New President of Sebastiani Winery Named

The Sebastiani family feud took a new twist Wednesday with the naming of a Missouri distillery executive, A. Martin Adams, as president of the 82-year-old Sebastiani Vineyards in Sonoma.

Adams, 42, president and chief operating officer since 1981 of McCormick Distilling Co., Weston, Mo., succeeds Sam Sebastiani, who was ousted Jan. 2 by his younger brother, Assemblyman Don Sebastiani, his mother, Sylvia Sebastiani, and his sister, Mary Ann Cuneo.

McCormick Distilling, which is about twice the size of Sebastiani, markets Scotch, bourbon and tequila, among other distilled beverages.

Richard Cuneo, the Sebastianis' brother-in-law, had served as interim president. He has been the winery's vice president-administration.

"I'm very excited about joining Sebastiani Vineyards," Adams said. "Sebastiani has a strong position in the national marketplace and a long tradition of wine-making excellence."

The winery was founded in 1904 by the brothers' grandfather, Samuele, and in 1944 passed to their father, August, who died in 1980. At that time, Sam was named president and his mother, who inherited 90% of the company's stock, became chairman, a post she relinquished in January.

About six years ago, Sebastiani Vineyards was bottling about 4 million cases a year, compared to 2.3 million cases now--a calculated move by Sam Sebastiani to move the family-owned winery away from the jug wines that it pioneered toward higher-return premium wines.

Meanwhile Sam Sebastiani, 45, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Tuesday that he intends to bring out a rival wine, under his own label, by July. He added that he is negotiating a "severance package" with his family so that he can start over on his own.

"I want to separate myself so the family can go its way and I can go mine," he was quoted as saying.

Sam Sebastiani said he is arranging through a distributor to buy and market some of the premium wines produced under his direction at Sebastiani Vineyards. Eventually, he said, he intends to start a small winery.

He made news in wine circles when he recalled from store shelves some $2 million of wine that he judged no longer worthy of the family's new standard. Generic "Mountain" wines, which accounted for 75% of the winery's sales in 1980, now account for less than half. New "Country" varietals now make up more than 31% of sales, with vintage varietals accounting for the balance, according to Impact, a publication that compiles statistics on alcoholic beverages.

Don Sebastiani, 32, whose Assembly district covers much of California's premium wine country, is running for the Republican nomination for state controller.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World