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.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"Somms Are Obsessed with a ‘Cult’ Wine Bottled by a Fringe Religious Group"[ed. -  The Fellowship of Friends has long been desperate to move a large inventory of older (some decades-old) Renaissance wines from its cellar. In a move that is reminiscent of Renaissance founding winemaker Karl Werner's departure from Callaway in the 1970s (Werner was offered a large inventory of unmarketable Callaway red wines at bargain prices,) it appears Gideon Beinstock may have brought a creative solution to Renaissance's long-standing overstock (and image) problem.]


By: Courtney Schiessl @takeittocourt

A smattering of under-the-radar, late-1990s Cabernet Sauvignons from the Sierra Foothills have started appearing on top wine lists in the past several months. The 1997 vintage of Taken from Granite, the California label in question, is available by the bottle at New York City fine dining restaurants Union Square Cafe and Momofuku Ko. Manhattan wine bar Terroir Tribeca offers $30 by-the-glass pours of Taken from Granite, and retail shops such as Vine Wine in Brooklyn have plentiful supplies of Taken From Granite cuvées as well.

These 20-year-old bottles aren’t “cult wines” in the traditional industry sense. Oenophiles generally use that term to indicate wine that is both highly sought-after and difficult to find, both of which often make said wine quite expensive. Taken From Granite is cult wine in a slightly more literal sense. These well-priced, aged wines, just re-labeled and re-released by noted California winemaker Gideon Beinstock, originally came from Renaissance Vineyard and Winery — a historic property owned by Fellowship of Friends, an international religious organization and purported cult.


A Vision for Vineyards

Renaissance Vineyard and Winery is not a new name in California wine. The winery has received many critical accolades, and the wines were even poured at a Republican National Committee gala in honor of Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

But Renaissance wasn’t created with the intention of becoming a benchmark California producer. The winery was a byproduct of Fellowship of Friends founder Robert Earl Burton’s vision: a Mediterranean paradise for his followers called the Apollo Compound.

The sprawling, 1,300-acre Apollo Compound in Yuba County in the Sierra Foothills, upon which Renaissance resides, was created in the 1970s. Burton’s Mediterranean vision included vineyards and olive groves, and so they were planted.

Despite Renaissance being the religious group’s side project, Sierra Foothills wine lovers can actually thank Fellowship of Friends for paving the way for the region. It was Renaissance that first applied for North Yuba, California to have its own AVA in the mid-1980s. The tiny but well-regarded area is now known for its decomposed granite soils (hence the name that Beinstock chose for these re-labeled bottles).

Winemaker Gideon Beinstock

A Winemaker’s Roundabout Journey

Fans of Beinstock and his sought-after Clos Saron wines might want to praise the Fellowship as well; had Beinstock never become acquainted with Fellowship of Friends, he likely wouldn’t have started making wine in the first place.

Long before Beinstock gained a reputation as a crafter of small-production, low-intervention Pinot Noir and Syrah wines under the Clos Saron label, he was an Israeli artist and philosopher living in Paris. While reading the works of George Gurdjieff, who inspired Burton to launch Fellowship of Friends, Beinstock discovered the group. He soon became involved in the Fellowship community and helped to first plant the Renaissance Vineyard in the 1970s.

Bitten by the wine bug, Beinstock sold Renaissance wine for years. In 1994, he moved to the Apollo compound and became its sole winemaker. He streamlined Renaissance’s production, pulling out vine varieties that didn’t work in the Sierra Foothills’ climate, and became the face of Old World-style, terroir-driven, low-intervention winemaking in the region.

In the early 2000s, Beinstock grew disillusioned with Fellowship of Friends’ philosophies and practices. But his dedication to that style of winemaking persisted, living on through Clos Saron. Ironically, it’s because of Renaissance’s ownership that Beinstock was even able to get his hands on some of his old bottles. Fellowship of Friends is technically classified as a non-profit organization, and Beinstock purportedly felt that the group had no need or desire to run Renaissance like a business. Beinstock was given the opportunity to buy back some of his favorite cuvées from Renaissance’s remarkable library of unsold, back-vintage wines, and he re-labeled them Taken From Granite. Curious wine drinkers need look no further than the cork to verify a bottle’s origin; their corks still say “Renaissance.”

