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Politics & Money

Wine cave couple made their wealth in real estate

Napa Valley fundraiser sparked fiery clash at Democratic debate

The wealthy couple behind the infamous “wine cave” fundraiser for Pete Buttigieg that fueled sound bites during Thursday’s Democratic debate made their money in real estate.

The cave at Hall Wines in California’s Napa Valley is owned by Dallas residents Craig Hall and Kathryn Walt Hall. Their company, Hall Group, owns Hall Park, a 162-acre office complex about 25 miles north of Dallas, and other properties.

The Dec. 15 fundraiser, billed as “An Evening in the Vineyards with Mayor Pete,” cost donors $1,000 for a photograph with Mayor Pete and $2,800 for a dinner served from a wood-and-onyx banquet table beneath a chandelier made with 1,500 Swarovski crystals.

The opulent setting prompted a fiery clash between Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, during last week’s debate. Snippets of the exchange were featured on TV over the weekend.

“Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States,” Warren, who has eschewed big donors during her presidential campaign, said during the debate.

Buttigieg said big donors are needed to match the reelection efforts of President Donald Trump.

“We need to defeat Donald Trump,” Buttigieg responded. “We shouldn’t try to do it with one hand tied behind our back.”

The controversy even made it into the Saturday Night Live opening skit, with actress Kate McKinnon playing Warren and Colin Jost as Buttigieg.

“I’ve never been to a wine cave,” McKinnon’s Warren said. “I’ve never even been to a Filene’s Basement – too much shimmer and shine,” she said, referring to the discount retailer.

Craig Hall made his first real estate investment in 1968 when he was 18, buying a rooming house to rent to students in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He used a down payment of $4,000 he saved from mowing lawns and doing odd jobs.

He went on to buy and sell investment properties, using limited partnerships including some seeded with University of Michigan students putting in a few hundred dollars each. In the late 1970s, Hall invested in a health maintenance organization that later went public. He moved his company to Dallas in 1981.

The couple married in 1993. Kathryn Walt Hall is an attorney and businesswoman who started her career managing her family’s vineyard. She later co-founded the North Texas Food Bank, served on the House of Representatives Hunger Advisory Committee, and was the director of the Texas Mental Health Association.

From 1997 to 2001, she was the U.S. ambassador to Austria, appointed by President Bill Clinton. The couple founded the Craig and Kathryn Hall Foundation, based in Dallas. One of their programs, Bridge the Gap, supports entrepreneurship in disadvantaged communities.

The Halls are high-profile Democratic fundraisers who often use their vineyards to support candidates, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“That cave’s been used by Democrats all across the country for fundraising,” Newsom told reporters following Thursday night’s debate, according to the Daily Beast. “Probably a hundred congressional representatives have benefited from the use of that.”

While Twitter exploded with witticisms about “wine caves” after the debate (including “Is that like a bat cave?”), the term actually refers to something more akin to a cellar than a hole in a mountain.

In France, the spiritual center of the wine industry, the word “cave” means an area for storing barrels of wine as they age. It is pronounced like the English word “calf” but with a “v” sound instead of the “f.”

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