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Napa Valley's Heitz Cellar sues cask provider over leaky, contaminated barrels

Oak tanks at Heitz Cellar

Heitz Cellar was founded in 1961, and operates its family-owned winery and vineyard at the St. Helena Highway property. 

The historic Napa Valley winery Heitz Cellar has filed a lawsuit against one of its cask suppliers, claiming the company sold them barrels that were faulty. Purchased and delivered from Gamba USA — an offshoot of Italy’s Fabbrica Botti Gamba — in October of 2020 for a little over $60,000, the lawsuit states that Gamba sold Heitz five different custom-built oak casks, “three of which had persistent leaks and one of which was contaminated with a non-naturally occurring compound.”

According to the case files, Heitz staff first noticed issues with the casks in December of 2020 after filling them with wine, when the barrels continued to leak from “multiple locations,” including its doors, valves and other parts.

“[The] plaintiff also received nine oak wine casks from a different manufacturer [and] placed all 14 casks in the same room under the same conditions … None of the casks received from the other manufacturer leaked,” the report states.

Then, a month later in January 2021, Heitz representatives said a round of routine testing determined that one of the Gamba casks was contaminated with 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, or TCA. A common cause of cork taint, this TCA contamination essentially made that barrel of Heitz wine “unsaleable.”

“All 580 gallons of the tainted wine were a total loss,” Heitz representatives said in the complaint.

A day after test results confirmed the presence of TCA, Heitz met with Gamba USA’s president, Jeff Ghidossi, and on Feb. 1, 2021, Ghidossi returned to take shaving samples from the outside of the contaminated cask.

On June 24, 2021, Heitz formally demanded a reimbursement. Claiming that no resolution has been made, they have formally filed a lawsuit with the Napa County Superior Court and have asked for a jury trial.

“Gamba knew that (Heitz) was purchasing the Gamba casks to store wine, [and] accordingly sold the Gamba casks with an implied warranty that the Gamba casks were fit for that particular purpose,” the lawsuit reads. “The casks were negligently manufactured, designed and/or inspected by Gamba.”

Neither party have provided further comment regarding the ongoing case, and a management conference is slated for late September.

You can reach Sam Jones at 707-256-2221 and sjones@napanews.com.

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