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Former winemaker Jeffry Hill pleads no contest to theft
wine industry

Former winemaker Jeffry Hill pleads no contest to theft


The embattled former winemaker Jeffry Hill has pleaded no contest in a case involving the theft of grapes meant for a Napa Valley winery.

Hill entered the plea to one count of grand theft on Tuesday in Napa County Superior Court, according to Bryan Tong, the assistant prosecutor handling the case.

The charge stemmed from an accusation that he stole $50,000 of premium grapes from Del Dotto Vineyards of Mount Howell in October 2013.

Under the agreement, prosecutors will support a sentence of probation for Hill, although a judge could sentence him to as much as a year in county jail. Sentencing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Aug. 11.

Prosecutors withdrew a second theft charge against Hill, Tong said.

A former vineyard manager before turning vintner, Hill had pleaded not guilty Jan. 13 to two counts of grand theft for allegedly stealing eight bins of fruit intended for high-end wines by David Paul del Dotto, according to court documents. Hill has been free on $25,000 bail.

His St. Helena-area winery Hill Wine Co. LLC shut its doors in May 2014 and declared bankruptcy, leaving behind $8.6 million of liabilities and a skein of allegations over his business practices, court records show.

Bankruptcy proceedings began after Hill gave up his federal permits to sell wine, following allegations that he falsely labeled wines from Lake and Sonoma counties as originating from Napa Valley fruit, according to court records.

Agents from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, met Hill in April 2014 and ordered him to turn over his wine-selling permits or have them revoked, according to a memo filed with the bankruptcy case. In addition to alleging wine mislabeling, the TTB said Hill passed off Lodi grapes as grown in Napa County, ducked wine taxes and altered grape harvest weight tags, the memo indicated.

Last fall, Hill Wine Co.’s bankruptcy trustee also sued Jeff Hill and his relatives in bankruptcy court, saying they spent lavishly on their wine business even when it became clear no long-term profit was possible. The court-appointed trustee, Lois Brady, alleges the defendants agreed in June 2012 to pay $33,000 in monthly rent, make a nonrefundable $200,000 security deposit and make $1 million in winery improvements, according to court records.

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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