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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Renaissance: For Red Wine Lovers Who Think They’ve Tried Everything

[ed. -  I include this for its interesting retrospective on Renaissance Vineyard and Winery.]
Posted by Fredric Koeppel on his blog Bigger Than Your Head
I think I first wrote about the wines of Renaissance Vineyards and Winery in 2001, when I mentioned in what was then my weekly newspaper column (distributed nationally by the Scripps Howard News Service until 2004) the Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1993 and, under the winery’s second label, the Da Vinci Late Harvest Riesling 1987. In the succeeding 11 years, I have reviewed numerous wines from the small producer in the remote North Yuba appellation of the Sierra Foothills north of Sacramento. Renaissance became noted, under the tutelage of Gideon Beinstock, winemaker there since 1994, for its hands-off approach that produced wines of admirable spareness and elegance, low alcohol, an almost fanatic resistance to new oak and an unheard of delay in releasing wines, as in sometimes 10 or 12 years after harvest. The winery and vineyard occupy a large estate on land purchased by the Fellowship of Friends in 1971; the group is controversial in its beliefs or at least its former leadership, and as a business entity (separate from but owned by the Fellowship) Renaissance has had to shake off the perception that the Fellowship is a cult.
Gideon Beinstock
The inspiration for creating a vineyard came from German-born Karl Werner, the founding winemaker at Callaway Vineyards, way south in Temecula. Under his guidance, members of the Fellowship chiseled terraces from the steep slopes at altitudes of 1700 to 2300 feet and drilled 150,000 holes to plant vines. The first harvest, in 1979, took 20 minutes and produced one barrel of cabernet sauvignon. [ed. - The first harvest was actually in October 1978.] Werner died in 1988, and his wife, Diana, took over winemaking duties. When Beinstock became winemaker early in ’94, he turned the winery away from its former goals of deep extraction and heavy, densely tannic wines to minimal manipulation, gentle extraction, no yeast inoculation and, gradually, to organic methods in the vineyards. Due to Beinstock’s efforts, Renaissance has produced a series of remarkable, authentic and largely age-worthy wines (in minute quantities) that are like nothing else in a California besotted by super-ripeness, toasty new oak and sweet alcohol.
Beinstock, for the past few years, has worked on a side project, that is, his own winery Clos Saron. He is no longer winemaker at Renaissance, and I would say, alas that such is the case, except that I don’t know the circumstances of his departure. I do wonder what the direction will be for Renaissance without him.
What I offer today are notes on three of Beinstock’s red wines, the Claret Prestige Red Wine 2001 and 1997, the Renaissance Premier Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, and, a piece of history, the Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon 1984, one of the last wines made by Karl Werner. Yes, a small amount of the latter wine is still available, and I urge those who are fascinated by the history of the California wine industry or who are looking for a unique and quite wonderful wine to track it down.
These wines were samples for review. Image of Gideon Beinstock from
The Renaissance Claret Prestige Red Wine 2001, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, is a combination of 29 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot, 19 percent malbec and nine percent each syrah, cabernet franc and petit verdot, a sort of classic Bordeaux blend except for the presence of the syrah. The wine aged 25 months in what is described as “old oak 225L barrels (American and French),” exemplifying Beinstock’s typical avoidance of new oak. The color is radiant medium ruby shading to lighter ruby at the rim. At eleven years old — and the wine was released just two years ago — this Claret Prestige is ripe and spicy and buoyant, with notes of macerated red and black currants and cherries profoundly framed by gripping acidity and graphite-etched tannins in a package so complete, so well-balanced that it feels timeless. A whisper of black olive and dill adds detail to the expansive depth and breath of the wine’s structure and replete yet spare flavors, though the whole feeling of the wine is deftness and lightness. A true marriage of elegance and power. 12.6 percent alcohol. Production was 128 cases. Now through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
The Renaissance Premier Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, at 15 years old, is, in four words: Not. Ready. To. Drink. A blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent merlot and six percent cabernet franc, the wine aged 27 months in American, French and German oak barrels. It was bottled in March 2000 and released in September 2010. This Renaissance Premier Cuvee 1997 features towering (but not astringent) tannins; stunning (but not sharp) acidity; forceful (but not overwhelming) granitic and graphite-like mineral elements; and glimmers of ripe, fleshy, spicy and slightly roasted flavors of red and black currants and mulberries. For all this and despite its forthright rigorous character, the wine feels fresh and invigorating, but I wouldn’t touch it until 2015 or ’16, and it’s a cinch to go the long haul, say 2027 to ’30. Alcohol content is 13 percent. 370 cases. Excellent. About $65.
For 1997, the Renaissance Claret Prestige, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, is a blend of 43 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot, 12 percent cabernet franc, 6 percent each syrah and sangiovese and 3 percent malbec; the wine aged 27 months is “old oak 225L barrels (French, American and German).” Benefiting from fine weather, the vintage was excellent overall in California, with potentially long-lived cabernet-based wines of exceptional quality; certainly this Claret Prestige and the preceding Premier Cuvee exhibit the deep and profound structure of true vins de garde. The color is dark ruby at the center with a slightly lighter rim; it takes some coaxing, but after a few minutes a ripe, fleshy bouquet emerges, shot with notes of macerated and smoky black cherries and raspberries with touches of black currants, dried fruit, potpourri and sandalwood. Gripping acidity animates the package, while pretty darned hard, unyielding tannins — dusty and granitic — lend deep support through an engaged through fairly austere finish. 12.6 percent alcohol. Production was 430 cases. As with the previous wine, try from 2015 or ’17 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $55.
Now for the treat. Only 54 cases remain of the approximately 1,200 cases that Karl Werner made of the Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon 1984, North Yuba; Werner was the estate’s founding winemaker. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that aged — are you ready? — 34 months in new German oak barrels; that’s right, German oak. At 28 years old, there’s not a thing either fragile or sharp or diminished about this wine, which feels like a finely sifted amalgam of every essential element a cabernet sauvignon should possess but in a barely perceptible autumnal mode. It fills the mouth with a packed yet supple sensation of dried red and black fruit, potpourri and pomander, woody spices like cloves and sandalwood, soft powdery tannins, still lively acidity and bass notes of underbrush and graphite. Truly lovely. 13.5 percent alcohol. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wine drinks well for another decade. Excellent. About $65.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Winery president denies marijuana trafficking link

