Greg La Follette on selling Tandem
I spoke with Greg right after the sale was announced. To quote from the press release: “Pete Kight, proprietor of Quivira Vineyards & Winery, has acquired Tandem Winery in Sonoma County in partnership with Tandem owner/winemaker Greg La Follette, who remains with Tandem and will focus on winemaking and viticulture.”
This is an important transaction, not only because Greg, who is De Loach’s executive winemaker and consults all over the globe, is an important winemaker, but also because it testifies to the financial difficulties facing so many family wineries, as well as the nation. On a more personal basis, Greg is a standup guy and an inspiration to an entire generation of younger winemakers.
S.H. Why did you sell?
G.L.F. My Dad fell ill with cancer, and it’s expensive, healthcare being what it is, so I needed the money. Dad had some shares [in Tandem], and Pete Kight came forward and said, “Not only will I buy your dad’s portion, but I’m interested in Tandem as well.”
Will there be anything different at Tandem?
Absolutely! I have more funding now. I don’t have to have a day job and work 100 hours a week, and have this be my weekend and evening job anymore. I now have a day job and it’s called Tandem. That is so cool. The quality of my life will improve, which translates into the quality of my wines being at least what they were. We could actually buy some vineyards and build a winery and really honor the growers who have been behind me for so many years.
Are you still with DeLoach?
To some extent. At some point I will depart entirely, but at the moment there are some really great young people I want to mentor. And DeLoach has been very good to me.
What is the impact of the recession on small family wineries like Tandem?
They’ll have a hard time dealing with this economic environment. It requires boots on the ground, pressing flesh with distributors. The big guys have the resources to get out there with key accounts and meet with them, but the little guys don’t have the time or money to get out there to Miami or Chicago to meet with people and say, Here’s why you should buy our wines.
How serious could things get?
We may be in for a bloodbath for small wineries. No one is looking after them. They’re being left to their own devices. You’re talking about a winery a week that’s being sold or went belly up: Flowers. Stevenot. Sebastiani. The wine industry needs a lot more expertise in the financial sector than it has now.
[This is Steve] I don’t know about you, but I was SO proud watching today’s swearing-in of President Obama. He was led through the Capitol by my former Mayor, Dianne Feinstein, and my former congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi. In the small world of San Francisco, our lives have crossed. These are two classy dames, in the words of the late, great Herb Caen. May history shine upon them and upon our new President.