Nearly three months after Gary Eberle was abruptly forced out of his position as general partner of Eberle Winery, the company announced Thursday that he will serve as a “brand ambassador.”
A highly respected pioneer in the North County wine industry, Eberle was notified in January that he would no longer be leading the winery he had co-founded 30 years ago.
The change came in a surprise shake-up by the Eberle Winery ownership group that shocked the wine community and blindsided Eberle.
Eberle owned only a 35 percent share in the company. His sister-in-law, Jeanne Giacobine, who took over ownership voting rights for her husband, Jim, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, joined with minority owners Rob and Charles “Abe” Flory to oust Eberle.
“They say they want it to be more profitable,” Eberle said in a Jan. 15 interview. “I asked how, and they said, ‘We don’t know, but we’re going to find out.’ ”
Eberle had long been the face of the winery, and he led its winemaking and marketing efforts. He said in January that he was asked to stay on and serve as a “figurehead.”
On Thursday, public relations firm Solterra Strategies issued a news release on behalf of the winery, announcing Eberle’s new role. Solterra Strategies spokeswoman Stacie Jacob said the change in leadership was not an effort to separate Eberle from the winery and that some information had been taken out of context.
“The goal was never to have him not involved in the winery,” Jacob said. “In the new position, Gary Eberle is going to be really involved in the winery and keep on with his namesake brand. … The partner group wanted to have a clearer division between duties.”
Jacob said as brand ambassador, Eberle will be required to travel and attend functions as the face of the brand, while the day-to-day management will move to the winery’s new general manager, Willis Blakewell. The brand ambassador is a paid position, but Jacob said she did not know how it compared to Eberle’s previous salary.
Eberle did not respond to a request for an interview Thursday.
He was quoted in the news release saying, “For the past 30 years I’ve poured my heart and soul into this winery. This is a new chapter in my life at Eberle Winery, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”