Millions in wineries, vineyards, Oakland home being liquidated
NORTH COAST – Fifteen months after he put up $1.25 million to lift St. Helena-based Fife Vineyards out of Chapter 11 reorganization, a Mendocino County grape grower’s stake in two wineries, a vineyard, thousands of cases of wine and an Oakland home are being sold to satisfy $14.3 million in debts.
The Chapter 7 liquidation of the properties, including Fife’s Redwood Valley winery and a Cloverdale custom crush facility, represents the end of efforts by grower George Bergner to manage the sprawling wine operations he purchased during 2003 and 2004.
Wine sales and business financing problems led to the Chapter 7 liquidation, according to the couple’s bankruptcy attorney, Dave Schuricht of Katzen & Schuricht in Walnut Creek.
“The business had problems with slow wine sales and the inability to refinance obligations,” Mr. Schuricht said.
Meanwhile, Fife winery co-founder Dennis Fife told the BUSINESS JOURNAL last week he expects to have a group of investors assembled by mid-April to make an offer on a $1.25 million option to repurchase its 10,000-case Fife Redwood Valley winery.
In December 2004, Mr. Bergner, a friend of Mr. Fife’s, extended that option when he purchased the winery, according to bankruptcy court filings.
The bankruptcy does not involve Fife family operations in the Napa Valley.
Mr. Bergner and his wife, Rosetta Conger, filed for Chapter 7 liquidation in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Oakland on Oct. 15.
The court discharged their debt March 13 and appointed Tevis. Thompson to handle the sale of the Anderson Valley ranch as well as the Fife winery in Redwood Valley and trustee Lois Brady of Oakland to sell the Cloverdale winery, according to filings.
Mr. Bergner’s Cloverdale Wine Services custom-processing facility at 155 Cherry Creek Road went on the market earlier this month for $1.495 million, according to trustee-appointed real estate broker Ken Spadoni in Healdsburg. He has shown the property to more than a half-dozen potential buyers, who are vintners looking for extra capacity or a home for their brands.
The winery sits on two acres inside the city limits in a residential area. The former Bandiera winery has produced more than 100,000 cases in the nearly three years since Mr. Bergner and former General Manager Mike Buckley acquired it. The winery has 230,000 gallons worth of stainless-steel tank storage, two grape presses (a decade-old Vintec and a much older Wilmess), 20,000 square feet of crush space.
Mr. Bergner and General Manager Mike Buckley acquired the property, formerly the Bandiera winery, in May 2003.
24 acres of pinot near Boonville
Mr. Spadoni also is marketing Mr. Bergner’s 215-acre Annahala Ranch near Boonville. With 34 acres of pinot noir winegrapes planted in 2001, it went on the market in February for $4.95 million.
Winery grape buyers last year were Ledson, Flowers, Duckhorn’s Goldeneye and Skewis. However, Mr. Bergner had grape sale losses of $287,000, $190,000 and $180,000 for the past three seasons, according to court documents. One of the top vendor-creditors was Calistoga-based Madrigal Vineyard Management, which had a $101,700 mechanic’s lien on the property.
Also, Santa Rosa-based Exchange Bank, which loaned Mr. Bergner $425,000 last year to support his Annahala Wine Estate label, is arranging a private sale of 7,500 cases of unlabeled wine plus bulk wine made for Mr. Bergner’s Annahala Wine Estates brand, according to the bank’s attorney in this matter, David Berry of Abbey Weitzenberg Warren & Emery.
The bank secured a $432,000 collections judgment in Sonoma County Superior Court in January.
In its court complaint, Exchange Bank claimed Mr. Bergner hadn’t made payments on the $425,000 in loans.
In addition, the couple’s 3,700-square-foot Oakland home is for sale for $1.8 million.
11 loans totaling $7.26 million
Between May 2003 and Oct. 15 of last year, the couple took out 11 bank, U.S. Small Business Administration and private loans totaling $7.26 million in a complex web of funding for the enterprises, according to court filings.
Outstanding balances on nine notes from Santa Rosa-based Exchange Bank at the time of the filing totaled $4.26 million for the Mendocino County ranch, the Cloverdale winery, a wine brand called Annahala and a second mortgage on the couple’s Oakland home, according to court documents.
In addition, $1.5 million was outstanding on a note from Bank of America for the ranch purchase, $1.32 million from Union Bank of California for the Oakland home, $372,500 from SBA conduit Bay Area Development Co. for the Cloverdale winery, a $101,000 third deed on the Cloverdale facility from Richard White of Miami and $152,600 from Valgene and Virginia Peterson of Palo Alto for the Boonville ranch.
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