The fortunes of a successful newcomer to the California wine scene seem to have taken a turn for the worse. Napa Vintner Jayson Woodbridge, owner of Hundred Acre winery in St. Helena, turned heads when only his second vintage, the Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Kayli Morgan Vineyard 2001, earned 93 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale. But now Woodbridge is facing a series of legal problems. On June 5, the Napa County District Attorney filed a criminal charge against Woodbridge, alleging that he produced wine without a license. The crime is a misdemeanor and, if found guilty, Woodbridge could face a maximum of six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. An arraignment is scheduled for June 27 in Napa Superior Court.
According to Napa County District Attorney Richard Zimmerman, Woodbridge made wine last year without first obtaining a winegrower's license issued by the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. The district attorney offered a plea agreement to Woodbridge in which he would plead guilty or no contest to the charge, pay a fine and restitution of $1,050, participate in a 10-day work program and accept three years of probation.
Woodbridge spoke at length about his situation to Wine Spectator, but would not comment on the proposed plea agreement. He attributes the criminal charges to a mistake by his law firm. "My lawyers submitted paperwork with a sheet missing," he explained. "I've got these lawyers. They charge $425 an hour and are supposed to be the best lawyers in Napa County, and they told me [last August] to go ahead with production, so I did."
Woodbridge's attorney, Thomas Carey of Napa firm Dickenson, Peatman & Fogerty, did not return calls seeking comment.
Woodbridge's problems are extending beyond criminal court as well. In a separate matter, the Napa County Counsel plans on filing civil charges against Woodbridge's winery, One True Vine, in the next 40 days. Woodbridge has been battling the Napa County Planning Commission for months over alleged violations of his use permit, including improper disposal of cave spoils and a variety of complaints from neighbors.
In March, Woodbridge agreed to a number of revised conditions on the use permit, but representatives of the county government say he is still not in full compliance. "There are some things he's done and some major things he has not," explained Deputy County Counsel Laura Anderson, who added that Woodbridge failed to fulfill about 12 of 32 revised conditions. "Clearly the county needs to up the ante and seek some other avenues of enforcement. Maybe if he has a judge telling him, he'll listen."
Woodbridge said that he's stunned by the situation. "This is the most exasperating thing that I've ever been through in my life. I'm a farmer with four little children and a winery, and now I'm accused of a criminal offense."
David Graves, who owns Saintsbury winery in Carneros, has been a Napa County Planning Commissioner since 1999. "I've seen a lot of use permits [in front of the Planning Commission]. I've seen them sail through with neighbors saying, 'Godspeed,' and I've seen them with neighbors saying, 'No way, you dirty son of a bitch,'" he said. "And in those cases where it's the latter, the hallmark has been an overweening sense of entitlement [on the part of the applicant]. Instead of 'The dog ate my homework,' Jayson's formulation is, 'Your friggin' dog ate my homework.' I haven't seen any acceptance of responsibility for the problems related to this project."
Despite his legal troubles, Woodbridge has maintained success with his wine. The last vintage of the Hundred Acre Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Kayli Morgan Vineyard reviewed by Wine Spectator, the 2002, earned 94 points and sold for $225. For the 2005 vintage, Woodbridge plans to bottle another Cabernet Sauvignon from Ark Vineyard in St. Helena.