California winery suing NY distributor for rejecting ‘smoke tainted’ wines
California estate Westside Winery is suing Long Island wine distributor SMT Acquisitions for wrongly accusing it of selling wines from the 2017 vintage that were affected with smoke taint.
As reported by the New York Post, SMT Acquisitions rejected 4,841 cases of Noble Tree wine from the Sonoma-based Westside Winery because it believed the grapes used to make it were exposed to smoke from California wildfires.
The Port Washington-based firm was under contract to accept Noble Tree wines from the 2017 vintage according to the Brooklyn Federal Court claim filed by Westside Winery.
“SMT Acquisitions asserts it is not obligated to take possession of, or pay for, the 2017 wines on the basis that they are purportedly ‘smoke tainted’ due to certain California wild fires. It’s simply not true,” said the claim filed by Westside.
As reported by the New York Post, the grapes used to make the 2017 Noble Tree wines “were harvested and in indoor storage tanks before the wild fire referenced by SMT Acquisitions”.
Westside is suing SMT for the US$400,000 it is owed for the rejected 2017 wine.
Smoke taint is an ongoing problem in wine regions like California that are prone to wildfires, and the issue is being exacerbated by climate change.
However, grapes affected with smoke taint rarely end up in bottled wines as wineries reject them before they make it into the crusher.
“Wineries choose to err on the side of caution and reject problem grapes rather than accept grapes that would compromise the reputation of their brands,” John Aguirre of the California Association of Winegrape Growers told the NY Post.
The association recently donated US$1.5 million in federal funding to study the issue of smoke taint in wines.
Westside Wines produces a number of different wines under the Noble Tree brand, including a Russian River Valley Chardonnay, a Russian River Valley Grenache, and Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County.
Last August, the Mendocino Complex fires grew to become the largest fire in California’s history, spreading over an area of 469 square miles, with smoke from the fires reaching as far as New York.
A couple of Mendocino County wineries, including Fetzer Vineyards, were issued evacuation orders, but Lake County vineyards bore the brunt of the smoke, with staff having to be sent home due to the fires.