A lauded Napa Valley winemaker agreed to buy grapes from a couple’s vineyard. A routine grape purchase agreement was drawn up and signed, and four to five tons of Cabernet Sauvignon were expected to change hands at last year’s harvest.
Then the fires came.
Now those grape growers, Ronald and Linda DeKoven of Calistoga, are suing winemaker Christopher Tynan and his namesake brand for refusing the fruit, which went undelivered and unpicked after the October wildfires derailed the last of the 2017 harvest.
A civil suit filed in Napa County Superior Court on April 3 claims that, following the fires, which prompted the evacuation of Calistoga and cloaked the valley in a dense layer of smoke for days, Tynan rejected the DeKovens’ grapes. The suit asserts the grapes were tainted by smoke and ash.
Though the DeKovens attempted to sell the fruit to other buyers after Tynan turned them down, the suit reads, they found no takers, and the grapes, valued at $7,500 per ton, were left on the vines.
What followed was an invoice to Tynan last November seeking payment for an estimated seven tons of Cabernet Sauvignon from the DeKovens’ vineyard for a total of $52,500. That amount has since gone unpaid, the lawsuit states, and the DeKovens are now looking for reimbursement through the courts, plus interest.
Neither Tynan nor the DeKovens responded to calls requesting comment this week, while an attorney for the DeKovens declined to comment on the case.
The grape purchase agreement called for the grapes to be delivered in containers provided by Tynan to Cliff Lede Vineyards, where Tynan is winemaker. The disputed fruit was intended for Tynan’s own wine brand, Christopher Tynan Wines, which he founded shortly after joining Cliff Lede in 2012.
Prior to his role at Cliff Lede, Tynan was assistant winemaker at Colgin Cellars, where wines he worked on reeled in several 100-point scores during his five-year tenure.
Tynan refused to release the first vintage of his own wine brand after powdery mildew and rot took out half of the vineyard he sourced from in 2011, he later told the Robert Parker Wine Advocate’s Wine Journal.
He added that he had no financial backing for the venture and ultimately ate the cost in favor of putting out a higher-quality debut release. The strategy seemingly paid off, as Tynan’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from the old vines of Meleagris Gallopavo vineyard in St. Helena, earned a 100-point score and a glowing review from Parker.
Located at 2400 Grant St. in Calistoga and managed by Mike Wolf Vineyard Services, the DeKovens’ vineyard was in the area mandated for evacuation during the fires and in proximity to other vineyards where unharvested grapes were lost to smoke taint, including 30-40 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon belonging to nearby Chateau Montelena.
Tynan was also evacuated from his Coombsville home when the fires began the night of Oct. 8, he told the Wine Journal, and stayed at Cliff Lede, working on the wines there without power as the Atlas Fire tore through the hillsides nearby.
The saga over two metal flap gates that protect the remote, rural Milton Road community from tidal flooding could end up costing Napa County more than $900,000 in replacement and legal expenses.
In the latest chapter, the Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved waiving competitive bidding requirements to fabricate the replacement gates. The county will have Waterman Industries do the job, given the company manufactures the model of gates installed more than 58 years ago.
Public Works Director Steven Lederer said replacing the two flap gates in a double culvert under Milton Road could cost up to $340,000.
But that’s only the beginning of the Milton Road flap gate costs. Napa County Superior Court concluded last year that the gates have leaked and ordered the county to pay John and Judy Ahmann $374,000 for damages to their property, as well as $262,000 in attorney’s fees. The county is appealing the decision.
The court also ordered the county to replace the flap gates by Oct. 31, 2018. Now Napa County is doing just that, though Lederer called the move a maintenance project and the county continues to say the gates aren’t faulty.
“That is extremely good news,” Judy Ahmann said on Tuesday after hearing the gates will be replaced. “That is extremely good news for Edgerly Island. A lot of people are looking at this besides just us.”
Milton Road runs through the southern county’s Edgerly Island area with the Napa River to one side and wetlands to the other. Rural homes line the road for about 1.5 miles along the river, creating a remote, linear community behind a levee.
The flap gates in a double culvert under the road are designed to open so rain water can drain into the Napa River at lower tides. They close at high tides to keep Napa River water from flowing back up the culvert and onto rural properties.
In 2013, the Ahmanns told the county they thought the flap gates were allowing salt water to flow onto a portion of their 340-acre property. They ultimately claimed in court that the water had made 90 acres unable to grow grass for grazing.
Napa County claimed in court papers that the flap gates let in only a trickle of water, too little to flood the Ahmann’s property, which already had a high native salt content. The gates are meant to be only a tide muting device and are not waterproof, the county said.
“There is no public purpose served by the replacement of a flap gate and culvert that is allowing only a trickling of water to flow through it,” county legal papers said.
A jury in April 2017 sided with the Ahmanns and ordered the county to pay the $374,000 in damages because of salty soils. Then Judge Rodney Stone deliberated over what should happen with the flap gates.
