Simon Levi: Five Generations and Counting

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The Simon Levi Company has come a long way since it’s founder and namesake left his homeland of Bohemia (then part of Austria and later Czechoslovakia) at the age of twelve. He headed due west to the New World, determined to make it on his own. He worked his way to California in various mercantile establishments and paid his own way through college to better understand the retail and merchandise business. Just 10 years after arriving in the U.S., Simon Levi opened his first general mercantile store in the frontier town of Temecula, California just outside of San Diego in 1873.

Set on the end of the San Diego – Temecula railroad line in one of the area’s only civilized territories, his enterprise quickly became a success as the crossroads for hundreds of new settlers needing supplies, meals and lodging. He soon extended his business into the thriving port of San Diego, formed partnerships and as trade increased his firm became a wholesaler. Fostering trade, imports and encouraging agriculture with sales of honey, eggs, barley and wool, he increased warehousing and business boomed. Dedicated to community involvement, Levi also utilized his leadership ability and held offices in all aspects of the San Diego commerce, political and public safety arena. Simon Levi’s success reached from Baja California north to San Luis Obispo.

Under the leadership of Levi’s son-in-law, J.B. Jacobs, and a few months after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, Simon Levi Company acquired the Schlitz Beer account, and eventually diversified into the wholesale liquor business. By 1956, J.B.’s grandson, Jay Jacobs, took on the reins of the business, which had become one of the largest wine & spirit distributors in California, known for building and developing high profile brands in the Southern California market.

In the late 1980’s the major distillers began consolidating their brands into just a few wholesalers in each state, where it was legal. Simon Levi Company was not one of the chosen few and was eventually put out of the distilled spirits business. At the same time in 1988, Simon Levi Company purchased the Stone Creek wine label. The brand struggled at first until a timely decision was made to purchase some Merlot and bottle it under the Stone Creek label. Right about that time, the Merlot boom struck and an intended 7000 case brand became a 250,000 case success practically overnight. With the purchase of Stone Creek, the Jacobs family decided to move to Northern California to focus on being a wine supplier.

The wine country proved to be a welcome refuge from the big city of Los Angeles. They found the perfect historical site in the quaint town of Kenwood, CA for their tasting room. The Old Kenwood Schoolhouse was originally built in 1890 just 17 years after their great grandfather opened his first store. It was restored by the 5th generation heirs to Simon Levi, Barry and Brad Jacobs and became their new headquarters for wine sales and property management.

Simon Levi Company continued to grow as a wine negotiant with the Stone Creek brand leading the way. Found on shelves across the 50 states, challenges came once again for Simon Levi Company. Stone Creek began to battle their mammoth competitors in the wine marketplace. Wholesalers across the nation were consolidating, brands were sold, and alliances were bought instead of earned. The Jacobs started to question their role in the wine business. They felt the focus should be on balance and giving people a good life. Quality of life and quality of wine began to merge as one.

After much debate, the choice was made to sell the Stone Creek brand and concentrate on making and discovering special wines from Sonoma and Napa counties. Sometimes that involves digging into their own wine cellars or traveling the back passes of Northern California’s Wine Country, to find those gems. Thus the Jacobs newest endeavor is appropriately named Simon Levi Cellars.

Simon Levi Company still emulates the hard work and fair dealing of its founder. Integrity and honor have been synonymous with the name Simon Levi since its origin. The legacy of Simon Levi lives on as his descendants retain much of his boyish optimism, believing that Sonoma County embodies that idyllic good life, the Jacobs have definitely set roots for the future of the upcoming sixth generation.

SL Cellars • 9380 Sonoma Hwy. Kenwood, CA 95452 • phone: 707-833-4455 • e-mail: info@slcellars.com