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Alderbrook Winery - Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma


Veteran Team at Alderbrook Propels Winery to new Heights

There are certain corners of the world where natural beauty seems to inspire greatness. One such enclave is the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, California, home to the renowned Alderbrook Vineyard & Winery and 20 other noteworthy wineries.

Located just west of Healdsburg, between Dry Creek and the Russian River, Alderbrook’s vineyards meander over 63 acres of rolling hills in one of the world’s most desirable viticultural areas. For more than a century, winemakers have recognized that the valley’s deep alluvial soil, and outstanding growing climate were ideal for producing distinctive varietal grapes. This blend of rich land and cool moist climate attracted partners John Grace, Phil Staley, and Mark Rafanelli to an historic ranch and prune orchard where they founded Alderbrook Vineyards & Winery in 1981. The three men set about converting the old prune orchard into a 55-acre vineyard planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay and Muscat Blanc. Staley, a former dentist, took over the winemaking duties and cultivated a style that was recognized by its straightforward varietal fruit and subtle oak. For the next ten years, the emphasis was strictly on developing Alderbrook’s line of estate whites. The wines achieved a considerable following, won hundreds of awards, and consistently drew crowds to the winery’s tasting room.

In 1991, Alderbrook came to the attention of George Gillemot, a private investor and founder of Communications Technology (an international telecommunications equipment company) based in Los Angeles. George had sold his telecommunications company seven years earlier and he and his wife Dorothy were considering various investment opportunities to liven up their retirement years. Seeing vineyard ownership as a promising long term investment and a relaxed lifestyle, George made Rafanelli an offer. He proposed to purchase the land and winery and then lease the winery back to Rafanelli and his partners. After some deliberation the trio accepted. The arrangement lasted until 1994 when economic and personal considerations led the original owners to relinquish the winery operation.

Gillemot found himself faced with a tough decision: take over the challenge and expense of running a winery or sell the entire operation to the highest bidder. He decided to take on the challenge. Realizing that he had no specific experience with winery operations, his first order of business was putting together a top notch team of experienced vintners, managers and assistants to keep the winery on track. One of the first wine-industry veterans to join the team was General Manager John McClelland who brought over 25 years of winery experience and valuable connections to some of the area’s best growers. Next came winemaker Bob Cabral. Bob is a native Californian, born in Fresno, who at the age of 18 enrolled in the enology program at California State University, Fresno. After graduating in 1984, his first job was with Vie-Del Company in Kingsburg, where he filled the position of Assistant Winemaker/Chemist. He then went on to become the Associate Winemaker at DeLoach Vineyards in 1990 and the Crush Winemaker and Assistant Winemaker for the Kunde Estate Winery in Kenwood.

With the two key players in position, George turned his attention to the winery’s equipment, facilities and vineyards. The tasting room, housed in a beautiful redwood barn (originally used for drying prunes), got a much need face-lift and new storage and processing facilities were added. George’s plan was to take annual production from 25,000 cases to eventually 150,000 cases and beyond. To do that, the winemaking team realized that they would need to expand their line of award winning white wines to include reds. In keeping with that goal, in 1995, George purchased an adjacent property that added 10 acres to the original 55-acre holdings. This new property was planted with Zinfandel and buying programs were established to bring in top Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir from nearby growers in Sonoma and Russian River Areas. The early results of Alderbrook’s new reds are already earning top honors at the major wine industry competitions. However most are being made in very small quantities to date.

While Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are a new and exciting part of the Alderbrook tradition of great wines, George Gillemot still remains partial to the winery’s flagship Chardonnay. His all-time favorite selection is the wine we have chosen for you, our Gold Medal Members: the 1994 Alderbrook Dry Creek Valley Chardonnay. The 1994 Chardonnay, like all Alderbrook whites, was estate grown, cold-fermented in stainless steel tanks to optimize the fruit flavors, and then aged in small oak barrels to add richer texture and greater nuance.

