Ξ November 30th, 2009 | → 3 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine News, Wineries |
What follows is a piece written entirely for my own amusement.
Still nursing Thanksgiving’s broken molar sustained when I bit down on a steel shotgun pellet embedded in a pheasant’s wing, I wondered what wine story might be the rough equivalent? I know! Shattered tooth, meet the Salahis.
By now we are all aware of the existence of Tareq and Michaele Salahi. They are the ambitious pair who successfully crashed last week’s state dinner at the White House and got to within striking distance of President Obama. As one may read from the official guest list released by the White House, the Salahi’s were not on it. And new details are emerging faster than you can say “This much we now know…”.
Though their on-going family drama is well-chronicled in the society pages of newspapers back East, here in the rest of America we are only beginning to play catch up. This much we now know: Apparently deeply in debt from tangled litigation largely surrounding their Oasis Winery in Virginia, the Salahi’s have been looking for creative avenues of escape. One such opportunity was reality T.V. Michaele Salahi was, in fact, being followed by a camera crew as part of her on-going audition for a starring role on Bravo’s Real Housewives of D.C. Indeed, according to a message posted by Tareq-Michaele Salahi onthe the Oasis Winery Facebook page they had invited ‘fans’ late last month to visit for a bit of filming at the winery. The trouble is they do not appear to any longer own it. From the FB page,
“Come over for a very casual Wine & Cheese Cheer at Oasis Winery, as we bring together a intimate group of new & old friends. (Please note – do not wear anything that will “date” this as a Holiday event for Filming purposes.)”
Yes, the Salahi’s once owned a vineyard and winery, Oasis Winery. It was one of the pioneering efforts of Virginia’s greatly respected wine industry. According to their website,
“Our experience dates back to 1977 when Tareq Salahi and his father together planted by hand some of the first Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines in Virginia.”
“The leadership and science of our winemaking comes from our Founder, Tareq Salahi, a graduate of the University of California, Davis which is the the worlds leading educational institution for the worlds wine industry; Mr. Tareq Salahi sub-focused in sparkling wines and has extensive experience working Taittinger, Domaine Carneros of Napa Valley, Australia, South Africa and returned to the family vineyards to take Oasis to a new level. Under Mr. Tareq Salahis leadership – Oasis was rated Top 10 in the World in 2000! “ (sic)
But there is a passage from a different source that differs ever so slightly and hints at the trouble that led to the loss of the winery: From the Insiders’ Guide to Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the 9th edition from 2005.
“Tareq Salahi and his wife, Michaele, purchased the property in the mid-1970s and planted French hybrid grapes as a hobby. Salahi soon learned that the soil was well suited for grape growing and turned his hobby into a business.”
There is no mention of the father, Durgham Salahi. And it is around him that much of the family drama circulates. According to the Fairfax Times.com it was back in 2007 that NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal shpwed up out of the blue with an offer to buy Oasis. This was surprising to Tareq and Michaele. The winery was not for sale. From the Fairfax Times:
One day last June,  Shaquille O’Neal, one of the world’s best-known athletes, showed up at the vineyard unannounced. Michaele Salahi, a former model who’d known O’Neal through charity circles, said, ”I just said to him ‘What are you doing here? And he said, ‘I’ve been talking to Mrs. Salahi and I’m thinking of buying Oasis.’”
Neither said they knew the vineyard was for sale, which Tareq said was a violation of their family partnership, naming the parents as 70 percent owners and Tareq and his brother Ishmael as 30 percent owners. His father, 80-year-old Durgham Salahi, has Parkinson’s disease and suffers from dementia. “She listed the place without my authorization,” Tareq said. “But we felt Shaq might make a good partner for our growth plans.
Things did not work out. Tareq began to believe O’Neal had secret designs on the winery and was planning a take-over that would eventually lead to his ouster. There was much hand-wringing and finger-pointing in the wake of O’Neal’s departure. Again from the Fairfax Times,
Tareq blamed his mother Corrine Salahi for causing turmoil at the vineyard, claiming she “abused” vineyard employees with “bullying tactics” and “fabricated claims,” and even wielding a pistol at times. Mrs. Salahi did not return calls for comment. [....] “I’m not speaking with my mom,” Salahi said. “She wants to put my dad away in a nursing home and she has betrayed the whole family. She can’t be forgiven for this betrayal.”
Since January the Fauquier Sheriff’s Office has recorded 26 incident reports at the vineyard, six naming Corrine Salahi, according to Major Paul Mercer, the Sheriff Office’s Public Information Officer. “We have sent deputies out there quite a few times this year,” Mercer said. “These cases involved everything from simple assault, motor vehicle theft, burglary and assault involving a family member.”
Litigation followed, and ended with the vineyard and winery put into receivership. A realtor and close family friend of the younger Salahi’s, one Casey Margenau, stepped up. But that plan, too, went south. As recounted in a thorough piece on The Real McCoy blog,
“In January, the Fauquier Times-Democrat reported that a sale of the Oasis real estate fell through when McLean Realtor Casey Margenau backed out of the deal to buy the property for $4.15 million. At that time, the newspaper reported that litigation regarding the disposition of the winery began in 2006, and court documents contain allegations of fraud and embezzlement of corporate assets by Tareq Salahi and his parents, Dirgham and Corrine Salahi.”
“Oasis Enterprises, Inc. Chairman Tareq Salahi plans to move his Oasis Winery business, currently based near Hume in Fauquier County, to the Blue Rock property owned by Gary Harvey, said David Arnold, an assistant to Salahi. The new winery would become one of the ten largest in Virginia, he said, producing 35,000 to 50,000 cases of wine and champagne a year, Arnold said.” [sic]
But these ambitious plans, too, fell apart. According to a CNN report,
“Oasis Winery filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court records in the Eastern District of Virginia. Tareq Salahi is listed as company president in the filing. Creditors listed include the IRS, Fauquier County, the state of Virginia, several banks and American Express Corp., among others. The company claims about $335,000 in assets and $965,000 in liabilities.”
The CNN story goes on to list additional debts, including a $65 parking ticket. (CNN is nothing if not thorough!)
Well, that will about do it for me. I’ve a dentist appointment. For the reader’s further amusement I encourage you to view this hilarious YouTube video interview with Oasis manager, Diane Weiss, concerning a recent visit by the Secret Service. If you are still hungry for more, please give a listen to this audio exclusive interview with Tareq Salahi from Radar Online.com.