Burt Williams and Ed Selyem try their hands at weekend winemaking at Burt’s house in Forestville. They start with Zinfandel grapes grown by the Martinelli family on now legendary Jackass Hill.
How does a hobby become a passion and a passion become a legend?
Like most good stories, the history of Williams Selyem owes much to serendipity. If a grower with an abundance of fruit hadn’t given Burt Williams a few tons of free grapes in the 1970s, Burt might never have discovered his love and flair for winemaking. And if Burt and his partner Ed Selyem had been able to afford the French Burgundies they both favored, they might never have tried making their own Pinot Noir.
The two friends didn’t set out to produce wines for anyone but themselves. And they surely never imagined that their humble experiment in home winemaking would spawn a cult-status winery of international acclaim. Together, Burt and Ed set a new standard for American-made Pinot Noir, and elevated Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley to among the best wine growing regions in the world.
1981The two friends make the leap from hobbyists to legitimate winemakers and name their new winery Hacienda del Rio.
1982The first vintage is bottled. Burt, a veteran newspaper pressman, makes the labels using an old-school letterpress and hand-mixed inks. The label was designed by Burt’s friend Graham McIntosh of White Rabbit Press.
The first commercial release of Hacienda del Rio.
A cease and desist letter from Hacienda Winery prompts Burt and Ed to remove the name Hacienda from the label.
Production moves to a leased two-car garage in nearby Fulton.
Release of the first vintage with the iconic Williams Selyem label. The winery is now legally Williams & Selyem, LLC.
The first vineyard-designate Pinot Noir from the Rochioli Vineyard is released.
The Williams Selyem Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir wins the California State Fair Sweepstakes Prize for top red wine, besting 2,136 wines from 416 wineries.
Demand now exceeds supply. The Williams Selyem “wait list” is created. At times, the wait is anywhere from 2 to 3 years.
The crew moves to the new Allen Ranch facility on Westside Road.
Burt and Ed quit their day jobs to focus solely on the winery.
Williams Selyem is served at the White House.
Burt and Ed sell the winery to pioneering viticulturist and longtime customer John Dyson. Bob Cabral takes over for Burt as head winemaker.
John Dyson buys a parcel in Guerneville that was once the Drake Orchard and starts developing it into Williams Selyem’s first Estate vineyard.
The winery buys 51 acres of ranchland from the descendants of Cecil and Luella Litton, who homesteaded the land in the 1800s. It is christened the Litton Estate vineyard.
Using modern genetic techniques to re-create an Old World–style field blend, the winery plants two acres of the Litton Estate with an experimental Mass Selection block, aka Block 10, intermixing 18 diverse Pinot Noir clones.
The first vintage of Litton Estate Pinot Noir yields a total of two barrels.
Ground is broken on the new state-of-the-art winery on Westside Road.
Wine Enthusiast Magazine awards the 2007 Litton Estate PN a score of 100 points, making it the first Pinot Noir in North America to receive a perfect score from any major wine publication.
The barrel cellar, lab and bottling operation move to the new building.
The vineyard surrounding the winery, formerly known as the Litton Estate, is renamed the Williams Selyem Estate.
Administrative offices and a luxurious hospitality space complete the new facility.
Williams Selyem active list members are invited to visit the new winery by appointment.
Bob Cabral is named winemaker of the year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Jeff Mangahas joins Williams Selyem as Winemaker, working with Bob to learn the Williams Selyem winemaking methods.
Jeff Mangahas takes over as Winemaker.
Purchased the Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard.
Purchased the Saitone Estate Vineyard.