Napa Valley winery and vineyard owner Craig Hall has always had a sense for busines. Even as a youngster growing up with epilepsy and learning disabilities, he didn’t let that squash his goals. He persisted and succeeded.
In mid-April, Hall was among an elite group recognized by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.
Hall’s business acumen earned him the Horatio Alger Award for 2007 — honoring people who have succeeded in spite of adversity. He was honored in Washington, D.C., with 10 other recipients — including NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and retired Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach.
Past association honors have gone to Oprah Winfrey, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former GOP presidential candidate Sen. Bob Dole.
Hall is the founder and chairman of Hall Financial Group and divides his time between his Napa Valley wineries and vineyards and corporate headquarters in Texas.
As a youngster, Hall was business savvy — he once bought soft drink syrup from a pharmacy going out of business, which he parlayed into a moneymaking venture along with a lawn mowing business. When he turned 17, he used his $4,000 savings from various jobs, as a down payment to buy a college rooming house near the University of Michigan in his hometown of Ann Arbor.
By the time Hall was 21, he owned more than 20 buildings and had already become a millionaire.
Over the years, Hall’s entrepreneurial skills morphed into the $2 billion Hall Financial Group, of which he is chairman of the board.
Much of Hall Financial Group’s major holdings are in gas, oil and real estate in the United States and Europe. Other business ventures include software development, movie production and significant holdings (12.4 million shares) in AMR, the parent company of American Airlines.
Nothing was given to Hall. He worked for every penny of his wealth.
It has come to him through hard work and a bit of luck, he said.
His mom taught art at a junior high school and his dad was in middle management.
Hall, 57, and his wife Kathryn Hall operate Hall Winery in Rutherford and are working on a second winery — Hall Winery in St. Helena.
The couple also own about 3,300 acres of vineyards in the Napa Valley and recently purchased La Residence, a boutique hotel in north Napa.
Hall’s wife is the former Ambassador to Austria during the Clinton administration. Her family has a history growing winegrapes in Mendocino County.
Locally, Hall Financial Group financed a majority of the Hilton Garden Inn in northwest Napa, and River Terrace Inn near the Oxbow District.
The Halls purchased their first vineyard properties in the Napa Valley between 1995 and 1997.
Locally his plans are to buy additional boutique hotels and premium vineyards — part of a strategy to enhance a guest’s experience in the Napa Valley.
“We’re looking for special high-end vineyards — but those are hard to come by,” he said.
Hall’s interest in small hotel properties like La Residence is an effort to offer visitors the same high-end experience that goes along with their wine tasting experience while visiting the Napa Valley.
“We want to expand upon that experience,” he said.
Hall plans to upgrade the 25-room La Residence, but it is still in the planning phase and did not have a dollar amount that he expects to spend. The property is a short walk from the popular restaurant Bistro Don Giovanni.
“I know a little about opening hotels,” said Hall during an interview at his Rutherford winery in the hills above the resort Auberge du Soleil.
The Halls also own a hotel in Dallas and two in Paris, where he and his wife also have a home.
“My day job pays for my passion to be here,” Hall said. “I actually prefer Napa Valley over Paris.”
And his day job also funds his obsession for collecting mostly modern art, which began as a teenager.
Hall primarily resides in Texas, but spends about five months a year in the Napa Valley.
Hall said as a child he didn’t excel in school — possibly in part due to the medication he took for his epilepsy, which he believes at times made it difficult for him concentrate and focus.
In school he had difficulty reading, even now he said he is a slow reader.
Hall said he would never have been selected as “the student most likely to succeed.”
Did epilepsy and difficulty reading push him to be a successful businessman?
Hall admits that is a possibility. “As a young child I had the habits (instilled in me) for working hard.”
But Hall quickly adds that luck has a lot to do with it. “The key is to put yourself in a position to get lucky.”
Hall is quick to point out that success doesn’t come without failures.
He recalls in the mid-1980s, financial struggles forced him to sell his interest in the NFL Dallas Cowboys football team and to liquidate most of his non-real estate holdings.
“Those were trying times. I was in survival mode. But I came back from it,” Hall said.
Hall isn’t ready to rest on his successes. “There are more things I want to do in the world.”