Gary Eberle, a pioneer of the Paso Robles wine region and one of its biggest ambassadors, has been replaced as general partner of the winery he established more than 30 years ago.
“I’m still stunned,” Eberle said Tuesday morning. “I don’t know what to say or what to think.”
The news that he would be replaced as general partner of the group that owns the winery came without warning on Monday morning, he said. Members of the ownership group, including his sister-in-law, Jeanne Giacobine, and Rob and Charles “Abe” Flory, initiated the leadership change, Eberle said.
It takes 51 percent ownership to replace the general partner, said Eberle, and he and his half-brother Jim Giacobine held nearly 80 percent of the ownership between them. With his brother being cared for in an Alzheimer’s facility, Eberle said that his sister-in-law, who is married to his brother and lives in San Diego, now has voting rights on his shares. She holds his half-brother’s 39 percent, and the brothers Flory together have 13 percent. With 52 percent ownership, the group “voted me out and replaced me as general partners.”
Eberle still retains 35½ percent of the partnership, with the remainder held by five other partners.
Neither Charles Flory, who lives locally, nor Jeanne Giacobine could be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Eberle said he was offered a position as the winery’s “figurehead.” He believes the reason behind the move is that the group wants to grow and expand the business.
“They say they want it to be more profitable,” said Eberle, noting that the winery is already profitable and that money was recently sent back to the owners. “I asked how, and they said we don’t know, but we’re going to find out. They think they want to produce more than we are producing. The winery was never designed to be much different than it is.”
Eberle added: “We are already shoe-horned as it is. I don’t see how you can maintain the same quality off site.”
Eberle, who said Tuesday morning that he planned to go into work, doesn’t know what’s next for him.
“At this point, I’m just trying to catch my breath,” he said.
The shakeup at Eberle has sparked concern among local winemakers and vineyard owners.
“He’s sort of like our Robert Mondavi,” said Dana Merrill, owner of Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery. “I can’t think of anyone more iconic to the area than he is.”
Eberle, often referred to as the ‘godfather’ of the Paso Robles wine region, grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State with a biology degree. He later pursued graduate work in cellular genetics at Louisiana State University, and while there, developed an appreciation for wine. He earned an enology degree from UC Davis and set out for Paso Robles in 1973, according to historical information on the Eberle website.
He first established Estrella River Winery & Vineyards with the help of his two brothers-in-law before branching out on his own in the late 1970s. In 1979, he released the first Eberle wine with the well-known boar logo. The winery, production facility and tasting room opened in the early 1980s.
Christopher Taranto, communications director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, a cooperative marketing alliance made up of North County wineries and vineyards, said Eberle Winery, which specializes in cabernet sauvignon, is considered a mid-sized winery, producing about 26,000 cases annually.
Taranto, who has not talked to Eberle about the situation, said that he is an iconic figure whose notoriety has helped to promote the Paso Robles wine region across the country.
“If we in any way lose that voice out in the marketplace, it would be a loss of that voice out there touting the Paso AVA,” Taranto said. “His wines are well-known and well-regarded, and he has national distribution. Every bottle is much like J. Lohr or Justin or Peachy Canyon. They are like little billboards on shelves.”
In addition to being a key spokesperson for Paso wine, Eberle also cares for the people who work for him, Taranto said. About 25 people work at Eberle.
“Many have been with him for years upon years,” he said. “Right now, I’m sure that is definitely top of mind for him.”