[ed. - This is an excerpt. For a bird's-eye view of  pot growing on Fellowship of Friends land, at a Fellowship-owned house, enter these coordinates into Google's satellite view: 39.344624,-121.239933 (2013 image). Link to story and video at now defunct.]
Image: news10net
Written by
George Warren

OREGON HOUSE (YUBA COUNTY) CA - The president of a well-known winery linked to a federal investigation into marijuana trafficking denies any involvement in the drug trade.

A 223-acre parcel owned by the Fellowship of Friends, a spiritual organization that owns the Renaissance Vineyard & Winery, was among seven properties targeted in search warrants obtained by federal agents in September.

In the application for the search warrants, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent said a confidential source told him several members of the Fellowship of Friends grow marijuana on their individual properties to sell outside of California, using drivers and commercial shipping companies.

The source said the growers turn over a portion of their profits to the Fellowship of Friends, and that the organization's leaders are aware of the source of the money.

"We make very good wine, but no, we're not in the drug trafficking business," said Greg Holman, president of the Fellowship of Friends and the Renaissance Winery.

Holman said only one of the property owners identified in the search warrants was a current member of the Fellowship of Friends, and that he had been unaware the member was involved in marijuana cultivation until the September raids.

"It came as a complete surprise to me," Holman said.

[ed. - Another bust in the neighborhood. There's no indication of a connection, though there is a Fellowship member with last name Koss.]
Yuba County pot tied to Texas plot

Mystical Religious Sect Accuses Feds of Screwing Up

"Ames Gilbert" posted the following on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 26, 2012:
In other news [from KCRA Television, Sacramento]:
Image: KCRA
Drug ring tied to mystical religion, fact or fiction?


