Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Wine and crime, part I--Donkey and Goat Embezzlement

Posted by Richard Foxall, Oct 12, 2015.

So in my line of work--some of you know that I'm a criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area--we don't often cross paths with the winemakers of the bay area.  But every now and then a case shows up in court that involves the wine world.  Two have attracted my attention this month.  The first involves Donkey and Goat, a hip winery in Berkeley that used to specialize in off the beaten path grapes that they made into small production wines.  Prices were reasonable, although not cheap, and quality was good.  You'd see them on the lists at "farm to table" restaurants.

So I guess they hired these guys as their first "interns," which usually means you are supported by your parents or past savings enough to work for free in hopes of getting on later, and the interns stole a bunch of wine.  Here's the news article. How an operation this size doesn't notice 20 cases, never mind 138, slightly escapes me.  But the funny thing is that the article gives the number of bottles and the total loss, and it comes out to slightly over $42.  When I check their website, almost all of the bottles are under $30 except a handful of Syrahs from the "Broken Leg" vineyard.  So, did they only steal the top end stuff?  I suppose that sort of makes sense, except that it's Syrah, and in California, Syrah is a pretty tough sell. 

I don't represent the defendants, so I did a little public research and found out that one of them, Gomber, is on probation for DUI.  Red flag for a winery, don't you think?

Replies

41
1468
Reply by outthere, Oct 12, 2015.

Not really. Anyone can over-imbibe one night and get into trouble. Doesn't make them a thief, an alcoholic or have alcohol related issues. I think you would be surprised how many people in the wine industry have a 502 on their driving record.

20
3577
Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 13, 2015.

It's a 23152 of the Vehicle Code and I actually agree that anyone can have one.  After that, you're kind of on notice that you aren't the best judge of your BAC (blood alcohol content).  Sorry I suggested that.  However, what was interesting to me is that he lost no time in getting the "deuce," as we call it--he's really young.  And, once on probation, he had the bad sense to start stealing from his employer.  Gotta wonder what he thought he would do with it.  I'm pretty sure that D&G's customers are pretty close to it and he'd have to go to accounts they already have, arousing suspicion.  Of course, there's also the problem that he's storing it in less than ideal circumstances. 

I once saw a locker full of stolen stuff that had cases and cases of Lokoya and the like.  Totally sure the guy didn't know what he had, and no one ever bothered to figure out where it came from--they got him for stolen computer gear.  I'm sure the cult cab in the locker was totally cooked and he had no idea what it was really worth--probably just snagged it out of some guy's car or garage when it was left open. 

20
3259
Reply by dmcker, Oct 13, 2015.

Not quite at the level of the French Laundry heist, I guess. The guy doesn't sound like he had a previous job at NASA, does he?

So who got the Lokoya?

And what's Part II?

41
1468
Reply by outthere, Oct 13, 2015.

502 is the radio code while 23152 is the VC. Actually, in Washington, 502 is part of the vehicle code. But I digress. The kid was the first employee they ever had at the winery. They trusted him to run the show while they went out of town. They had noticed inventory missing so they installed surveillance cameras at the winery. After coming back from a trio they found video of him and his GF loading cases of wine into his vehicle.

0
2388
Reply by GregT, Oct 13, 2015.

KId's a moron any way you look at it. First chance he gets, he steals from his employer? The beginning of a fine career.

What to do with him? It's not like he was just a young guy who made a simple mistake. Taking that wine requires a lot more calculation than just doing something because of a testosterone hit.

There was a girl who was the cashier at this bagel place I used to go to by my home. Friendly and everyone in the neighborhood knew her. Then they changed their lines for paying and it became very complicated and customers were irritated. Turns out she was stealing from them daily for several years and they found it when they came up with the new check-out system.

So they made her work there for free for a year or so until she had paid back everything she took. Everyone in the neighborhood knew it and knew why she was there. Her best move was finally to move away.

Whatever happened to public shaming?

