North Coast judge denies release of wine held in smoke damage case
A Sonoma County wine grape grower had a setback in trying to convince a Lake County judge to order the release of tens of thousands of gallons of 2020 wine being held by a vintner that’s alleging hundreds of thousands of dollars in smoke damage from the fruit.
Lake County Superior Court Judge Michael Lunas denied a request from Torick Farms LLC, a company led by former North Coast winery executive Hugh Reimers, for a preliminary injunction to force Langry Farms LLC to release over 45,000 gallons in wine being held in tanks and barrels so it can be sold in bulk.
The judge ordered that deals Torick had in progress to sell roughly half the wine could move forward, but Langtry couldn’t sell the wine to cover claimed damage before the case goes to trial or is resolved, according to the official transcript of the Aug. 27 hearing.
The Business Journal reached out to Torick attorney Kevin Block of Napa for comment on the judge’s latest order, Langtry’s latest claims and the status of the bulk-wine sales that were in progress.
Langtry claims it has a warehouse lien to hold the wine to cover alleged damage, while Torick claims the winery didn’t establish such a lien.
“The operative factual issues in this case are ultimately going to involve the question of whether the grapes were smoke-tainted or not, and the parties’ actual or constructive knowledge as to the conditions of the grapes,” Lunas said, reiterating what he said in an earlier hearing. “It is clear from the evidence presented at this stage that that evidence is going to be in substantial conflict and disputed.”
Torick has argued that Langtry accepted grape deliveries and did not raise any question about the quality of grapes, even releasing 17,000 gallons of wine to Torick early this year. Langtry filed receipts from grape deliveries and third-party laboratory test results showing high levels of taint-associated compounds in samples supposedly from tanks associated with those grapes.
Langtry sued Reimers and his farming venture on May 3, claiming the grapes delivered to the winery had smoke damage, alleging $327,000 in damage to some of the wood tanks and barrels.
Torick counter-sued, seeking to get the rest of the wine released, noting in court that it had two contracts to sell nearly 22,000 gallons. In late May, Lunas approved a temporary restraining order sought by Reimers to allow two bulk-wine sale contracts in progress to proceed for that amount.
At that May 25 hearing, Block said one buyer, WX Brands of Novato, had backed out of buying nearly 11,000 gallons, but a sale to Bogle Vineyards for roughly an equal volume was still moving forward at that point.
The day before the Aug. 27 hearing, Langtry in a court filing added as a defendant in the case its former winemaker, Eric Stine, who started with the winery about a year ago and accepted Torrick’s grapes.
The vintner, through attorney Josh Devore of Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty, alleges an “inside man” connection between Stine and Reimers. The two worked together when Reimers was president of Foley Family Wines for two years before leaving in July 2019.
The winery had alleged in its early filings in this case that Torick offered Napa Valley grapes to Langtry at salvage value, with plans to file crop insurance claims for lost grape-sale revenue because of smoke damage.
A follow-up hearing is set for Sept. 20 at 9 a.m.
Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at email@example.com or 707-521-4256.
Correction, Sept. 15, 2021: Hugh Reimers was president of Foley Family Wines, not Vintage Wine Estates.