Smithfield sued by winery

Published 7:06 pm Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ask for lease renewal or $10 million in damages

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The owners of Smithfield Winery are suing the Town of Smithfield, asking the court to declare their lease for the use of portions of Windsor Castle Park was properly renewed with options for future renewals.

Failing that, Smithfield Winery is asking the court for $10 million in damages against the town for lost future revenue. 

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Smithfield Winery has grown grape vines on the land next to the Windsor Castle Manor house for several years, and enjoyed the use of some buildings as part of its lease until earlier this year, according to the suit filed Monday in Isle of Wight County Circuit Court. 

Smithfield Winery has also developed a winery and tasting room on North Church Street to complement its activities at the park. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Smithfield Winery said the town erroneously told them their lease expired in February and that it is now a holdover tenant at will. The town threatened to force the winery off the property, according to the suit. 

At the same time, the town and Windsor Castle Park Foundation accepted rent payment from Smithfield Winery through 2023, and a contribution to the foundation this year as part of its renewed lease agreement for the next five years, according to the suit.

The town told Smithfield Winery that despite paying rent for the next five years and submitting a renewal notice, the Winery did not successfully renew the lease, according to the suit. 

Smithfield Winery also contends that the town used the Wine and Brew Fest, put on by Smithfield VA Events, as a ruse to have their equipment temporarily moved out of a pole barn, which the company has used as part of its lease agreement. 

Once the equipment was out of the pole barn, the town began construction to turn the barn into a entertainment facility with running water and a new concrete floor, according to the suit. 

The Winery was not consulted about the town’s plans, according to the suit. 

“Given the speed with which the construction crew arrived after the Wine and Brew Fest, the town’s plans to begin construction on the pole barn must have been in the works at the time the town asked the Winery to temporarily move its equipment,” according to the suit. 

Because of the alleged breach of contract, the Winery has had to make alternative arrangements and incur additional costs, according to the suit. 

The $10 million represents the loss of 35 years of estimated profits — the length of time the Winery would have continued to renew its lease, according to the suit.

Last year, the vineyard produced 10 tons of grapes, allowing the Winery to make 1,440 bottles of wine from Smithfield-grown grapes, according to the suit. 

The remainder of the lawsuit describes the timeline of events that began with Smithfield Winery principals, Denton and Michelle Weiss and Natasha and Matthew Huff, collectively named the Huffs in the suit, submitting a proposal in 2011 to restore and preserve the historic structures, develop a vineyard and boutique winery on the property, host art shows, weddings and other events and build a musical venue on the property, according to the suit.

The proposal was in response to a request for proposals by the town of Smithfield. 

As negotiations were ongoing, the Huffs planted grape vines and began developing their vineyard. 

However, the town rejected the proposal as the Huffs were finalizing the financing of the property, according to the suit. 

After that occurred, the town began working with Smithfield VA Events and Historic Windsor Castle Restoration LLC to implement many of the very business plans identified by the Huffs in their proposal. 

The suit also outlines the connections that leaders of Smithfield VA Events have to the town, including, at the time, numerous town council members and town leaders, according to the suit. 

“In other words, the same members of town council that rejected the Huff’s proposal are the leaders of the companies that now stand to benefit from that decision,” the suit alleges. 

The suit describes actions by the town that led to damaged equipment. The suit also alleges that the town, “upon information and belief” has been actively negotiating with another vineyard and winery located in Isle of Wight County to add a wine tasting room to the Manor House.

Efforts to reach Town Attorney William Riddick for comment were unsuccessful. In a civil suit, the defendant has 21 days after being served to file a counterclaim or response.  {/mprestriction}