152
1968
Reply by napagirl68, Oct 13, 2015.

Whatever happened to public shaming?

I won't even go there, lest start a nasty political argument.  But...

I can say for sure that nowadays, she would never be able to work anywhere here for free to make up for her digression.  There's FICA, SDI, unemployment, taxes, minimum wage, etc etc.  The employer would be fined for allowing her to work wage free to pay off her theft, she'd get unemployment insurance out of the whole thing, and I will just stop now.

 

75
2046
Reply by JonDerry, Oct 18, 2015.

As luck would have it, I have a Donkey & Goat Pinot lined up for tonight's $16 - $27 Pinot Noir flight. 2014 scares me a little, may have to give it a little more air than the rest.

Little bit of a US v. France thing going.

 

1021
86
Reply by vin0vin0, Oct 18, 2015.

JD, we also enjoy doing the side by side by side ... tasting. Looking forward to hearing about the results!

0
959
Reply by dvogler, Oct 18, 2015.

It's even more interesting to have someone put the bottles in brown bags and number them.  Do it blind and take notes.  Compare notes and then unveil them.  There's always a surprise or two!

20
3259
Reply by dmcker, Oct 18, 2015.

Curious where you guys place the Au Bon Climat.

75
2046
Reply by JonDerry, Oct 19, 2015.

I thought the Au Bon Climat would show much better, but it was squarely in the lower half, and a contender for worst wine. 

The first wine tasted was the A to Z Oregon Pinot which showed clean and fresh, but with little depth and personality. The '12 Billard-Gonnet from Burgundy was very much the same, it showed a bit weedy, fresh, but uninteresting. 

next, the domaine Bart turned some heads as it was more acidic and fleshy than the rest, even though it had a layer of funk that didn't sit well with most. 

ABC was next, and landed with a thud. It was also a bit vegetal, weedy, and uninteresting.

Donkey & Goat, showing more fruit than any of the others, but also good depth and acidic freshness. There was a lot of praise for the wine, but there lied the question, was it better than the French?

Humbert Freres was the last wine tasted and it definitely turned the head of the bride to be. She called spice and she was right on as it was the most highly spiced wine with good depth. The problem was it lacked some structure, namely acid, and kind of flattened out.

 

20
3259
Reply by dmcker, Oct 19, 2015.

Au Bon Climat, most any bottling I've had in recent years, is way overrated. It had a place in Santa Barbara winemaking history, but now almost always hits me as flat, far-too-monochromatic with no integrated depth, murky and flabby. Interesting in the '90s, so-so at the millenium, boring over the past 10 years has been my experience. Certainly it doesn't drink in any why like I want my pinot noir to drink, though at least it never presented with cherry-cola disease (nor as of my most recent drinkings). I don't have enough info about the internal goings-on at the winery to understand why this must be, but whatever the reason I'm not buying it any more.

75
2046
Reply by JonDerry, Oct 19, 2015.

So in the end we had to choose between the last two, as the Domaine Bart (nice QPRwas eliminated due to the funk. After a few minutes of side by side tasting, the Donkey & Goat unanimously beat out the Domaine Humbert (a legit Bourgogne producer), due to the fruit, freshness, and structure.

The fact that it was a 2014, drunk some 14 months after harvest is interesting. It makes me think of what Steve Edmunds from Edmunds St. John said about getting wines into bottle early and preserving freshness. 

Pardon the detour Fox, just thought this fit. I may not have grabbed this wine off the shelf had you not posted this story on them.

20
3577
Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 14, 2016.