Angela Spillers stood in the doorway of her fiancé’s Oregon House home and acknowledged that federal drug agents seized dozens of marijuana plants from the property more than two months ago.

However, it is what has happened since then that has her upset.

“They tried to make this sound like something out of a movie or book. But they’ve realized they have no case,” Spiller told KCRA 3.

On Sept. 20, federal drug agents executed a series of search warrants on properties in and around the town of Oregon House.

In a search warrant recently filed in court, Brian Nehring, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency, alleged that multiple members of “a self-described sect of Mystical Fourth Way Christianity” were engaged in a marijuana-growing network aimed at raising money to pay for fees related to membership.

The sect was identified as The Fellowship of Friends.

More than two months later, federal officials confirm that no indictments, or arrests have been made in connection to this search warrant.

“Something’s fishy here,” said Wayne Mott, a spokesman for The Fellowship of Friends.
Mott told KCRA 3 that agents never searched their main property, nor did they question any members on the premises.

“I don’t think they have a case. I think they are embarrassed,” Mott said.
A DEA spokesperson said that because this is an ongoing investigation, there is no comment at this time.
If you go to: you can see a KCRA TV news video, and see Wayne Mott being interviewed outside the main entrance to Apollo, the headquarters of the Fellowship of Friends. [ed. - Link to is now defunct.]

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Trading wine for wine palms?

Palms line the roadway at the Fellowship of Friends Apollo Compound in Oregon House, CA

[ed. - A humorous discussion on the forum of the International Palm Society suggests The Fellowship of Friends was still, as of recently, attempting to barter with its surplus wine inventory, most likely in another attempt to circumvent tax laws. This Fellowship "practice" dates back to the 80s. Only if you fail in bartering, then pay cash.]

"Dooms Dave" wrote:
A while back, a religious sect had a winery up in Grass Valley [sic], and they wanted to adorn the grounds with Jubes [Jubaea chilensis, Chilean wine palms]. They also made a good sweet white wine, which they offered to trade for the Jubes. If you didn't want the wine they paid cash.

They bought A LOT of Jubes, of all sizes, up to big ones. They gave me a nice bit of cash for mine.
Dave continues:
After I sold almost all of my jubes at the time to them, someone told me that the Fellowship of Friends was a religious group that worshipped the Jubes or something like that. Not everyone was enamored of their acquisition of Jubes for that purpose, if that's what it was.

I can think of worse things to worship than Jubes . . .
 Then Dave uncovers the truth...
Beep, they sure sound like a cult, all right.

But, they had a bit of style, at least. That white wine (they gave me a few bottles) was good; Riesling, if I recall. Nice, crisp, sweet with a bite. Perfect with some white beans and some salmon.

"Oregon House, Calif.--Deep in the Sierra foothills, at the end of a twisting road, lies Apollo--an oasis of high culture in the outback. A mock French chateau houses a museum and library stuffed with rare art and books. A vineyard on terraced hillsides produces award-winning wines.

"Apollo is the worldwide headquarters of the Fellowship of Friends, whose 2,000 cerebral members believe that keen self-awareness, a positive outlook and immersion in life's finest things--from Baccarat crystal to Johann Sebastian Bach--offer a path to higher consciousness."

"They have been led on this journey for 25 years by Robert Earl Burton, a former schoolteacher who has guided everything from when his followers bear children to what sort of shoes they wear. Burton tells members he speaks with 44 angels who watch over his flock--among them Abraham Lincoln, Plato and Jesus Christ--believers say. Burton also has predicted that Apollo will be the lone surviving outpost after a global nuclear holocaust in 2006."

"Disillusioned former members say the fellowship is more than just another California curiosity. A growing number of them--as well as some academics--call it a cult that entraps its mostly well-educated members with a false promise of spiritual evolution. A recently ended lawsuit and accounts from ex-members echo that claim and add another: Burton, they say, has for years seduced young males in the group."