By Kara Busselen
“Go ahead,” I egged Michael on. “Click ‘contact agent.’”
We were stalking a property on Zillow, the only one that had really captured our attention after months of looking, trying to beat pandemic boredom in the summer of 2020. “What can it hurt?” I goaded. “We’ll just go look…”
The property we were looking at was, of course, Woodhawk Vineyards. The pictures online were beautiful, and we were entranced by the fact its 21 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were in long-term contract to Silver Oak. We technically weren’t in the market yet for a vineyard, but we thought it was worth a little day trip to Sonoma to check it out.
If there’s such a thing as love at first sight, that was it. We drove onto the property through the wrought iron gate. As we came around the first corner, the vineyard spread around us and we both fell into reverent silence. The house was amazing. The pool was amazing. The sport court, the game room, the guest house… amazing. I don’t think either of us had any doubt this place was going to be ours.
Little did we know the purchasing process would be one of the most stressful times in our lives. Before we even made the offer, we had to have all sorts of Zoom meetings. First stop, Silicon Valley Bank to make sure they could get us a business loan. Second, we talked to Redwood Empire Vineyard Management, trying to understand what taking care of more than 25,000 vines entailed. Since we didn’t have a real estate agent working for us, we interviewed real estate attorneys and tax experts.
After about a month of meetings and crunching the numbers, we had our closing team in place. We made the offer.
I don’t know if you’ve ever wanted something so much that you can feel it in every bone in your body, but that’s how Michael and I felt waiting for the response from the sellers. Days clicked by with no response. Had we offended them? Did they not like our terms? Was there a better offer?
The counter offer came back and we ran it by our legal team, who approved. We sent word via the seller’s agent and waited. Nothing is for certain until the document is signed, so we waited to receive the signed offer. It was an afternoon in August and we got tired of waiting by the computer, so we decided to go for a walk. What if they decided not to sell? What if they changed their minds? The agent had said it was possible.
It was 7pm before the phone rang, and the agent said we had a deal and was sending the documents over. Yes! We thought we were basically done and, barring any surprise disclosure or discoveries, would wait out the 60-day escrow in relative peace.
We were wrong about that! Right about the time we started to look for insurance, the fires started in Northern California. It seemed the whole state was on fire, the sky a creepy orange color and the smoke so thick you could taste it. Days and days went by with 0% containment. The insurers were spooked. We worked with several different insurance brokers who all came back with the same answer: no one will insure this property. It’s too high on the hill, it’s too exposed and it has too many trees. Even the current insurer didn’t want to transfer the policy to us. Without insurance, we couldn’t get our loan. Without our loan, we had no Woodhawk. Days ticked by with no good news.
Finally a creative broker cobbled together coverage from the CA Fair Plan, Nationwide and Lloyd’s of London. It was too much money for too little coverage, but we had no choice. We took it.
Meanwhile, documents from the title company were arriving daily, and complicated legal papers were being emailed a fast clip. This kind of thing is Michael’s department. However, it had the unfortunate timing of falling directly during the weeks leading up to his company’s biggest event of the year and all the accompanying executive communications. He was flat out filming the show on a Covid-protected soundstage in Los Angeles, but the Woodhawk legal and title documents kept coming and demanding his immediate attention. I’m pretty sure he didn’t sleep for about two weeks.
The day we finally got the keys, I cried with relief. Woodhawk was ours! Then I cried because the moment we walked into the house by ourselves and took a breath, we heard a smoke alarm, mounted nearly 20 feet above the ground at the high point of the ceiling, insistently repeating, “Low battery. Low battery,” punctuated by annoying chirps.
Ahhhhhh… ownership. And the first of many trips to Ace (in this case for a ladder).
10 thoughts on “The Purchase”
Congratulations Team Busselen! Wish you all the best. —Bill Baron
Congratulations on the acquisition of the vineyard and winery, and your success of this past year as owners and operators! Judy and I look forward to visiting your winery!
A fun, but nerve-racking read. Congratulations to Team Busselen!
– Jim Cunneen
What a great adventure to start! Congratulations!
Love this story, but sorry about how stressful it was. Can’t wait to come and visit!
The beginning of a new era, in enoculture and beyond! My admiration for you and what you’ve achieved — and the legacy you’re creating for the future — is boundless. Fly, Woodhawk, fly!
To cite a Disney line, dreams really do come true
So exciting — Will be well worth all the labor it took ! We can’t wait to visit Woodhawk Winery!
– Shari Boxer Baker
Congrats, Michael and Kara! I think the transition to winery owners/wine country hosts is a natural next step for you! Please post some pictures of the guest room (and I will be right over)!
We bought a house in St. Helena in August 2020 and went through the same issues with insurance. Sadly, our neighborhood burned down in the Glass Fire! Still making repairs and the FAIR planned barely covered a thing! Hope to visit Woodhawk this fall when we’re back! 😊