Marin Winery Shake-out

One bankrupt, several homeless in pricey North Coast county

by Jane Firstenfeld
Starry Night Winery
San Rafael, Calif. -- Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate, is better known for million-dollar tract homes than winemaking, but the Wines & Vines IndustryBase currently lists 36 wineries. That total will decrease by at least one, with San Anselmo’s Ross Valley Winery going out of business and expected to declare bankruptcy. A handful of boutique and virtual wineries also were rendered homeless when leaseholder Starry Night Winery failed to come to terms with its Novato landlord; several have moved -- at least temporarily -- out of the county.

Bruce Walker, president of 12,000-case Starry Night, confirmed that the winery moved its operations to Carneros Vintners, the massive Sonoma County custom crush, following a legal dispute with the landlord that is now resolved. He said that he and the other principals are Marin residents with strong ties to the county. They recently opened a business office in downtown San Rafael and hope eventually to permanently relocate the winemaking facilities back to the county. “It’s nice to be able to walk to see some of your customers,” Walker commented. “It would be nice to have other Marin County wineries join us.”
Kendric Vineyards
Former Starry Night winemaking client Stewart Johnson, whose 600-case Kendric Vineyards also is now operating at Carneros Vintners, said that, although “We subtenants were not really privy to what was going on,” he understood Starry Night had requested a rent reduction that did not materialize.

With 30-days notice, the wineries moved from the Novato warehouse  space before June 8. Johnson, who lives in central Marin County, would like his business to be closer, but, he said, “There wasn’t time to get a new bonded premises,” and Carneros proved to be the nearest port in the storm. Johnson believes that other Starry Night clients including Kane, Taproot and Eric Ross also have relocated to Carneros.
Trek Wine
One subtenant, 2,500-case Trek Wines, took another path. Within weeks, Andy and Liz Podshadley plan to close on a property in downtown Novato, where they hope to open a stand-alone urban winery and tasting room in a remodeled Victorian house before the 2010 crush. Trek, which had scored an unexpected trademark victory over Trek Bicycles earlier this year, moved its inventory to Groskopf Warehouse & Logistics in Vineburg, Calif., and is storing all its equipment “at my mother-in-law’s,” Andy Podshadley said. Architect Daniel MacDonald, whose client list includes Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and the city of Novato, has drawn up plans for the new winery, now awaiting approval from the planning commission.

“We just keep hoping it’s going to be a cool summer,” Podshadley said. With no bureaucratic or construction glitches and a slightly delayed harvest, “We’d like to crush” in the new facility.

He admitted that, with the lawsuit and the unexpected move, it’s been a rollercoaster year. “The bike people haven’t gotten back to us,” he reported. “My attorneys think if they didn’t respond right away, they probably won’t.” His David v. Goliath victory became something of a media and legal cause célèbre. The law school at Stanford University used it as the basis for a mock trial, he reported with some pride. “I wish I’d have known,” he said. “I would have gone.”

Sad news from San Anselmo
Ross Valley Winery
Wines & Vines has a special relationship with Ross Valley Winery: Our maiden Merlot vintage is aging at the 1,500-case winery in downtown San Anselmo. We learned about the impending closure of the winery yesterday, when owner Paul Kreider phoned to suggest we move our one-and-only barrel ASAP. He said he is meeting with attorneys next Tuesday to find out when he needs to vacate the space, which includes an intimate, art-filled tasting room on the village’s main shopping street. He is hustling to bottle wines that are ready and asking wine club members to pick up pending shipments.

Kreider had listed the winery for sale some months ago but found no takers; now the winery will file for bankruptcy, and Kreider plans to move to Western Washington state, where he has family ties. To what did he attribute the business failure? “Rent,” he said flatly. A princely $5,000/month, to be exact. There’s not much of Marin County, after all, that’s not in the high rent district.
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