“Being a wine lawyer is as much fun as you can have being a lawyer.” —Kay Philippakis, Farella Braun + Martel [Photo by John Swanda,
Swanda and Schindler Digital Photography]

“We’re in a unique spot, being a San Francisco law firm with homegrown knowledge of the wine industry,” says Katherine “Kay” Philippakis, chair of the wine industry group for Farella Braun + Martel. “We’re here on the ground in the North Bay and know the key people in the business.”

The firm was founded nearly 60 years ago in San Francisco and established wine industry roots in the 1960s, when Robert Mondavi hired it to resolve a dispute about ownership of Charles Krug Winery. “Frank Farella was Robert Mondavi’s lawyer for the rest of his life. We opened our St. Helena office 25 years ago,” says Philippakis.

Philippakis says it’s this long-term industry experience that sets the firm apart. “That knowledge grows by accretion. We know the land—who owned a vineyard before—and see issues like zoning, permitting, and distribution come back in different iterations. That understanding is a real value to our clients,” says Philippakis.

FBM offers legal representation to winegrape growers, wineries, other alcoholic beverage producers, cannabis operators, and a score of other types of businesses. It advises alcoholic beverage clients on land use permits and variances, estate planning, corporate formation, distributor agreements, federal and state regulations, trademarks and other protection of intellectual property, employment issues, and environmental claims.

Today, the firm serves both “huge companies and fledgling wineries.” In a nutshell, says Philippakis, “Clients just want to understand what their options are and what makes the most sense.”

She adds, “Being a wine lawyer is as much fun as you can have being a lawyer. Every day you get to ask new and interesting questions.”