This year George and winemaker Bob Cabral are proud to introduce a premium Chardonnay under the new label Dorothy’s Vineyard. This wine, along with Alderbrook’s classic whites and new reds, will no doubt continue to garner a host of awards and help George position Alderbrook as a highly sought-after label.



George & Dorothy Gillemot

To some, owning a vineyard and winery is a labor of love, to others it’s a savvy investment. For George Gillemot, it was all of the above, plus an opportunity to live and work in one of the most picturesque spots in the world.

To understand how an engineer and telecommunications mogul ends up owning a backroad winery, it helps to understand the ‘can do” attitude that has been passed down from one Gillemot generation to the next. It started with George’s father who grew up in Budapest, Hungry during World War I. Wounded in a battle, he was taken to a prison camp in Siberia where he faced certain death from overwork and starvation. Yet the resourceful elder Gillemot convinced his captures that he was a cook (despite never having actually been one). Working in the kitchen he managed to survive the war and eventually immigrated to New York, where he bought a motorcycle and headed west to seek his fame and fortune in California.

It was in Santa Monica, California that George Gillemot was born, raised and educated. He graduated from UCLA with a degree in Business Administration and later with an MBA. During World War II, George enlisted as a Navy Pilot and was stationed in Alameda, Norfolk and eventually at Barber’s Point in Hawaii. Discharged in 1945, George soon met Dorothy, and the two were married in 1946. It was at this time that he got a job working for a telephone company in Santa Monica, known then as the Associated Telephone Company (it would later become GTE). For 18 years George worked his way up the corporate ladder, finally becoming a Methods Engineer who specialized in solving system problems. In 1974 he came up with a unique closing device for covering spliced cables. After GTE refused to patent the invention, George took his idea and started his own company. During the next ten years, the company, Communications Technology, grew into a large international telecommunications equipment manufacturer.

In 1984, ‘I was made an offer to sell the company that I couldn’t refuse,” George says. He and Dorothy took the proceeds from the sale and tried the leisure life of retirement. They purchased a home near Lake Tahoe, traveled, and dabbled in a variety of investments. Then in 1991, a conversation with neighbor Mark Rafanelli led George in a new direction. It turned out that Rafanelli was a partner in the Alderbrook Vineyard & Winery and that he and the other owners were considering the possibility of selling their property. The thought of living and working in the warmth and beauty of Sonoma County was appealing to George and the investment opportunities also held considerable allure. After a bit of negotiation, George purchased the vineyard and winery but decided to lease back the winemaking operation to the original partners. The arrangement held up until 1994 when a variety of troubles forced the original partners to abandon the winery. George, whose only related winery experience had been as an investor in Schramsberg Winery back in 1975, knew it would be foolish to tackle the challenge without expert help. He developed a strategy that put together a top flight team of seasoned pros to run the operation for him. By recruiting experts like winemaker Bob Cabral and General Manager John McClelland, George made a real commitment to building Alderbrook into a world class winery.

In recent years George has built upon his commitment to excellence by financing new production and barrel storage facilities, upgrading the winery’s cooperage program and expanding the hospitality and office spaces. ‘The sky’s the limit,” says George when asked about the winery’s future. ‘I would like to someday produce 150,000 cases a year- whites and reds. The plan is not so much about quantity but rather to consistently produce quality wines that everyone can enjoy,” he adds. So far the Alderbrook wines have captured more than 200 medals and have gained wide acceptance throughout the States and in much of Europe.

Today George and his wife Dorothy ( who serves as the vineyard and winery’s controller) divide their time between their Tahoe home and their cottage at the vineyard. ‘Nothing is finer after putting in a full day than relaxing in the evening, enjoying the spa, the beautiful scenery and a glass of our Chardonnay”, says George. It sounds like a recipe for a long and happy life to us. We wish George, Dorothy and the team at Alderbrook plenty of future success.

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