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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, January 17, 2011, 3:45 am

Wine: Grower claims for payment spiked in 2010

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    A disproportionate number of soured crop sales resolved by the California Department of Food and Agriculture‘s Market Enforcement Branch last year involved North Coast winegrapes, according to department records.

    Of the 19 matters that went to agency administrative hearings in 2010, nine involved winegrapes and six of those related to North Coast buyers. By comparison, five winegrape-related matters statewide were settled at hearings in 2009, none in 2008 and one in 2007.

    Under the state Food and Agricultural Code, significant-scale processors and handlers of agricultural products must have licenses, renewed annually, to make purchases. If growers can’t reach a resolution with buyers or their agents over payment by the terms of the sales contract, they can seek the department’s help.

    Action by the Market Enforcement Branch can lead to probation, suspension, revocation or nonrenewal of licenses, though license holders can appeal administrative law judge decisions. Also possible are civil penalties and criminal actions in county courts.

    Here are the 2010 administrative hearing actions against North Coast licenses, according to the department:

    Sky Saddle Wines of Santa Rosa had its license revoked, effective Jan. 7, 2010, for failure to pay.

    The license held by Jared Souza Matthew Trulli of Santa Rosa was revoked as of Feb. 13 for failure to pay. Operating as MJ Lords, their license was put on a two-year probation in May 2009.

    Cosentino Signature Wines of Yountville received a 90-day suspension as of March 1 for not paying growers. Cosentino had about $1.6 million in growers lien claims against it when creditors forced it into U.S. Bankruptcy Court liquidation in October. Vintage Wine Estates acquired the Yountville winery at the end 2010 and plans to reopen the tasting room by the end of this month.

    La Czar Vineyard of Forestville stipulated to a decision and order for failure to pay, provide records and file a financial statement. A six-month probationary period took effect Oct. 8.

    Camellia Cellars of Healdsburg stipulated to a decision and order on charges of failure to pay and file financial information. Six months of probation started Oct. 8.

    The license for Beaver Creek Vineyards of Middletown was denied in a Nov. 11 decision and order for failure to pay.

    An example of a Market Enforcement Branch action that resulted in prosecution was a misdemeanor complaint for operating without a Food and Ag license filed against Barber Cellars of Petaluma, according to department records. On Nov. 8, owners Jonathan Barber and Lorraine Shmulik agreed to pay restitution to two growers by May. A check-in court date is set for Feb. 14.

    ***

    Chris Donatiello and investment banker and vintner Bill Hambrecht, partners in C. Donatiello Winery (www.cdonatiello.com) in Russian River Valley, have parted ways after four years in the venture.

    “Bill and I are parting on really good terms,” said Mr. Donatiello.

    In 2007, Mr. Hambrecht financed the launch of the small-lot brand in what was his Belvedere winery. C. Donatiello became part of Hambrecht Wine Group (www.hwines.com) with the Healdsburg Ranches and Bradford Mountain brands, and Mr. Donatiello was chief executive officer.

    Mr. Hambrecht will continue to produce the other two brands.

    ***

    Gallo Family Vineyards (www.gallosonoma.com) expects the renovation of the old Olivet winery in Healdsburg into an office building to be complete by fall of this year, according to spokeswoman Kelly Conrad.

    As reported when Gallo started seeking city approval of the project in March of last year, the Modesto-based wine company is transforming the 109-year-old brick structure into a two-story, 15,600-square-foot office building with room for about 80 employees. The building would be occupied by the end of this year.

    The project is expected to cost more than $2 million, Ms. Conrad said.

    The construction team on the project, which started late last year, includes Alan Cohen of Healdsburg-based ABC Architects and general contractor Wright Contracting of Santa Rosa.

    ***

    Jose Castenada, an electrical engineer turned co-owner of ethnic grocery stores in Healdsburg and Windsor, has been working for the past two years on a new software “platform” that allows wineries to reach smartphone-savvy consumers eager to get the most of their visits to wine country.

    The venture, called iVinoX (www.ivinox.com), launched with basic winery information and map locations for what is said to be 6,000 wineries. Because the relatively large database resides “in the cloud” and not on the phone, searches need to be conducted where data service is available.

    The plan is for wineries to subscribe to the service and customize their profile with amenities, photos, news, tasting notes, events and coupons.

    Users of the smartphone app, initially for the Apple iPhone, can rate and comment on wines and share wines or wineries on social networks. Wineries can be saved into favorites lists for tour planning.

    ***

    Wine People

    Marc Cuneo

    Marc Cuneo, formerly vice president of grower relations for Sebastiani Vineyards before its sale to Foley Family Wines, joined Turrentine Brokerage of Novato as a broker. He worked for distributor Southern Wine & Spirits in San Francisco before joining the family company a decade ago.

    Sean Penn, vice president and general manager for multiple Diageo North America regions in the West, joined Napa-based division Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines as vice president of sales for the West region.

    In September, Diageo Chateau & Estate President and Chief Executive Officer Ray Chadwick joined Young’s Market Co. as corporate vice president for wine. He oversees the beverage wholesaler’s wine operations, including St. Helena-based fine-wine distributor and importer Wilson Daniels Ltd.

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    Submit items for this column to Jeff Quackenbush at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4256 or fax 707-521-5292.

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