No Wine (or Lawsuit) Before Its Time

Robert Arns

Published in 2010 Northern California Super Lawyers magazine

By Suzy Frisch on July 8, 2010


Robert Arns was on his way to earn-ing a Ph.D. in English when his future father-in-law uttered two sentences that would change his life: “That’s a bunch of bullshit. Go to law school and help people.” So Arns did.

For the past 35 years, personal injury lawyer Arns has made a career of representing harmed parties. He strives to help families regain their dignity and economic freedom after a traumatic event. This drive has guided Arns to favorably resolve more than 300 million-dollar and multimillion-dollar cases by trial and settlement, earning him the title of San Francisco Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2004.

Arns found success in personal injury law early on. In 1977 he represented a woman who was severely brain damaged from a heart attack she suffered after taking diet pills made from amphetamine. Arns secured a multimillion-dollar settlement, and six months later, amphetamine-based diet pills were taken off the market in the United States and are now banned by the FDA. “It was the greatest motivational experience in my life,” he says.

Owner of his firm since 1996, Arns is also a law professor at the University of San Francisco, where he teaches trial practice. He also dabbles in real estate, writes law books and collects wine.

Arns became a vintner in 1998, when he and his wife, Anne, purchased 16 acres in Napa Valley. There they built a winery named Tournesol—French for sunflower, literally “turn to the sun”—nestled into Napa’s eastern foothills. Though the winery just started distributing its Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux last year, it’s already being poured at such prominent Napa restaurants as The French Laundry, Bottega and Bouchon.

Arns bills Tournesol as both a winery and a law- and wine-education center; he hosts legal events and fundraisers there for his favorite causes. He leaves the grape growing and wine making to the professionals and spends the workweek in San Francisco. But when Arns wants to unwind and enjoy family time, he heads home to his winery and family, where he is 15 minutes from his four adored grandchildren.

Arns has no plans to put a cork in his legal career and take up winemaking full time—he finds his legal work too rewarding. “It’s pretty fun when you start from nothing and you don’t know what you want to do with your life to be doing what I’m doing now,” he says. “It’s a dream come true, based on having these results all of these years for clients. Napa and the winery are the perfect complement to the law and it helps brings a perfect balance to my life.”

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