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NOTES FROM THE WATERFRONT
FISHY "HOT" WINE
 

For those who missed "The San Francisco Chronicle's" front page story January 9, it isn't too late to catch it. It deals with the "Kornell Warehouse fire" and damaged wines passed off by Rich Frank, Koerner Rombauer and their associates.  And now it seems no one can find the wine. To read the article, Click see January 9, 2001 NewsMakingNews.

SO WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS FISHY, STINKY DEAL? 

Rest assured, there were other victims of the "Kornell Warehouse fire"  -- and small lots of their vintages were salvaged.  But call them, and you will find they enjoyed it themselves ... like Dusinberre's proprietor, Jeff Smith, as he exclaimed to the media that he was going to have one heck of a party with it because it can't be sold.  Who would WANT to sell heat-damaged products -- it is a death knell to the label. Indeed,
non-proprietor producers showed up to reclaim salvaged wine to prevent any "hanky panky" that could ruin their reputations, destroy their labels.

The "Chronicle" points out there are various stories about who agreed with whom about what as to the disposition of the wine.  But this writer is still curious about WHO ACTUALLY SOLD THE WINE in a lust to enjoy what is stated to be $450,000 in profits from its sale. 

1.  Frank-Rombauer Cellars, Napa Cellars LLC and Rombauer Vineyards all hold ABC licenses as producers to sell their wines to a LICENSED wholesaler, or retail at their wineries.

2.  Frank-Rombauer would have had to "clear" and handle the truck arrival and departure of salvaged goods from their warehouse premises (the first floor of the warehouse was not damaged and that is where all salvaged wine was placed for return to owners). Indeed, its transfer would have to go through their books.

3.  Greer & Kirby are cited as the salavage operators for the insurance company (which in this case was Chubb) that "purchased or arranged the purchase" of the wine. But it isn't Greer & Kirby that legally purchased and resold the wine -- they have no ABC licenses.  A review of records indicates the agreed-upon price was $3 per case (not bottle, but case of 12 fifths).  The number of cases salvaged and sold is reported by some as 9,000, others 10,000.  So somewhere out there are as many as 120,000
bottles of spoiled wine.

4.   Both Buonocore and Vico's have the types of licenses necessary to wholesale the wine.  But both would have had to purchase the wine from a licensed seller (in this case, the only licensed seller is Frank-Rombauer Cellars and their related entities).

Now Frank-Rombauer have jumped into the action with their own lawsuit against EVERYONE, alleging their label has been ruined.  But the question remains, WHO engaged in the conduct that would ruin the labels?  Where is the wine?  The only apparent party in a legal position to SELL OR TRANSFER the bad wine to begin with appears to be, and you guessed it, Frank-Rombauer!  Did they transfer it with the understanding it was to be destroyed?  Bottles scrubbed and re-labeled?

Greed has no limits for these two.  And this deal is as fishy and stinky as any of their many involvements  since the early 1990s in Napa Valley.  Rich Frank's "creative imagination" from years as an Executive Vice President for Walt Disney Company lends itself well to planning these types of fictions, where Frank or Rombauer come out of court with bundles, smelling like roses, after stiffing others caught in their web.  Plot:  They release the wine with the idea they will sue and recover all of the profits -- and
then some.

If anyone finds a bottle of Napa Cellars LLC wine, check the back.  Note where it was bottled and produced.  It was actually produced in Calistoga. And check Rombauer Vineyards -- they assert bottling in St. Helena, CA -- but their wine was bottled in Calistoga.  And the Frank-Rombauer Vineyards label reads "bottled and produced in St. Helena."  Indeed, it was bottled and produced in Calistoga.  These are all Federal label violations, which is likely the reason you find them filing in State Superior Court in San Francisco rather than in Federal Court where these violations would carry some weight.

To boot, the Frank-Rombauer label has been discontinued, in favor of "Winston Hill" or "Frank Family Vineyards," depending upon which version of Rich Frank's stories you want to believe.  Yet no where in their lawsuit do the partners mention this, because, after all, the contention is their LABELS and REPUTATIONS have been ruined.

Where's the consumer protection? I mean, we are the ones who could be stuck. On the other hand, consumers may be spared because "no one can find the wine."

As adjusters sifted through debris looking for wine to salvage, more than one head shook.  Why wasn't it being carted to the land fill? By trying to sell it they would ruin their own label, so why did Frank-Rombauer run the risk, release it for salvage?  Who was hot to make $30,000 ($3 per case salvage rate x 10,000 cases)?  You can bet that "profits of $450,000" meant someone was going to pass the product off as "first class" despite the spoilage factor. 

There are several interesting articles about the fire and follow-up in "The Napa Valley Register" -- on-line at http://www.napanews.com.  Use search engines, and enter "Kornell" and look for articles from June through August, 2000.  See also July issues of NewsMakingNews.


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