather a mystery. Renaissance wines are far easier to appreciate and understand.

* Renaissance Vineyard & Winery, POB 829, Apollo, Oregon House, Ca 95962. Renaissance Wines are imported into the UK by Southern Wine Brands of Huddersfield. Tel: 01484-608898, fax 01484-609495. Copyright Financial Times Limited 1999. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright F.T. Business Enterprises Limited (FTBE) Apr 24, 1999

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