A Walla Walla, Washington winery alleges corks from Lafitte Cork and Capsule contaminated more than half of its 2015 vintage, according to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Cayuse Vineyards by the winery’s insurance company, accuses the Napa-based Lafitte of breach of contract and gross negligence. It estimates damages to be over $3.5 million.
Cayuse said it purchased 43,000 Cayuse-branded corks, 139 unbranded corks and 1,500 corks for Hors Categorie vineyard, a label also owned by Cayuse founder and winemaker Christophe Baron. Cayuse first noticed the paraffin contamination during the bottling of Hors Categorie wines in May of 2017, the lawsuit says. Flakes of paraffin, a wax used to lubricate corks for insertion into bottles and to improve their seal, were expelled from the corks into the wines, the suit says. The winery observed the default during quality control testing and stopped the bottling process.
The winery then “discussed the problem” with Lafitte, according to the lawsuit. Lafitte “assured Cayuse that the contamination would only affect the Hors Categorie branded corks” and advised the winery to continue the bottling process for its Cayuse label.
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Days later, Lafitte “admitted that the Lafitte corking machines applying the paraffin coating were new” and that the corks in question did have “wax contamination”, according to the filing. Cayuse then conducted testing on each of the wines it had bottled in May of 2017 to determine which, if any, were contaminated; testing showed each bottle of wine that had been sampled was contaminated, the lawsuit says.
A spokesperson from Lafitte declined to comment.
The United Kingdom-based Lloyd’s of London, Cayuse’s insurer, estimates damages to be $3,537,167. Nearly 300 cases of wine were damaged, as were more than 2,600 magnums, Wine Spectator reported in 2017.
“It was a great disappointment to all of us as the wines were highly anticipated and already highly acclaimed,” winery founder Baron said in a statement. “Although we have worked diligently to resolve this unfortunate chapter in our history amicably with the cork supplier, Lafitte Cork and Capsule, and its insurer for the past two years, those efforts have not been successful.”
He added that Cayuse, whose wines are available only to its mailing list and through a select group of retailers, had “distributed full reimbursement with interest” to all of its affected customers.
Lafitte Cork and Capsule is a subsidiary of the Lafitte Group; the company’s North American business is based out of its Napa production facility, which it opened in 1982, according to the company’s Facebook page. It also owns facilities in France, where it was founded, as well as in Portugal, Italy and Chile.
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