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.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"The Fellowship itself never paid a penny in settlement"*

Fellowship of Friends cult derelict Renaissance Winery in Oregon House, CA
Derelict Renaissance Vineyard & Winery structure. Where charitable donations came to die.

Renaissance perseveres in the Yuba foothills
By Mike Dunne mdunne@sacbee.com

Published: March 11th, 2008 01:40 PM
(First published May 2, 2007)

On a sunny slope about 2,300 feet up the Sierra foothills of Yuba County, Gideon Beinstock points out an array of Northern California landmarks.

There's the Coast Range. That snowy crown is Mount Lassen. The smudge off to the left? Sacramento. From way up here, you even look down on the area's most prominent geological feature, Sutter Buttes.

Vision never has been a problem at Renaissance Vineyard & Winery. Realization is another matter.

Since 1994, the hirsute and slight Beinstock has been Renaissance's winemaker and CEO. But over the past few years, the winery's future has become as murky as the outline of Sacramento on the horizon.

At Beinstock's feet, stubby silver stumps of vines curve across the shoulder of the hill, barely visible in waves of tall spring grass. Like other vineyards that not long ago rolled across these knolls in a rhythmic pastiche evocative of Tuscany, this plot is being abandoned.

On a hill across the way, a tractor yanks out vines of another plot. On yet another hill stands Renaissance's monolithic three-story winery; only the ground floor now is used to make wine. Here and there, olive, almond, cherry and citrus orchards have replaced stands of chardonnay and riesling. Rosebushes bloom where pinot noir once grew.

"This has been a traumatic experience," Beinstock says while driving his truck up and down the estate's steep and rocky roads. "But it was financial suicide, the way this was farmed before."

For-profit without profit

In 1971, the guarded, philosophic, spiritually seeking Fellowship of Friends acquired 1,300 acres of these hard and brushy hills 20 miles northeast of Marysville and began to build a community of refinement and quest.

In 1974, the group hired German winemaker Karl Werner, who upon first visiting the site reputedly scooped up a handful of the property's red soil, took a bite and pronounced it just the stuff to produce great wine.
Vineyard development commenced the next year, and over the ensuing decade, the energetic Fellowship converted 365 hardscrabble acres into vines, built the winery, and released wines that drew praise and a following for their structure, clarity and daring. At its peak, Renaissance was making 20,000 cases of wine a year, and principals talked of doubling output.

But today, only around 100 acres remain in vines, and annual production is down to 3,500 cases.

Renaissance -- which since 1978 has been a for-profit, wholly owned subsidiary of the nonprofit Fellowship -- just never made money, and this retrenchment is necessary to survive, indicates Beinstock.

He doesn't know how much money has been invested and lost in the enterprise, and the Fellowship's president, Linda Tulisso [Linda Kaplan], says that information is confidential.

Other complications arose. Pesticides and herbicides hurt soil and vine, and yields fell; today, however, the vineyards are farmed organically. Lawsuits accusing the group's founder and spiritual leader, Robert Burton, of sexual improprieties scared off distributors, says Beinstock; one suit was dismissed and two others were settled by the Fellowship's insurance companies to save the costs of litigation, says Tulisso.

"The Fellowship itself never paid a penny in settlement," notes Tulisso, who added that the suits were filed by former members who failed to produce evidence to support their accusations.*
[ed. - Bolds added. See below.]

Stress, but not distressed

Aside from the cutback in vines, Renaissance today doesn't look distressed. Palm trees line the estate's looping lanes. Spring sunshine ricochets off golden statues of Apollo, Victory, Athena and other classical figures high on tall ribbed columns about the manicured grounds. Migrating geese pause at ponds. A large and handsome amphitheater is nearing completion (the Fellowship includes a ballet troupe, theater group, orchestra and choir). And the former book bindery has been converted into an idyllic concert hall and tasting room, open to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

Despite setbacks and an uncertain future, Beinstock is upbeat about Renaissance's prospects. He's a winemaker, after all, someone who knows that grapes infected with mold and looking rotten still can yield marvelously golden and luscious wines.