So to get back to the original subject of the post, I've been in court recently when this case came back on calendar.  Turns out that the winery also went after their tasting room manager/part time bookkeeper, who is represented by an attorney of my acquaintance.  The winery owners decided, based on their "inventory," that she was somehow in on the embezzlement.  But her lawyers were able to show that in fact there was far less wine missing than had been presumed, that their inventory records were completely messed up.  The manager's home was searched and the cops found TWO bottles there, for which she could not produce receipts.  The wines were several years old, so who has a receipt for that?  And who works at a winery and isn't occasionally "rewarded" with a bottle for working a little extra?  In the end, the winery's accountant admitted that she could not actually say how much wine is missing.  The bookkeeper now faces only a misdemeanor count, and the other case is in danger of falling apart.  The only press accounts haven't quite gotten this right.  There are some questions still about the original defendants, but it's looking like there's a failure to record a few bottles removed, but may not be the level of crime that was alleged.  Stay tuned. 

326
73
Reply by rckr1951, Jun 14, 2016.

Ricjard - "Police recovered 33 bottles from her car, worth $1,320, and another seven bottles from under Gomber’s bed "

The math has me confused 33 bottles @ $40 per = $1320 .  Let's say the other 7 cost $20 = $140 for a total of $1460.  Where does the $42 figure come from or am I missing part of the post?

The guy is a schlep for what he did regardless.

20
3577
Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 14, 2016.

Rckr, not sure what you linked to, as the original article no longer appears on SFGate. I believe that the whole thing will wind up more like a petty theft, mostly the product of the couple taking a few bottles home without entering them into the pull list.  Lots of small wineries are poorly run as businesses, and this one seems to be a candidate.  Decent wines, but the owners might not have thought very hard about the financial side of things.

As I said, stay tuned.

326
73
Reply by rckr1951, Jun 15, 2016.

I got the following article when I clicked on the "Here" is the '

 

 

By Frances Dinkelspiel

BERKELEYSIDE:  On Tuesday, two former employees of one of Berkeley’s most respected wineries, Donkey & Goat, will face charges in court that they embezzled 1,644 bottles of fine wine worth $70,490.

Zachary Gomber and Morgan Hall have been charged with embezzlement and receiving stolen property. Kate Sylvan, a third former employee , faces charges of receiving stolen property.

Police believe the trio was involved with the theft and sale of 138 cases over an extended period of time in 2014, according to court documents.

Gomber and Sylvan, who were boyfriend and girlfriend, were arrested Dec. 23 after Berkeley police did a stakeout and observed the pair loading three cases of wine from Gomber’s Richmond home into a car, according to court documents. Sylvan drove off with the wine and was arrested a few blocks away. Police recovered 33 bottles from her car, worth $1,320, and another seven bottles from under Gomber’s bed at a home on Santa Cruz Avenue in Richmond, according to a police affidavit. The wine was from Donkey & Goat.

Police also found some wine stolen from Donkey & Goat at a house in the 100 block of Tamalpais Road in Berkeley that had been rented by Sylvan and Hall, according to court document

That's where my confusion stemmed from.  Wrong article?

20
3577
Reply by Richard Foxall, Jun 15, 2016.

Okay, something weird was going on with our Internet connection here.  Glad you got the link.

I checked my math.  The total loss at the time was alleged to be $70,490.  The number of bottles was 1,644.  That's $42 a bottle.  You were only looking at what was recovered from the car, not what the overall allegation was, I think. 

 

 

326
73
Reply by rckr1951, Jun 15, 2016.

Richard - That is correct, I see now that you were stating $42 per bottle for the overall cost.  I agree, after looking at the website, that figure seems high but still it's wrong that their trust was violated and their loss was substantial.

You statement as to their accounting for their losses before the final solution occurred was lax at best is true.

75
2046
Reply by JonDerry, Jun 15, 2016.

The $42 valuation makes sense to throw out there to start, but wholesale or cost of production (or I between) would most likely be the final price they use, no doubt. Knowing the wines, there's nothing they produce that gets near $40 wholesale.


Back to Categories

Popular Topics

  • posts

Top Contributors This Month

259386 Snooth User: zufrieden
259386zufrieden
39 posts
1413489 Snooth User: dvogler
1413489dvogler
26 posts
357808 Snooth User: vin0vin0
357808vin0vin0
8 posts

Categories

View All




Snooth Media Network