Imagine taking a vacation from your “day job” to crush grapes.
That’s how Williams Selyem was born.
Williams Selyem Winery began as a simple dream of two friends, Ed Selyem and Burt Williams, who started weekend winemaking as a hobby in 1979 in a garage in Forestville, California. It took less than two decades from their first commercial vintage in 1981 for Burt and Ed to create a cult-status winery of international acclaim. Together, they set a new standard for Pinot Noir winemaking in the United States, raising Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley to among the best winegrowing regions in the world. Here’s a brief history of Williams Selyem’s rise in the sometimes heartbreakingly cruel world of Pinot Noir.
- 1970’s Burt and Ed begin making wine in a garage in Forestville. Some of their first fruit is from local grower Leno Martinelli; Zinfandel from 84-year old vines grown on Jackass Hill.
- 1981 Burt and Ed make the winery official (and legal!) and name it Hacienda Del Rio.
- 1982 The first vintage is produced with the now iconic Williams Selyem label. Burt designs it using a letter press and even mixes his own ink for the labels.
- 1983 The first commercial release of Hacienda del Rio.
- 1983 Burt and Ed receive a cease and desist letter from the Hacienda Winery, requesting that they not use the name Hacienda on their label.
- 1984 The first vintage of Williams Selyem on the label releases. The winery is legally Williams & Selyem.
- 1985 The first vineyard designate Pinot Noir from the Rochioli Vineyard is released.
- 1987 The Williams Selyem Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir wins the Sweepstakes Prize (top red wine) at the California State Fair. Their Pinot is voted the best of the 2,136 wines entered by 416 wineries.
- 1987 Due to the sudden notoriety, demand now exceeds supply. The Williams Selyem ‘waiting list’ develops, as not all those hoping to purchase received the opportunity.
- 1989 Their single-vineyard designate Pinot Noir wines attract worldwide notoriety. Win Wilson and Jack Daniels, the Napa Valley importers of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti come to Williams Selyem in 1992 to compare wines. 23 bottles later, Williams Selyem holds its own, adding to its rapidly growing world-class reputation.
- 1989 The crew moves into the Allen facility on Westside Road.
- 1990’s The Williams Selyem production grows from about 4,000 cases of wine to 8,000 cases of wine in 1998. The wine is still sold mainly directly to consumers with select cases going to top restaurants in California and New York. The wait to get on the mailing list approaches two years.
- 1992 The growth of the winery allows Burt and Ed to quit their day jobs and focus solely on the winery.
- 1995 Williams Selyem is served at the White House.
- 1998 Burt and Ed sell the winery to John Dyson.
- 1998 John Dyson buys the Drake property in Guerneville and begins developing it as the first Williams Selyem Estate property.
- 2001 The Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard is purchased from the descendants of Cecil and Luella Litton. In honor of the heritage of the Litton family, the property is named Litton Estate.
- 2004 The experimental Mass Selection Vineyard is planted with 18 diverse clones intermixed in the same block.
- 2006 The first vintage of Litton Estate Pinot Noir is made consisting of 2 barrels only.
- 2006 Ground is broken and construction began on the new state-of-the-art winery.
- 2007 Wine Enthusiast awards the Litton Estate Pinot Noir a perfect 100 points. It is the first Pinot Noir in North America given 100 points by any major wine publication.
- 2009 The production crew moves into the first completed section of the winery for barrel aging, lab work and bottling. Crush and fermentation still happens at the Allen facility.
- Late 2010 The new winery is completed and all administrative offices and day-to-day operations move.
- Early 2011 Williams Selyem list members are invited to visit, tour and taste at the winery (by appointment only).
- 2011 Bob Cabral is named winemaker of the year.
The winemaking torch has been passed into the skillful hands of a carefully selected team headed by Director of Winemaking Bob Cabral. Bob and his team respect and employ the original handcrafted approach to winemaking for which Williams Selyem is known.
Bob says there’s no other place he’d rather be making wine than in the Russian River Valley. Much like the philosophy of Burt and Ed, Bob has forged and fostered successful relationships with many of the growers, many whom have stayed with the winery from its inception. By following proven traditions of respecting the individuality of the growers and vineyards we will continue to deliver distinctive wines. On the standing commitment to extraordinary quality at the winery, Bob says, “We respect the grower, the vineyard, we respect the fruit coming in and we take care of the process tenaciously with minimal interference. We exercise patience at every stage and I have to say, we are richly rewarded for that. We like to share those rewards with the people who love our wines.”
As for the wines… we’re confident you’ll find they keep getting better and better.