In 2011, I wrote a long piece for the Noir City magazine (under Don Malcolm's stewardship) on Raymond Burr's legacy of noir villainy, and as an adjunct to that, I got to know Burr's life partner for 33 years, Robert Benevides, just a little bit. Burr and Benevides owned and resided at the winery they started in Sonoma County outside of Healdsburg, and I had joined the winery's club a couple of years before writing the article.
Back in the day, the tasting room was adorned with memorabilia from Burr's TV series Perry Mason and Ironside, but there was nothing from his storied noir career, so my piece on Burr filled a gaping hole and Mr. Benevides was delighted by it. He had a copy bound and placed prominently in the tasting room among the other artifacts, and he insisted that I also have a couple bottles of port from his wine library.
Alas, Mr. Benevides got too old to operate the winery and sold the 50-acre parcel of vineyards, as well as his home he shared with Burr and the tasting room facility, in 2015. It sold for $5 million, but for a few years, it was in doubt whether it would remain a winery, let alone Raymond Burr Vineyards.
Long story short, it was purchased by a couple from Colorado in 2018 who not only are keeping it as a winery but are retaining the Raymond Burr moniker and even Burr's own personally designed bottle label. They are rebuilding the tasting room and have restored Burr's home to its original luster. Their first wine releases came out this past year, but COVID has delayed the grand opening of the tasting room.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I made our first trip to the winery since it closed to meet the new owners, and not only got a one-on-one tour of the grounds but an up-close-and-personal first look inside Burr's home. It still has his mark, to be sure -- a huge painting of him that hangs in the dining room glares at all visitors. His antique medieval-looking dining table, which had a coal-pan footwarmer underneath it, still sits in the room's center. We got a look at Burr's actual bedroom, where he died from liver cancer in 1993. It's been noted that Burr, facing his own fate, held several "goodbye parties" of his terminal condition at his home and the winery. Have to say, it felt a little eerie walking around the place. Wouldn't want to walk around there at night and run into the ghost of Rick Coyle or Harry Prebble!
On the way to the wine cellar, there is a billiard room filled with exotic tribal masks and myriad photos that Burr collected -- he was a true renaissance man who at one time owned his own island in the Pacific -- and we also got a peek at a personal photo album of Burr's that included an old picture of himself posing with his mother. The new owner revealed that much of Burr's personal memorabilia wasn't taken by Benevides when he left the winery and moved to the Santa Cruz area (he's still alive at a spry 91) and we got to see quite a lot of it when he got into the very creepy cellar, which the new owner said required considerable restoration and removal of asbestos and mold.
One thing the new owners hadn't found was a copy of my Noir City article, but thankfully a pdf copy is stored online at the Internet Archive because copies of that OOP edition are now running three figures. As I recall, that one had some binding issues so a pristine copy -- and I only have one myself -- is worth its weight in gold.
Anyway, the Raymond Burr connection lives on. Here's the Noir City piece if you never got a chance to read it.