“The flap gates are not going to fix themselves, and it is clear that the flooding will get worse as time passes and the flap gates continue to corrode,” attorney Leo Bartolotta wrote in legal papers on behalf of the Ahmanns.
In legal papers, the county argued that the $374,000 in damages gave the county a flood easement on the property, but the court disagreed.
In November 2017, Stone ordered the county to replace the flap gates, as well as pay the Ahmanns $262,876 in attorney fees and $26,789 in other fees. Napa County subsequently brought the case to the state 1st District Court of Appeals. The Board of Supervisors has taken up the issue several times in closed session.
Meanwhile, the recent county agenda report for the Board of Supervisors on replacing the flap gates makes no mention of the court case or the court order as the reason for the move.
“The existing flood gates associated with the double culvert underlying Milton Road are nearing the end of their useful life and are proposed for replacement,” the report said.
The county has inspected the flap gates on numerous occasions in recent years, the report said. Some corrosion has been found on the mating surfaces, but nothing that would change the manner in which the gates operate.
“In an abundance of caution, the county intends to replace the existing flood gates,” the report said.
Judy Ahmann said if the county had taken this step a few years ago, there wouldn’t have been a lawsuit.
Waterman Industries of Exeter is to manufacture the gates for $18,790. Lederer in an email said the estimated design and environmental and permitting work will cost about $70,000. That leaves $160,000 to $250,000 to install the gates, with the county yet to determine the best method and to put that phase of the project out to bid.
Installation of the new gates poses challenges because of the Napa River tidal waters.
“The gates cannot simply be removed and replaced because there is a very large area behind the gates below mean tide level that would be fully inundated,” Lederer said.
CALISTOGA — Father Mac admits it: He totally flunked retirement.
The Rev. William “Father Mac” McIlmoyl spent 23 years as rector at Grace Episcopal Church in St. Helena, but after retiring in May 2016, he said he “was a little more adrift than I thought I would be,” missing people and the congregation. And, he said, “I missed being a priest. I really didn’t realize how deeply that was in my identity.”
Since January, McIlmoyl has been the priest in charge at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Calistoga. The title is a bit of a misnomer, he said with a laugh, because, “I’m in charge of nothing.” He serves on Sunday mornings, arranges for the liturgy, provides pastoral care for individuals and parishioners and works with the Rev. Deacon Susan Napoliello, who has been at St. Luke’s for the past two years.
And although his job description calls for him to work two days a week, he said, “I have no formal office hours.” If someone needs spiritual care or guidance, McIlmoyl has a simple suggestion: “I think the best way is to show up on a Sunday morning, introduce yourself to me and Susan, say hello and become a part of the family and ask whatever questions you feel like asking.”
Church member Cathy Keag said the fit between McIlmoyl and St. Luke’s is perfect. McIlmoyl is retired and didn’t want another full-time job running a parish. St. Luke’s is a small congregation and couldn’t afford a full-time priest. Also, Keag said, “We’re pretty independent and self-sufficient, because we’ve been without a priest for so much of the time. We can handle most of it,” she said.
Keag said after the former priest in charge, Mary Goshert Ekanstam, retired, the church leadership looked for a priest, but “there’s an extreme shortage of priests who can do part-time work. Lots of our small churches need that, because not many churches can afford a full-time priest. Churches are small and they have small budgets.”
Napoliello came to St. Luke’s about two years ago, just before Goshert Ekanstam, who had been at St. Luke’s for four or five years, retired.
McIlmoyl thinks the world of Napoliello. “Deacon Susan has been an unbelievable godsend to this congregation,” he said. “She really held this team together. Understandably, they let her do everything she could do, which was a lot.”
She was responsible for liturgy, organizing the Lay Eucharistic Ministers, who serve at the altar and other kinds of volunteerism, McIlmoyl said. She spends time out in the community, starting the PFLAG (a Napa support group for Upvalley parents, families and allies of LGBTQ+ people) organization and was a presence at the Veterans Home. The PFLAG group meets the second Thursday of every month at the church.
“She was the chief cook and bottle washer,” he said. “When she saw me coming, she thought, ‘Wow, there’s somebody else to join the team.’ She’s been great to work with. I continue to see us both very much as colleagues.”
From May 2016 to January 2018, McIlmoyl and his wife, Sandi, attended different churches around the valley. But when they got to St. Luke’s, “something very special and very sweet happened,” McIlmoyl said. “There weren’t very many people, but they were so sweet and so welcoming, especially to my wife, which was very important to me. Sandi and I found a very comfortable home here and they have struggled without leadership.”
And, McIlmoyl admitted, “I really needed a place to be.” So he offered to serve as priest and did so on and off for a while and added “it felt very good.” The vestry, the members of the church that provide leadership, talked among themselves, McIlmoyl said, “about the possibility of having a relationship with me. I talked a lot about it with Sandi and it just seemed like the right thing to do. Here’s a place that needed a priest, I’m only eight miles away, and I’m a priest that needed an altar and a pulpit, and it was a nice fit for our whole family, which is just me and Sandi.”
