The Billionaire Owner Of The Glitzy Wine Cave That Pete Buttigieg Fundraised At Says...

Posted: Dec 24, 2019

The billionaire owner of the Swarovski-crystal-studded "wine cave" that became a subject of fiery discussion during Thursday's Democratic presidential debate felt unfairly targeted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Warren commented that "billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States," in reference to an exclusive fundraising event held by her rival Pete Buttigieg in California's Napa Valley.

The businessman Andrew Yang backed Warren up at the debate, suggesting that candidates shouldn't have to "shake the money tree in the wine cave," while Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, responded that his net worth was one-hundredth Warren's and that wealthy donors wouldn't influence his politics — an argument Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont have argued against.

Craig and Kathryn Hall, who own Hall Wines, have donated at least $2.4 million to Democrats since the 1980s, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Kamala Harris of California. Craig Hall told The New York Times that he and his wife were frustrated to hear their glitzy wine cave enter the debate.

"I'm just a pawn here," Hall, who said he had not settled on a favorite candidate but liked Buttigieg, said. "They're making me out to be something that's not true. And they picked the wrong pawn. It's just not fair."

Warren Buttigieg
Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at Thursday's Democratic presidential debate in Los Angeles. Associated Press
The Halls and other winery owners in the California region felt as if the wine cave was mischaracterized as excessive or snobbish when, in reality, such caves provide a natural climate-controlled environment that is more cost-efficient than some alternatives to storing wine.

In Texas, where Hall owns the Hall Group, he told The Times he was viewed as the most liberal among friends and business colleagues. The Hall Group oversees a financial-services company as well as wineries, art exhibits, and a luxury hotel. Kathryn Hall, a lawyer, was appointed as the US ambassador to Austria under President Bill Clinton after the couple donated to his reelection campaign.

Campaign fundraisers aren't uncommon at the Halls' wine cave, where a chandelier with 1,500 Swarovski crystals hangs over the dining table. But Hall said the candidates onstage at the debates misjudged them.

"These people don't know who they're talking about when they throw me in the class that they did," he said. "As much as it's frustrating, it's more disappointing to me that Democrats are fighting with each other when we have a common goal, which is to get back to the White House."

Warren's remarks angered other prominent Democrats, including the actress Jane Lynch, who characterized her attack on the wine cave as "class warfare." Lynch faced quick blowback on Twitter.

Hall told The Times that he hoped he didn't have to back Warren or Sanders and that he "plans to" back whoever would be the Democratic nominee but that "there may be some holding my nose."

Despite Warren's criticism of the fundraiser, the Associated Press reported that Warren held a high-dollar wine fundraiser in 2018.

By Kat Tenbarge
December 21, 2019
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