Three Taken From Granite cuvées are on the market right now. The most widely available is the “Village” Cabernet Sauvignon from California’s epic 1997 vintage. Not only do these wines offer oenophiles a chance to experience aged, balanced Cabernet at comparatively affordable prices, but they give super-geeky Clos Saron Pinot Noir and Syrah fans the opportunity to taste what kind of restraint Beinstock can bring to Bordeaux blends. Most would be shocked to discover, for instance, that the 1996 “Élégance” variety has a mere 12.6 percent ABV.

Taken From Granite

A generous supply of Taken From Granite exists right now, but there’s no guarantee whether or not Beinstock will be able to get his hands on more aged Renaissance juice in the future. Complicating things further, Renaissance has considerably decreased its wine production, and the compound now has only 50 acres planted with vines.

Taken from Granite could disappear as quickly as it arrived. Wine lovers should seek it out now, before prices go up, availability goes down, and Taken from Granite becomes a “cult” label in every sense of the word.

Gideon Beinstock has become known for his amazing Clos Saron wines, but the history goes back much further than that. A long and winding road from growing up in Israel, an artist’s life of painting in Paris, helping to plant the Renaissance Vineyards in the 1970’s, international wine sales, and finally finding his way into winemaking at the very same vineyards he had planted almost two decades earlier. It was there at Renaissance that he began learning his craft and made the first of his incredible wines.

Gideon left Renaissance in the late 1990’s to found Clos Saron, just a few miles down the road, but has always felt a connection to Renaissance, both as a piece of his history, and also as a totally unique and special terroir.

Which brings us to the present: Gideon was given the opportunity to reclaim some of the greatest wines he made during his time at Renaissance! These wines have never left the winery and have been aging perfectly, undisturbed for the past two decades.

The cuvees that were hand-picked by Gideon are showing outstandingly right now, and should continue to age gracefully for years to come.

Notes from Gideon:

Pre-1995, like all self-respecting Cali wineries, Renaissance was producing an ‘Estate’ and a ‘Reserve’ Cabernet.

In 1995, I broke the Reserve down into three cuvées, with more specific expressions: 

1. “Première Cuvée”, a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon (min. 75%), was meant to continue in the tradition of the older Reserve tradition of long lasting, powerful, blockbuster wines.
2. “Claret Prestige”, a non-varietal wine, was meant to be the most elegant, aromatically complex, harmonious wine we could achieve every vintage by the blending of (mainly) Bordeaux varieties.
3. “Vin de Terroir”, 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, selected every vintage from (either the same or any) specific micro-site in the vineyard for its clearly distinctive expression of terroir.

The names we chose for the Taken From Granite wines are related to the original stylistic goal of each cuvée:

-“Village” is the ‘Estate’ made from all the various slopes combined.
-“Soleil" is the “Première Cuvée”.
-“Élegance" is the “Claret Prestige”.

About 400 cases of each was produced every vintage between 1995 and 2002 (with a few exceptions). All the grapes for these wines came from a few vineyard sites (we referred to them as ‘slopes’), which were determined as the best we had (our “Reserve Slopes” - mainly Slope 1, 16,  and 21).

***The “Vin de Terroir” may or may not appear under the TFG label, as of now it is unreleased and TBD***


Cabernet Sauvignon "Soleil" Renaissance Vineyard 1995
Cabernet Sauvignon "Village" Renaissance Vineyard 1997
Claret "Elegance" Renaissance Vineyard 1996

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fellowship of Friends and Yuba County settle for $310K

Tax-exempt Fellowship of Friends Galleria at Apollo/Oregon House houses Robert Earl Burton and his male harem
The Fellowship of Friends asserts the Galleria “remains exclusively a place of religious worship and ceremonial
religious events,” while others describe it as the playground of the "goddess" Robert Earl Burton and his male harem.

[ed. The Fellowship of Friends and Yuba County have settled a three-year-old lawsuit over the Fellowship's tax-exemption claims. See also, "Fellowship of Friends sues Yuba County over tax status" and "Claim for refund of taxes paid."]
Fellowship of Friends and Yuba County settle for $310K

By Rachel Rosenbaum/

A Yuba County foothills religious organization and the county reached a $310,000 settlement in a lawsuit nearly three years after it was filed.

