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The license held by Jared Souza Matthew Trulli of Santa Rosa was revoked as of Feb. 13 for failure to pay.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.