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That's what you can do

the glow of rubissow Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Co-founder George Rubissow (Credit: Afsoon Razavi)NM: Can you talk a little more about that, about how you're running the business differently from the earlier generation of Rubissow-Sargent? And why did you feel compelled to change the way things were done? Was it a personal choice? Was it a choice that was more relevant for the times, perhaps certain events or specific changes in the industry? What, exactly, incited you to take a different direction?

PR: Our father is in this business with us as vintner emeritus. He's not a person who will ever retire, per se, yet he is retired from day-to-day operations of the [Rubissow wine] business. But he's certainly here with us, ideologically (currently, he's in Paris). I think that with any family business, though, you develop a clear sense of what is working and what isn't. And under an administration, if you will, there are things that work with that particular group and [resonate with] that group. My father and Tony [Sargent] started their [venture in wine] in the '60s, when self-empowerment was happening, the world was wild and psychedelic, and they were both at their peak as free-thinking scientists. So the two of them created this venture in their own funky fashion, "Rubissow-Sargent winery! We'll have a warehouse in Berkeley, a ranch in Napa, and we'll make this work!" Ariel and I were both partners in this from the start, on the vineyard side of things and later on the wine side. So it just seemed natural in this last decade with our father getting older [that we would take over].

"We've all put so much energy and time into this vineyard, into the brand, into the position that we'd established as an under-the-radar, niche, Bordeaux-style producer in Napa."

Through the years it became clear [under my father and Tony] that some things could be done better and some things were working well. But I guess I'm being too diplomatic. {chuckles from the other two} Ariel and I have just a different way of running things than our Dad. So, specifically, the company is different in that the power structure is less dominated by one personality. Now, I think that we all have our own individual roles in this business, and everyone is empowered to make decisions and to voice their point of view. For myself, I particularly wanted to carry everything forward that we've created up until this point. It's very personal for me: we've all put so much energy and time, first of all, into this vineyard, which is a beloved family home, and also into the brand, into the position that we'd established as an under-the-radar, niche, Bordeaux-style producer in Napa. I would just say that everything that we've learned — good and bad — from working with our dad, is now expressed in Rubissow.

AR: I think there's a natural tension [one] might have with a father or mother in wanting to recreate what they've done. But I do think that my father and Tony were in this business for a different reason. They wanted to create this Bordeaux-centric wine and drew all their lessons from Bordeaux and from all the greats of the Napa Valley — the Mondavis and the Tchelistcheffs. It was a different time. When they started, there were [only about] 50 wineries in the Napa Valley. I think that what Dad and Tony wanted was a compliment to their lives. But things have changed, and the Napa Valley has a whole different feeling. And we're more modern in our wines now, and different about how we do business because we're a different style of people.

Young Vine Shoots (Credit: Afsoon Razavi)TM: Historically, the context of people coming into the Napa Valley in the late '60s and early '70s to start wine businesses was different — I worked for the Andersons early on, but I'm also thinking of Warren Winiarski, the Davies at Schramsburg, Hess — so many people came in and were inventing this place that's now taken for granted. Most of the family wineries are gone or have been purchased or have developed into corporations; there are very few places like [Rubissow] left. Only a few years ago, this was mostly what there were; there were a few big corporate wineries, but mostly [those started by] people who came into wine for a passion, for something different. Now [the question is], moving forward, How do we keep this family-oriented, local, small place as a personalized winery, as opposed to another corporate brand on a shelf? I think that's a big piece of what makes us different from any number of the corporate brands or wineries.



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