A local grapegrower is suing Napa Vision 2050 for libel over an Internet article that he said falsely claimed he ripped out vernal pools and terrorized animals on Atlas Peak to plant grapes.
Napa Vision 2050 is a coalition of local environmental and community groups involved in the county’s growth battles. A major front has been the spread of vineyards into the mountains and hills that form Napa Valley.
Vintner Igor Sill filed the lawsuit in Napa County Superior Court. The suit claims that the Napa Vision 2050 article made false statements that exposed him to hatred, contempt and ridicule and cost him at least $100,000 in Internet wine sales.
Napa Vision 2050 President Dan Mufson replied to Napa Valley Register questions in an email.
“Napa Vision 2050 denies the portrayal of the contents of the complaint and will aggressively defend the lawsuit,” Mufson said. “Defense counsel is currently working on our response. We expect to be fully vindicated.”
James Jones, the attorney for Sill, said his client and Napa Vision 2050 have the same interest in protecting the ecology of Napa Valley.
“It’s no fun being painted by the same brush that’s used to (paint) the bad guys when you work hard to be a good guy,” Jones said.
The dispute began when Sill wrote a June 2017 article for The Wine Industry Network Advisor website called “The Magic Behind Napa’s Mountain Grown Wines.” Sill grows grapes on Atlas Peak and on a hillside in St. Helena.
“These vines are healthier, fresher and happier,” Sill wrote.
Napa Vision 2050 then ran a story on its website, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit includes what it says is a copy of this story, which lists Mufson as author.
“The (Sill) article makes it sound as though the Almighty himself would burst with pride over these happy wines,” the Napa Vision 2050 story said. “But there’s no mention of the destruction of biota, that has existed on Atlas Peak for thousands of years, required to plant these vines.”
Later come sentences that the lawsuit said are libelous.
“The article does not mention the reality on the ground as Sill is currently ripping out precious vernal pools on Atlas Peak to plant yet more grapes,” the Napa Vision 2050 story said. “Creating terror in the animal population as he acts to create terroir.”
Sill sent Napa Vision 2050 an email asking the group to take the statements down from the website, the lawsuit said.
“No vernal pools were affected, period. None. I purposely stayed away from any vernal pools and sways. I am also a huge animal lover, thus have taken inordinate steps to correct decades of prior poor stewardship,” Sill wrote in the email.
The lawsuit said Sill had Mufson and Vision 2050’s Kathy Felch come to see his property in December 2017. The group still didn’t correct its article, it said.
Sill believes the Napa Vision 2050 article was read by Napa County residents, people elsewhere in California and people throughout the world who are interested in Napa Valley ecology and vintner agricultural practices, the lawsuit said.
As of Tuesday, Napa Vision 2050 hadn’t filed papers in Napa County Superior Court responding to the libel allegations.
There are no indications that the lawsuit is prompting Napa Vision 2050 to forgo its hard-hitting style. The group recently called on the county to redo reports on upcoming watershed and heliport ballot measures “so as not to deceive voters.”
“This lawsuit will not curtail our efforts to better the Napa community,” Mufson said in his email.