In 1880, Walter Stephen Taylor, a cooper’s son, started a commercial grape juice company in New York’s Finger Lakes region. Two years later, wine production was added, and by the 1920s, the Taylor Wine Company was firmly established. Walter Taylor’s three sons carefully guided the company through Prohibition and beyond, making it the most important winery in the Northeast and profoundly affecting the people and community of Hammondsport, where the company was headquartered.
In the 1960s, the Taylor family took the company public. Ranked sixth in domestic wine production and ripe for corporate takeover, the company was sold to Coca-Cola in 1977. Three more changes of corporate ownership followed until, in 1995, this once-dynamic and important wine producer was obliterated, tearing apart the local economy and changing a way of life that had lasted for nearly a century.
Drawing on archival research as well as interviews with many of the principal players, Thomas Pellechia skillfully traces the economic dynamism of the Finger Lakes wine region, the passion and ingenuity of the Taylor family, and the shortsighted corporate takeover scenario that took down a once-proud American family company. In addition to providing important lessons for business innovators, Over a Barrel is a cautionary tale for a wine region that is repeating its formative history.
“Over a Barrel offers various cautionary lessons that can be applied to all too many businesses. The Taylor paterfamilias began making wine from grapes in the Finger Lakes region, and his three sons improved it. But when the world of wine consumption changed, the Taylors didn’t, and they eventually sold out. Subsequent corporate owners gradually destroyed the wine and the farmers who grew the grapes. Only the black sheep grandson stayed true to the family code, ranting from his perch on Bully Hill.” — Mark Pendergrast, author of For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It, Third Edition, Revised and Expanded