Falcon Crest is up for sale. Not the television series, but the winery, known as Spring Mountain in reality. Could it be that the making of wine and the production of theatrical froth are less than compatible? Or is the Napa Valley's trend toward heavy tourism taking its toll?
Spring Mountain commands a fabulous view -- and a fabulous association, thanks to Jane Wyman, et al. But relatively few soap opera fans know that the "Falcon Crest" property pictured weekly also produces wine, and fine wine at that.
The lesser wines go into Falcon Crest, Spring Mountain's second label. This wine has probably the best built-in advertising of any in the United States, but Spring Mountain's owner isn't happy with the way things have turned out.
Mike Robbins, a former Southern California real estate investor who started Spring Mountain in the late '60s, now wants out of making and selling wine. "The business has changed," he says. "Big corporations are gobbling up the small wineries. The pressure's hard on the rural life style."
But who could resist the opportunities? "Falcon Crest" brings curious throngs to Spring Mountain, and tours have become a large part of what goes on at the winery. A gift shop has been built and signs put up to route visitors, many of them with only a marginal interest in wine.
Robbins originally got into the wine business out of curiosity. "It was a hobby that ran amok and took over my life." He moved to the Napa Valley, raised a family and gradually built up what was originally a very small winery.
In 1974, Robbins bought the present estate, located near his original winery, and had the house gutted and restored. He designed the new winery out back and had new vineyards planted. "I liked the life style in Napa," he says. "You could be up to your knees in must one day and having lunch with the Baron Rothschild the next."
One day a television producer dropped by Spring Mountain and told Robbins he wanted to film a series there. "I said, 'Beat it!' But he was very persuasive. His company had done 'The Waltons,' and I thought 'Falcon Crest' would be like that. No such luck. I didn't know it would be another 'Dallas' -- all greed and avarice and sex and violence."
He pauses, then adds, "I don't like the way it portrays the valley."
Robbins won't say how much he earns for the "Falcon Crest" episodes made at Spring Mountain, but the amount is substantial. Other Napa Valley wineries used occasionally as backdrops receive at least $2,000 a day. Asked how much he wants for Spring Mountain/Falcon Crest, he replies evenly, "$20 million."
The notoriety of "Falcon Crest" has attracted some unusual potential buyers to Spring Mountain. Robbins calls them weirdos. "Like the man who stepped out of a helicopter last summer holding a wineglass," says Robbins. "He described himself as an industrialist, pinched all the girls in the tasting room and took everybody up in the helicopter. He said he was going to come back and buy the place.
"I called the real estate broker, to check up on this guy. The broker said, 'You won't believe this, but he stiffed the helicopter company for $4,000 and tried to steal my car.' "
Robbins feels this notoriety has taken some of the luster away from the legitimate product of Spring Mountain -- wine. "I want a new adventure," he says. "I'm going to get a 52-foot sloop and spend my winters island hopping."
He adds wistfully. "A Frenchman came to look at this place. He said, 'C'est paradis!' "
Sounds like a line from "Falcon Crest." ::