Pax Wine Cellars Embroiled in Lawsuits

Founding winemaker Pax Mahle is fired as part of an ownership struggle
Jul 28, 2008

Pax Wine Cellars no longer has Pax. Pax Mahle has been fired as winemaker from his eponymous label, and replaced by a new winemaker, Tyler Thomas, former assistant winemaker for HdV. The change comes as Mahle, his wife, Pamela Schaab, and Pax's majority owner, Joe Donelan, are locked in a legal battle over the winery.

Neither Mahle nor Donelan would comment on the current situation.

Ironically, Pax means "peace" in Latin. Mahle founded the winery in 2000 along with his wife and Connecticut-based investor Donelan, who owns a 55 percent share. The Sonoma-based winery quickly built a reputation for outstanding single-vineyard bottlings of Syrah. Out of 35 Pax wines reviewed by Wine Spectator, 23 have scored 90 points or better.

But for several months the partners have disagreed over the allocation of winery funds and winemaking and management decisions, and Mahle expressed a desire for a buyout or outright dissolution of the brand. After an attempt at arbitration to resolve the issues was unsuccessful, Donelan rejected a buyout offer and filed a suit against the couple.

As the parties litigate, Mahle is planning a yet-unnamed project. He is building a winery in Forestville, Calif., in Sonoma, where he plans to make a variety of wines, including a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, an old-vine Chardonnay from the James Berry Vineyard in Paso Robles, a Nebbiolo and a Syrah, possibly from some of the same vineyards currently sourcing grapes to the Pax label. "We are picking what we feel are the best sites [for each varietal]," said Mahle.

Despite the legal issues, Mahle remains positive. "Now all I care about is building the future," he said.

Meanwhile, Donelan said he intends to continue the Pax label. "We will continue to make Rhône varietal wines, principally vineyard-designated Syrahs," he said. The winery produces 5,000 cases annually and makes 15 different wines from vineyards throughout Sonoma and Mendocino. It does not own any vineyards.

United States California News

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