Since St. Luke’s is a mission church, one that is it is not self-supporting, it belongs to the Rt. Rev. Barry Beisner, bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Northern California, Keag said. Before McIlmoyl could serve at St. Luke’s, Beisner had to approve the move.
McIlmoyl said he is confident his decision to retire from Grace Church was the right thing to do, although he said he came to realize that he “desperately missed being behind the altar.
“The fact remains that a priest is a priest. My ordination didn’t go away just because I retired from that particular post. It didn’t mean my ordination was no longer valid or I was no longer a priest. I realized that there was something very, very missing in my life,” he said.
Keag, who is St. Luke’s treasurer, Altar Guild member and president of Episcopal Church Women, said the concrete block church was finished in 1949, although the congregation is older than that. “It might be 100 or close to 100 years old. We’ve been around for a long time,” she said.
In the 1940s, the women of the church raised the money to build it by selling Acoch-brand flatware. They ordered a lot of it — a set remains in use at the church – and went to every fair they could, Keag said, selling it to help build the church. Additionally, there are numerous brass plaques on the wall from early Calistoga families who were members and who helped build the church.
“A lot of ladies melted their silver down to make the original chalices,” Keag said.
What’s the future for St. Luke’s? McIlmoyl said Calistoga has wonderful people and a great community. “I think St. Luke’s could be a real community benefit. It could be a place where people are spiritually nourished and sent back out into their lives with joy and love and spiritual grounding. I’d like to see it have a prominent place in the community.”
Napa and Solano counties are looking at how they might help a local senior organization weather its financial problems, with an eye toward keeping services such as Meals on Wheels running.
A non-public meeting Tuesday focused on the situation facing the Area Agency on Aging Serving Napa and Solano. The nonprofit is both a conduit for state and federal funds and runs its own programs. Its stated purpose is to help older persons, persons with disabilities and caregivers.
“Our goal is not to have those services disrupted,” Napa County Health and Human Services Agency Director Howard Himes said on Thursday. “We’ll do everything we can to try to figure that out.”
Solano County Supervisor John Vasquez agreed.
“The last thing we want is for clients to go without, particularly on the Meals on Wheels,” Vasquez said.
Attending the meeting were Himes, Vasquez, Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering, various other officials from the two counties, various Area on Aging board members and state officials. No Napa County supervisors attended because the meeting conflicted with a Board of Supervisors meeting.
Still unclear is the depth of the financial problems facing the local Area Agency on Aging.
“What we found out is it’s a work in progress,” Himes said. “They are kind of unwinding and trying to figure out some of the books. It’s a moving target, to some degree.”
Heather Stanton served on the Area Agency on Aging Board of Directors and has stepped in to help run the organization on a volunteer basis. She said the organization has a cash flow problem, but that she doesn’t know if there is also a cash deficit.
Vasquez said the counties could play a role in trying to figure out the financial situation.
“This agency represents two counties,” Vasquez said. “They may shut down and that’s going to impact a lot of people. We think we need to step in and help them get a better understanding of the financial issue.”
Officials from the counties, state and Area Agency on Aging are looking at two issues: keeping services running through the end of the fiscal year on June 30 and figuring out what happens after that.
Participants in the meeting mentioned various options for the long-term. Among them are that the Area Agency on Aging could continue operating in reorganized fashion, another nonprofit could step in to do the job or Napa and Solano counties could form a joint powers authority and take on the job themselves.
The California Department of Aging website shows every county has some type of Area Agency on Aging organization. Various counties are served by nonprofits, by organizations within county governments and by organizations formed by multiple county governments.
“We’re looking for what the right design for Napa and Solano is going to be in the future,” Napa County Board of Supervisors Chair Brad Wagenknecht said. “I don’t see the uncoupling of Napa and Solano as being the future. I don’t think the state Department of Aging would be supportive of that.”
The situation could become clearer in coming days. Himes said the two counties are planning a follow-up meeting. Meanwhile, the Area Agency on Aging Board of Directors is to meet at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at 400 Contra Costa St. in Vallejo.
A federal tax form filed by the Area Agency on Aging for 2015 show the nonprofit group’s financial situation at that time.
The group had revenues of about $4 million. The Area Agency on Aging receives much of its money from the state and federal government through the state Department on Aging, as well as from such sources as the counties.
The tax form shows expenses of about $4 million. Of that, $1.3 million went toward grants and $1.8 million went toward salaries, with the rest to other expenses. The form says the group paid salaries for 48 people during the calendar year, with then-Executive Director Leanne Martinsen receiving $80,000.
Grants disbursed by the group included $323,138 to Community Action of Napa Valley for nutrition services, $791,587 to Meals on Wheels of Solano County, $25,494 to Legal Aid of Napa Valley for senior support services and $51,104 to Collabria Care in Napa for senior caregiver support and services and $38,671 to Molly’s Angels.