Karen Menicucci has visited Dominari Winery on Trancas Street many times over the past month. But not to buy wine or do some wine tasting. She’s picketing.
“Dominari Wines CEO does not pay back loans,” one sign read. “Dominari Wines CEO owes growers,” said another.
Standing near the winery entrance, with signs, balloons and an American flag, Menicucci said she’s protesting an unpaid $15,000 debt owed by Jurgen and Marie Schutz to her brother, David Menicucci.
The Schutzes are co-owners of Dominari Winery and Marie Schutz is the CEO of the company. The couple have other business interests at the same location, including Barrel Stop Winery. A $3.3 million loan for that winery is in foreclosure.
According to David Menicucci, he loaned the Schutzes $15,000 in 2005. After the couple made one payment of $4,500, loan payments stopped, he said.
In 2009, he reached a legal settlement with the Schutzes to pay the debt, but they still haven’t paid him, David Menicucci said.
That’s when his sister said she decided to take action. “They’re taking advantage of people and it has to stop,” Karen Menicucci said as she stood on an unpaved sidewalk area, waving at passing Trancas traffic.
David Menicucci described himself as “way past mad” about his unpaid debt. “I’m just a hard-working contractor trying to survive in this economy,” he said. “How do they sleep at night?”
Menicucci said he’s avoiding the picket site because of some heated exchanges between himself and the Schutzes in the past.
The Menicuccis aren’t the only ones who have a problem with the Dominari Winery co-owners.
On Jan. 13, Mechanics Bank filed a Notice of Default, the first step in the foreclosure process, against Barrel Stop Winery. The notice states that as of Sept. 10, the winery was delinquent $165,916 on a $3.3 million loan, according to documents filed in the Napa County Recorder’s office.
Along with other partners, Jurgen and Marie Schutz opened the 23,000-square-foot winery and custom-crush facility at 620 Trancas St. in 2009. In February 2010, the couple took out a $3.3 million loan for Barrel Stop Winery, also at 620 Trancas Street.
Marie Schutz said only that the loan to David Menicucci was a “personal debt” and that “the company is working diligently to cure its default in these tough economic times.”
In addition to Menicucci, a number of local merchants said they have not been paid for work provided to Dominari Winery, Barrel Stop Winery or the Schutzes. More than eight other business people have stopped to talk with her about their own unpaid invoices, Karen Menicucci said.
One is Jerry Alameda of Alameda Electric. Alameda said he took Marie Schutz to small claims court for money owed him for work done at Dominari Winery. Even after winning a judgment, Alameda has yet to receive the $2,300 he said he is owed.
“She promised to pay me,” Alameda said. “Nothing ever came through.” According to Alameda, Marie Schutz offered him $500 to settle the debt. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be joking.’”
Pete Gonzales of Gonzales Electric said he also took Marie Schutz to small claims court over unpaid bills. “We got a judgment for $1,053,” but Schutz hasn’t paid, he said.
“We seem to have exhausted our options,” Gonzales said. “I could put a lien on the property but I didn’t have time to spend going after it when I need to get work for my guys. I need to focus on new work.”
“It’s too bad,” he said. “All I want to do is pay my bills.”
Napa grower Peggy Piccolo said she had a contract to sell cabernet sauvignon grapes to Barrel Stop Winery in 2008 and 2009. But when invoices went unpaid, Piccolo stopped supplying the fruit. Barrel Stop Winery owes her more than $60,000, she said.
“I’ve talked with an attorney, but if you go into litigation it’s more money out of my pocket that I don’t have,” Piccolo said. “That’s my main income. I’m widowed and trying to run my husband’s vineyard.”
Piccolo said she continues to try to collect the money she’s owed. “I talked to (Marie Schutz) last week to ask for money,” she said.
Schutz’s response? “She asked for a current bill.”
After his sister and other family members started picketing in December, Marie Schutz offered him $2,000 toward the debt, David Menicucci said He declined, saying, “I wanted to be paid in full. That was the agreement,” he said.
Meanwhile, Karen Menicucci continues her vigil on Trancas Street, but doesn’t hold out hope that her brother will be repaid.
“But I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “It’s the principle of the thing now.”
“They probably think we’re crazy,” she said. “It doesn’t bother us.”