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Flames (copy)

An orange glow beyond the hill as seen in Calistoga where the Tubbs Fire broke out on Oct. 8. Smoke from the Tubbs and other area wildfires hung over the Napa Valley for days.

A lauded Napa Valley winemaker agreed to buy grapes from a couple’s vineyard. A routine grape purchase agreement was drawn up and signed, and four to five tons of Cabernet Sauvignon were expected to change hands at last year’s harvest.

Then the fires came.

Now those grape growers, Ronald and Linda DeKoven of Calistoga, are suing winemaker Christopher Tynan and his namesake brand for refusing the fruit, which went undelivered and unpicked after the October wildfires derailed the last of the 2017 harvest.

A civil suit filed in Napa County Superior Court on April 3 claims that, following the fires, which prompted the evacuation of Calistoga and cloaked the valley in a dense layer of smoke for days, Tynan rejected the DeKovens’ grapes. The suit asserts the grapes were tainted by smoke and ash.

Though the DeKovens attempted to sell the fruit to other buyers after Tynan turned them down, the suit reads, they found no takers, and the grapes, valued at $7,500 per ton, were left on the vines.

What followed was an invoice to Tynan last November seeking payment for an estimated seven tons of Cabernet Sauvignon from the DeKovens’ vineyard for a total of $52,500. That amount has since gone unpaid, the lawsuit states, and the DeKovens are now looking for reimbursement through the courts, plus interest.

Neither Tynan nor the DeKovens responded to calls requesting comment this week, while an attorney for the DeKovens declined to comment on the case.

The grape purchase agreement called for the grapes to be delivered in containers provided by Tynan to Cliff Lede Vineyards, where Tynan is winemaker. The disputed fruit was intended for Tynan’s own wine brand, Christopher Tynan Wines, which he founded shortly after joining Cliff Lede in 2012.

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Prior to his role at Cliff Lede, Tynan was assistant winemaker at Colgin Cellars, where wines he worked on reeled in several 100-point scores during his five-year tenure.

Tynan refused to release the first vintage of his own wine brand after powdery mildew and rot took out half of the vineyard he sourced from in 2011, he later told the Robert Parker Wine Advocate’s Wine Journal.

He added that he had no financial backing for the venture and ultimately ate the cost in favor of putting out a higher-quality debut release. The strategy seemingly paid off, as Tynan’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from the old vines of Meleagris Gallopavo vineyard in St. Helena, earned a 100-point score and a glowing review from Parker.

Located at 2400 Grant St. in Calistoga and managed by Mike Wolf Vineyard Services, the DeKovens’ vineyard was in the area mandated for evacuation during the fires and in proximity to other vineyards where unharvested grapes were lost to smoke taint, including 30-40 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon belonging to nearby Chateau Montelena.

Tynan was also evacuated from his Coombsville home when the fires began the night of Oct. 8, he told the Wine Journal, and stayed at Cliff Lede, working on the wines there without power as the Atlas Fire tore through the hillsides nearby.


Wine Reporter / Copy Editor

Henry Lutz covers the local wine industry. He has been a reporter and copy editor for the Register since 2016.