Vineyard manager sued over grape dispute

Lawsuit alleges Hill had bins delivered to own winery
2014-01-03T17:45:00Z 2014-03-12T17:15:22Z Vineyard manager sued over grape disputeKERANA TODOROV Napa Valley Register
January 03, 2014 5:45 pm  • 

A winery is suing its vineyard manager for allegedly transporting grapes to the manager’s own winery on the Silverado Trail instead of the plaintiff’s ranch, according to a complaint filed in Napa County Superior Court.

In a lawsuit filed Dec. 23 in Napa County Superior Court, Del Dotto Vineyards alleges vineyard manager Hill Wine Company LLC ordered employees on Oct. 17 to deliver 12 bins of grapes — about 6 tons — to Hill’s winery instead of Del Dotto and Fleury Vineyards.

According to the suit, the grapes were delivered from Howell Mountain vineyards, and the grapes allegedly belonged to Del Dotto and Fleury, a business partner. Hill Wine Company, owned by Jeff Hill, is not affiliated with Hill Family Estate of Yountville.

Napa Valley Capital Partners LLC, the business entity that includes Fleury and Del Dotto, makes the same allegations in a separate lawsuit, also filed on Dec. 23 in Napa County Superior Court. To date, plaintiffs Del Dotto and Fleury Vineyards have been unable to prepare the grapes for winemaking, the lawsuit alleges.

“These grapes belonged to Plaintiff and to Plaintiffs’ business partners, Napa Valley Capital Partners LLC and Fleury Vineyards, LLC. Defendants took possession of these grapes wrongfully and without Plaintiffs’ consent,” according to the complaint filed by Del Dotto Vineyards.

Del Dotto, which signed a contract with Hill in 2012 to farm and manage several of its vineyards, in September paid Hill Wine Company nearly $42,0000 in September to maintain rootstock and perform other work at another vineyard, work that allegedly was not provided, according to the lawsuit. Del Dotto is suing Hill Wine Company for breach of contract. Subsequently, the plaintiff asked for the money back, but no payment has been made, the complaint alleges.

Bruce Miroglio, a St. Helena attorney who represents Jeff Hill, on Friday strongly denied the allegations, calling them “meritless.” The lawsuit is “merely a ploy to deflect from Del Dotto’s own failures to pay” his client.

“At no time has Jeff Hill taken into possession any property of Del Dotto,” Miroglio wrote in an email, noting that Hill has worked for Del Dotto for six years. He has “seen, up close, the business system and strategy that Del Dotto uses in connection with obligations.”

“The debt which is alleged is greatly exceeded by the amount Del Dotto owes and which Del Dotto is refusing to pay, based upon these false allegations,” Miroglio wrote. “Jeff has provided every pick tag sheet and all documentation to conclusively establish that all grapes picked were delivered to Del Dotto and no grapes were kept or delivered elsewhere from any of Del Dotto’s vineyards,” said Miroglio, referring to the Oct. 17 allegation.

“It is hoped that these parties can rationally resolve these matters in a business-like fashion. The contract calls for any disputes to be mediated and Mr. Hill looks forward to a resolution in that regard,” Miroglio said, referring to the agreement signed in 2012.

A case management conference on the two lawsuits is set for June 3 in Napa County Superior Court.

Hill has been involved in other recent civil lawsuits, but all these have been resolved, according to Miroglio.

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(4) Comments

  1. howiseeit
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    howiseeit - January 03, 2014 6:30 pm
    Hasn't Jeff Hill been sued before? I thought I remembered a previous article mentioning his name. Where there's smoke there is fire?
  2. robosan
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    robosan - January 03, 2014 7:06 pm
    Del Dotto was one of those late night infomercial real estate people. Searches in Google show that he went to jail, paid fines, and is barred from conducting certain kinds of business. It appears that the Napa Valley is no longer the sort of place where gentleman farmers conduct business with a handshake...
  3. rational-one
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    rational-one - January 05, 2014 5:52 am
    I sure would rend to believe the farmer in this case. Anyone who knows Brian Fleury and David Del Dotto I am sure would tend to agree. Jeff Hill has great representation, I am sure the truth will prevail. Hopefully the Register will follow this story and when Hill is vindicated and Fleury and Del Dotto are found to be not truthful, we will all know the rest of the story.
  4. NAPAsince1976
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    NAPAsince1976 - January 06, 2014 2:29 pm
    Just a case of sour grapes :)
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