Winery countersues grower, alleging poor-quality grapes

2013-03-21T19:01:00Z 2013-03-27T22:28:50Z Winery countersues grower, alleging poor-quality grapesKERANA TODOROV Napa Valley Register
March 21, 2013 7:01 pm  • 

A winery owner sued for allegedly breaching a three-year contract to accept and pay for grapes valued at up to $194,000 per year has filed a countersuit in Napa County Superior Court alleging the grapegrower tried to sell his company substandard grapes, according to court documents.

Hill Wine Co. of St. Helena alleges Frederic Constant of Diamond Mountain Vineyard tried to sell substandard cabernet sauvignon grapes in 2012 at a premium price, according to a cross-complaint filed last week.

“We had no choice but to respond,” Hill’s attorney, Bruce Miroglio, of St. Helena, said of the cross complaint.

Constant’s attorney, Kevin Block of Napa, on Thursday referred questions to his client. His client could not be reached for comment.

The countersuit was filed two weeks after Diamond Mountain Vineyard filed a lawsuit against Jeff Hill of Hill Winery Co. LLC for breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, promissory fraud and concealment, according to court records. Hill denies the allegations.

Under the three-year contract signed in May 2012, Jeff Hill had agreed to purchase between 10 and 15 tons of cabernet sauvignon, between 3 and 5 tons of merlot and between 1 and 2 tons of cabernet franc every harvest of Frederic Constant’s Diamond Mountain Vineyards, court records state.

Under the contract, Hill could reject any lot of grapes in which more than 3 percent of all grapes were damaged, according to Hill’s cross-complaint. Hill was to have the final word on which grapes were acceptable for delivery, the winery asserts.

During the growing season of 2012, Diamond Vineyard refused to designate which blocks of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc were set aside for Hill’s program, according to Hill’s cross-complaint. Diamond Vineyard also refused to drop sun-burned fruit as Hill’s vineyard consultant had requested, the document stated.

Hill’s viticulturist asked to examine the grapes to be picked, according to the cross-complaint. On Oct. 20, Diamond Mountain said Hill’s fruit was ready to be picked and requested that Hill deliver empty grape bins, assuring Hill’s viticulturist consultant, who wanted to be present during the harvest, that the fruit would not be picked before 9 a.m. the next day, according to court records. Hill directed his consultant to be at Diamond Mountain early “to be sure to observe everything,” the court filing stated.

The viticulturist arrived at 7 a.m. the next day at the vineyard, but was “dismayed to find that Diamond Mountain had already (begun) picking and was placing sunburned and raisined fruit into the bins owned and delivered by Hill. Diamond Mountain specifically indicated that this fruit was not for Hill, despite the fact that it was in Hill’s bins,” Hill’s filing stated.

Hill then declined to accept the cabernet sauvignon fruit, all parties agree. Hill nonetheless wanted to buy the merlot and cabernet franc under the terms of the contract, according to Hill’s court document. However, Constant refused to sell Hill the fruit, the cross-complaint stated.

Hill seeks compensatory damages and attorney fees in an amount determined at trial, punitive damages and legal costs, according to the cross-complaint. Constant seeks unspecified damages, along with attorney fees and court costs, according to the complaint.

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