The Fellowship of Friends, of Oregon House, filed the lawsuit against Yuba County and its Board of Supervisors in 2014, claiming it was erroneously and illegally taxed between 2009 and 2013, when the county assessor refused to recognize the Fellowship’s right to religious and welfare exemptions. It asked for a refund and a declaration that the center be protected – through religious exemptions – from future taxation.

The central focus of the suit is the 5,600-square-foot building referred to as the Galleria, which houses collections of books, arts and antiquities which “occupy an essential place in the practices of the Fellowship,” according to the settlement. Formal services, meals and other events of sacramental nature occur at The Galleria, according to the complaint.

The Assessor’s Office investigated and determined that the Fellowship is entitled to a tax year 2017-18 welfare exemption based on religious use for the Galleria Property – which is valued at $3.3 million, according to Appeal-Democrat archives.

According to the settlement, the Fellowship must pay and has paid any taxes owed through tax year 2016-17 for the property, and will be provided with a partial refund of taxes for the years put at issue in the complaint.

The Assessor’s Office determined the Fellowship is entitled to welfare exemptions for some of its additional parcels or portions for tax year 2017-18:

– 3.28 acres of the administrative office.

– 1.07 acres of the Galleria gardens.

– 1.4 acres of the Festival Hall.

– 8.95 acres of the Theatron and its surrounding gardens.

Yuba County will pay the Fellowship $310,452 in a series of three payments: $150,000 within 30 days of the agreement; $85,452 no later than June 30, 2018; and $75,000 no later than June 30, 2019.

In return, both the Fellowship and the county agree to “maintain the status quo of the terms reflected in this agreement for a period of 10 years.”

Specifically, the Fellowship agrees to not file exemption applications with the county for any of its currently assessed properties other than welfare exemption applications for the Galleria Property for a period of 10 years, and will submit annual exemption applications for its exempt property under the welfare exemption.

The Fellowship, headquartered at 12607 Rices Crossing Road, Oregon House, describes itself as a nondenominational church with principles based on “universal religious teachings that transmit the art and science of recognizing and experiencing a Divine Presence,” according to Appeal-Democrat archives. There are 1,600 members of the church in more than 30 countries throughout the world.

The Fellowship sought tax exemption for the Galleria in the mid-1980s, but the county denied the application on the grounds the Galleria was not used exclusively as a museum, the complaint said.

In the early 1990s, the Fellowship obtained a conditional use permit to operate a museum, but the permit required several “burdensome conditions of approval” and the “onerous and expensive conditions” were never initiated and the permit expired, according to the complaint.

The Fellowship closed the property to the public and it now “remains exclusively a place of religious worship and ceremonial religious events.”

Yuba County Administrator Robert Bendorf said settling for approximately half the amount that was originally asked for by the Fellowship is a win for the county.

“Considering the initial lawsuit filed and seeking four years of refunds of taxes, we feel the settlement is very fair to both parties,” Bendorf said Thursday.

CONTACT Rachel Rosenbaum at 749-4771 and on Twitter @RaeRosenbaum.

Monday, October 2, 2017

"(Robert Earl Burton) is a professional predator."

Sasha Shalapanov, Robert Earl Burton, Dorian Matei, Fellowship of Friends cult leaders
Sasha Shalapanov, Robert Earl Burton, Dorian Matei, with god,

[ed. - Michael Shelton, a self-described Mormon apostate, has created a series of podcasts examining cults. In this podcast, he addresses Robert Burton and the Fellowship. Though the narrative may be disjointed and difficult to follow, the final few minutes offer a clear-eyed assessment of dynamics at work in the Fellowship, that are common to most destructive cults. 7/1/21 update: Shelton's podcast, "Robert Earl Burton Fellowship of Friends Cult" is currently unavailable.]


“Here's an easy way to figure out if you're in a cult: If you're wondering whether you're in a cult, the answer is yes.” - Stephen Colbert

[ed. - See also 44 personal stories of Robert Earl Burton's abuses.]