This isn't collapse, but conversion, he says, noting that after three decades of experimentation, Renaissance knows what grape varieties will grow best on what sites. Chardonnay and riesling have been replaced with such varieties as grenache and syrah, which he is confident will adapt better to the steep, rocky slopes and the area's hot summer days. Grafting and replanting continue, and new vineyard techniques are being introduced.

Beinstock isn't interested in making mainstream "international style" varietals, but wines that represent the North Yuba appellation that is home to Renaissance.

"I'm looking for a real stamp of the place," Beinstock says.

What might that be? Through three decades and three winemakers, certain stylistic threads have been consistent in the wines, and he intends to continue to capitalize on them. Renaissance wines are solidly structured, opening slowly and gracefully, and are long-lived when they do. They tend to be more lean than lush. They have an equilibrium about them, and by today's standards, they are downright old-fashioned when it comes to alcohol levels. The newly released Renaissance 1999 Sierra Foothills North Yuba Vin de Terroir Cabernet Sauvignon ($49) has just 12.7 percent alcohol, yet it is rich with the smell and flavor of cherries and eucalyptus, with firm minerality in its feel.

Cabernet sauvignon is Renaissance's signature varietal, as also shown by the ripe, supple and layered Renaissance 2000 Sierra Foothills North Yuba Cabernet Sauvignon ($30), but Beinstock is no less confident in the future of wines based on varieties identified with France's Rhone Valley -- syrah, grenache, viognier and the like.

In his corner are the bright and juicy Renaissance 2006 Sierra Foothills North Yuba Viognier ($30), abundant with honeysuckle, apple and peach; the concentrated, spicy Renaissance 2003 Sierra Foothills North Yuba Vin de Terroir Syrah ($35); and the unusually accessible Renaissance 2000 Sierra Foothills North Yuba Vin de Terroir Granite Crown ($40), a refined blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Renaissance wines are hard to find in the Sacramento area -- Beinstock says San Francisco is a more receptive market for the wines -- but they can be ordered online.

Toast to the future

A decade from now, he sees Renaissance comfortably stabilized. Vineyardists will be overseeing about 50 acres, he expects. Yields will be at precisely calibrated levels to produce monumental wines. The migration of the best grapes to the best sites will be complete. And Renaissance wines most likely will be sold only in California, largely through specialty stores catering to a clientele that appreciates the distinctive style that North Yuba produces.

"We have a much better understanding of this place now," says Beinstock. "We're getting the best varieties onto the best sites so we can focus on quality. We're going small scale and being very precise. We're building for the future."

He can see it all around.

* The Fellowship itself never paid a penny in settlement,' notes Tulisso...

As others have pointed out, of course they never produced evidence, because there was a financial settlement by the Fellowship's insurance company before the discovery phase would normally have taken place. So, the Fellowship would pay in other ways - insurance rate hikes or even lack of coverage.

Ames Gilbert wrote in an e-mail to the editor, July 29, 2013:
Yuba County kept pestering FoF for taxes based on the enormous square footage of the winery, as they were entitled to do. The FoF eventually reached an agreement—they would fill in all windows and doors of the upper two stories with concrete so they could not possibly be used, and Yuba County would stop demanding taxes on those parts. Demolition was not an option.

After all, Burton had the place designed as a nuclear bomb shelter, and thousands of cubic yards of heavily reinforced concrete is not going to pulled down very easily. This was duly done, and the whole monstrosity painted a sort of pinkish red, visible from the main road.

