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Lawsuit Filed Over Napa's Schramsberg Estate

A son of founder Jamie Davies demands a one-third interest in the celebrated winery

James Laube
Posted: December 7, 2007

Jamie Davies is being sued by her son John over his share of the family inheritance.

Legal disputes are roiling one of California's most prominent wine families. Jamie Davies, who founded Schramsberg Vineyards with her late husband, Jack, and pioneered the production of high-quality sparkling wine in Napa Valley, is being sued by a son who claims he was promised a one-third interest in his parents' estate.

(See update, Lawsuit Over Napa's Schramsberg Estate Takes a Hit—But Still Alive, Jan. 4, 2008.)

John Davies, one of Mrs. Davies' three sons, "is asking for his right to one-third of the estate," said his attorney, Herman Franck, on Thursday.

The suit, filed in August in Napa County Superior Court, is unusual because Mrs. Davies is still alive. She is one of the winery's largest shareholders and presides over the family trust. The court has already dismissed two of John Davies' allegations, one being that Mrs. Davies had failed in her fiduciary duties with regards to the trust and the other being that she was "incompetent" to administer the trust because she is ill.

John Davies claims his parents made verbal promises to him and his brothers that each would receive a one-third share of the Schramsberg winery estate and other assets upon their parents' death. "If there is no provision for inheritance in the trust [for John Davies], there should be," Franck said.

The current provisions of the trust were not revealed to Wine Spectator by any of the parties involved, nor was the existence of any written will or its contents confirmed.

John's brother Hugh is president of Schramsberg winery, best known for its sparkling wines, including the Mirabelle line, and the J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon, which the winery debuted with the 2001 vintage. John, who worked briefly for Schramsberg years ago but now resides in Moscow and works for investment firm Montanaro Davies, wants to be sure he is treated equally, Franck said. The third son, William, also previously worked for Schramsberg, but he remains in the wine business, as a director of Schramsberg and co-founder of Source-Napa.

A statement released by Jamie Davies' attorney, Paul Carey, said: "Jamie Davies is deeply saddened by the fact that her son, John Davies, has chosen to file two lawsuits against her seeking, in essence, what he expects as an inheritance. Mrs. Davies loves and cares for all of her children, including John, and is hurt by the claims John has made. Mrs. Davies has denied all of the claims raised in John's actions … Mrs. Davies remains hopeful that this matter can be resolved without further court action." The two parties have agreed to a mediation hearing on Dec. 28 in Napa.

Jack and Jamie Davies revitalized the dilapidated Schramsberg property south of Calistoga in the late 1960s and built it into one of the most successful and prominent wineries in California. The Davies' own a controlling interest in the company, with Duckhorn Wine Co. also a prominent shareholder. Jack Davies died in 1998.

--Jenna Hudson contributed to this report

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