The couple behind the Case Foundation (which promotes philanthropy through technology) and Revolution (a venture-capital firm that champions “disruptive, innovative companies”) quietly purchased Sweely Estate, just off Route 29 in Madison, in July. Final regulatory approval for the license transfers was granted late last month.
The transition at Sweely, a seven-year-old winery that had slipped in and out of foreclosure for two years, has been remarkably low-key given the prominent buyers. It is a marked contrast to the spectacularly public bankruptcy of Kluge Estate, south of Charlottesville, which played out in the media until the winery was bought at auction this year by real estate mogul and TV star Donald Trump.
In a two-hour interview at the winery on a recent warm, sunny December morning, Jean Case described an ambitious, if not yet entirely mapped out, plan to help the Virginia wine industry expand to new markets.
“We’re Virginians for the past 30 years, and we like to see business grow in the state,” said Case, who lives with her husband and children in McLean. “Part of that is the excitement of helping a nascent industry on the brink of success. Our goal is for us and our team to be out in some markets in Virginia and building exposure for Virginia wines. There’s a beautiful opportunity to be out there with a wine and show people the quality it represents.”
Case, 52, has an easy smile that doesn’t fade even as she talks. While most winery types see a cloud and think of rain, she’s the type who finds a silver lining. And unlike most winery owners, she travels with an entourage: A personal assistant who says he’s in charge of “strategy and innovation” and the publicity director from Revolution drove from Northern Virginia for the interview, joining a Charlottesville-based publicist. The winery manager and winemaker filled out the group.
While she and her husband have enjoyed wine for years (Steve Case has written letters to the editor of Wine Spectator magazine), they hadn’t paid much attention to Virginia wines until a Charlottesville vacation three years ago. Visiting several of the area’s wineries, they discovered the growth and improvement of the state’s wines, and their interest was piqued.
The winery, consisting of a hospitality center and a separate building where the wine is made, clearly is Jean Case’s project. Her first order of business is to renovate; the estate will close to visitors later this month and reopen in the spring with a new tasting room and refurbished events venues. The winery building already is state-of-the-art, using three levels to move the wine by gravity instead of pumping, and with plenty of capacity to expand production.