"dick moron" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, December 4, 2008:
115 Daily Contradiction [Post number, Daily Cardiac, blogger]
The winery has become more of an elite operation as it downsized. The recent writeups by experts like Mat Kramer and Parker rave about the wines. With wine making less is often more. Think Lafitte Rothschild vs. Gallo.
——–
Lafitte Rothschild produces about 30,000 cases of wine in a good vintage. Hardly a small operation and Robert Parker has “raved” about Gallo wines in the past. If you don’t believe me, look it up.
The question is, what does the profit/loss sheet show for the RVW over the years. If you funnel enough of church members donations into a bloated, mismanaged, winery that blows money out of it’s ass, you might occasionally make a decent wine.
You were not around then, but the first so-called “Winery donation” request claimed that the winery would be making a huge profit by 1984 and the donation money would be repayed to the church. Of course this never happened, and the failed business continued to suck-up members hard-earned donations like a queer pseudo-teacher named Bob sucks semen.
So now RVW provides a nice side hobby with perks for Gi_eon Beanstalk [Gideon Beinstock] while he runs his own private winery business. As for the Apollo Olive Oil Company, this is a private venture that apparently feeds off of FOF free labor and resources for the gain of certain individuals like Steven Dumb_ck [Steven Dambeck].
If the serfs and peasants don’t rebel against this exploitation, I guess things will keep on keeping on until the money runs out.

"hardtruth" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 8, 2008 at 8:38 p.m.:
Look up at the hills, the vineyard is substantially dead; look at the winery, it is a molding ruin; look over at Girard, he is a broken man muttering superficial nonsense; look over at Robert, he is a ridiculously vain and pompous homosexual fixated on money and boys while rambling on in an obviously diminished mental condition. Listen to the “teaching” from the older students, it is propaganda intended primarily as a stop-loss measure for the increasingly skeptical membership. Look around for your lifelong friends, they have left. If supernatural influences were ever involved in this embarrassingly goofy experiment in iniquity then they have obviously withdrawn their blessing. The Fellowship of Friends is clearly in a descending octave and those that remain in it are certain to sustain enduring damage to their spiritual wellbeing as the rotting enterprise continues to collapse.

[ed. - The following excerpt from a Sacramento Bee article provides an update on the status of Renaissance Vineyard and Winery.]
"An old-fashioned zinfandel"

By Mike Dunne
Special to The Bee
Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2011 - 12:00 am

When people talk about wine regions they'd like to visit, Oregon House just never seems to get mentioned. This is understandable. For one, it's about 20 miles northeast of Marysville, itself so remote and isolated it doesn't draw many visitors, despite its Gold Rush history and relics.

Secondly, Oregon House boasts just a handful of wineries, only one of which ever generated much buzz. That would be Renaissance Vineyard & Winery, an outgrowth of the philosophical and guarded Fellowship of Friends, which bought 1,300 acres of hard rolling land in northern Yuba County in 1971 and began to build a community devoted to spiritual enlightenment and artistic refinement.

One of the group's varied endeavors was the winery and its surrounding 365 acres of vineyards. Over the next couple of decades, the Renaissance label became celebrated for wines of solid structure, clarity, daring and longevity, particularly cabernet sauvignon and riesling, varietals generally not given much hope of withstanding the withering aridity and heat of the Sierra foothills.

During the past decade, however, the fellowship put more effort into its ballet troupe, theater group and other artistic ambitions and less into Renaissance. Most of the vines were pulled out, and production was cut back sharply. Today, it farms just 44 acres of vineyard and makes only around 2,500 cases of wine annually.

Hills that once sprouted vines are now given over to roaming herds of horses, cattle, llamas, ostriches and camels, which is a whole other story.

One of Renaissance's remaining stands of vines is planted to zinfandel, a variety that the fellowship's winemakers never much embraced. Renaissance, in fact, hasn't made a zinfandel under its own brand since 2002. The man who managed Renaissance's vineyards for 30 years, however, always had faith in the zinfandel, and still does.

That would be Grant Ramey, who in 2004, with business partner Eddie Schulten, established his own winery, named Ramey Schulten. David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars in Sonoma County, however, didn't care for the resemblance in names. When he let his displeasure be known, Ramey and Schulten in 2006 changed the name of their winery to Grant-Eddie.

Now everyone is happy, especially Grant Ramey, in large part because his wines are being well-received, especially his zinfandel.

(Read more at Sacramento Bee.)

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