A vintner is suing a wine consultant for $1.6 million, alleging he was negligent when he failed to produce a new top-quality “cult” wine, according to court records filed in Napa County Superior Court.
In 2012, Chateau Potelle Holdings LLC hired St. Helena wine consultant Denis Malbec to create a new wine that would sell for up to $200 per bottle for the company’s new tasting room in St. Helena, according to owner Jean-Noel Fourmeaux du Sartel, who goes by Fourmeaux.
The new wine was to be made at a winery in Sonoma County that has a crush facility, using grapes from a vineyard on Mount Veeder. It was to be sold under a new label, “Fourmeaux.”
“I wanted to make a strong statement with the opening of my new tasting room,” said Fourmeaux, whose business is based in Napa.
Instead, the wine spoiled and had to be filtered five times, losing the complexity of a top-quality wine, Fourmeaux said. The 4,000 gallons of wine are in the process of being sold on the bulk market, Fourmeaux said Friday. “The wine is not of quality that I can use,” he said.
Malbec did not take “appropriate action” when the level of volatile acidity — or vinegar — from bacteria began to rise in November 2012, Fourmeaux alleges in court document. Instead, Malbec took steps that unintentionally accelerated VA formation, according to a court filing from Fourmeaux’s attorney, Kevin Block of Block, DeVincenzi & Zelazny LLP in Napa. Malbec then left for a 10-day vacation, the suit alleges.
“By the time he returned in January 2013, the wine was irreparably compromised,” according to the complaint.
In February, Chateau Potelle sued Malbec, as well as Malbec & Malbec USA LLC of St. Helena, alleging breach of contract and negligence, according to the complaint. Chateau Potelle also named in the complaint Medlock Ames Vintners LLC, a Healdsburg winery where the grapes were crushed, and two of its winemakers, alleging negligence, according to the filing.
Malbec, through his attorney, denies the allegations. It’s an inflated demand for a claim of loss of profits for a business that has never been operational, said Malbec’s attorney, Paul Carey of Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty, referring to the $1.6 million.
“Mr. Malbec was very vigilant and diligent in his work,” Carey said. But Formeaux stopped paying his client. “Then Mr. Formeaux didn’t take steps to make a good blend he could sell without having to bulk the wine out,” Carey said. “For whatever reason, he chose not do to that.”
“Instead of taking responsibility, he chose to lay blame,” Carey said. “The wine is very marketable and is in good condition at this point.”
As of July 2013, Fourmeaux had paid Malbec about $25,000 in consulting fees, leaving a balance of about $75,000, according to a court filing.
Malbec, who had an oral contract with Chateau Potelle, and the other defendants want to compel Chateau Potelle into arbitration, a less formal process used to settle a legal dispute, according to court filings. Chateau Potelle opposes the motion. A hearing is set for Thursday.