Tuesday, Sep. 08, 2009
Oregon winery, winemaker battle in court
By The Associated Press and Wine Press Northwest staff
McMINNVILLE, Ore. - A legal battle over the departure of winemaker Tony Rynders from the Domaine Serene Vineyards and Winery is being closely watched by an industry that relies heavily on trade secrets.
A McMinnville, Ore., newspaper reported that, depending on which side of the battle is telling the story, Rynders either sought standard advice from colleagues or collaborated with co-conspirators in a betrayal.
Rynders says he was just trying to move on with his career. But Domaine Serene argues he was disloyal to a company he had served for 10 years.
The winery is asking a federal judge to award it more than $75,000 in damages and prohibit Rynders from using any trade secrets or disclosing them.
The winery also wants the judge to permit a computer expert to examine Rynders' computer and destroy any files or data from the company, at Rynders' expense.
Rynders has filed a motion seeking dismissal of the entire claim.
In the lawsuit, the winery alleges that Rynders was dishonest, violated company policy that he make wine exclusively for Domaine Serene, used Domaine Serene equipment in his outside winemaking venture, gave inside information to a competitor, delayed telling owners about his plans to leave and ultimately presented the company with an ultimatum demanding a dramatic pay raise as his price of staying on.
The winery is especially concerned about the process it uses to produce its coeur blanc line of white wines from red pinot noir grapes.
The complaint says the winery fears Rynders might use his knowledge of its trade secrets to make competing wine.
But Rynders told the newspaper there are no trade secrets at issue. He accuses the winery's owners, Ken and Grace Evenstad, of acting out of spite.
"I believe that they objected to my decision to move on and move forward in my career," he wrote in a court statement. "They begrudged me the opportunity to advance my career and my attempt, after 10 years with their winery, to build equity and benefit from my hard-earned reputation as a premier Oregon winemaker."
Rynders argues that the process for making white wine from red pinot noir grapes is neither proprietary nor secret and is readily available to anyone on the Internet.
A hearing on the dismissal motion was set for Sept. 30 in U.S. District Court in Portland.
Last month, Rynders was announced as winemaker for Swiftwater Cellars, a new winery at the Suncadia Resort in Rosyln, Wash.