Winery drops town suit, removes WCP vineyard

Published 8:31 pm Tuesday, February 12, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

Smithfield Winery LLC announced last week that it has dropped its $10 million lawsuit against the town of Smithfield and is now pulling up the grape vines it has nurtured at Windsor Castle Park for the past six years. 

The town has also issued its own statement Tuesday concerning the lawsuit. 

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The lawsuit stemmed from the nonrenewal of a lease between Smithfield Winery and the town for the use of the land at the park. 

Smithfield Winery includes Natasha and Matthew Huff and Natasha’s parents, Michelle and Denton Weiss. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

A statement was posted on the winery’s official Facebook page announcing that the lawsuit had been dropped. 

According to Natasha, the statement was drafted by attorney C. Wiley Grandy at Crenshaw, Ware and Martin, PLC law firm on behalf of the Weisses and Huffs. 

“We never imagined that our business plans would be enacted without our participation, but that is what has happened,” read the statement.  

According to the Feb. 6 statement, Smithfield Winery submitted a proposal to the town more than eight years ago that included purchasing Windsor Castle Park in order to create a vineyard and event space there. Additionally, this proposal was in response to an RFP — request for proposal — put out by the town. 

The post from Smithfield Winery also states that this proposal had included plans to restore and preserve the historic structures on the property and develop a vineyard and winery there. 

 “We no longer have faith that the Town is committed to working with us to ensure the success of the vineyard,” read the official statement.  

The winery will remain at its 117 North Church St. location and is searching for another place within the town to replant its vines. 

Meanwhile, the town is moving ahead with its plans to create an events space within the Windsor Castle manor house, and for the past several years, Smithfield VA Events has hosted festivals at the park, to include a Wine and Brew Fest that began about two years before the town cancelled its RFP with the Winery.   

A Feb. 12 press release from Town Manager Brian Thrower stated that after the town had been negotiating the lease with Smithfield Winery “in good faith” for over a year, the winery made a voluntary business decision to remove its vines and terminate its lease.

“The town has actively sought to resolve this matter in an amicable and fair fashion. Smithfield Winery, LLC chose to withdraw from the ongoing lease negotiations,” according to Thrower. 

Thrower’s release also stated that neither the manor house restoration nor any Smithfield VA Events had any bearing on the winery’s ability to continue leasing the property in “generally the same manner” as it has for the past six years.  

The $10 million in the suit represented 35 years worth of lost revenues from the vineyard property, according to court documents.

The $10 million was presented as an alternative to reinstating the previous “5-year option to renew” lease that the town and winery maintained, according to court documents.     

Crews began removing the grape vines from the park last week.

“It takes an emotional toll, as well,” Natasha said about having to dig up the vines, adding, “Nobody would ever plant a vineyard and think that they’re going to dig them up in five to six years.” The age that the vines at Windsor Castle Park are now — seven to eight years old — is their most productive age, Natasha said.  

Natasha said last week that the Smithfield Winery on North Church Street will continue to operate, despite a closed sign on the front door. “We’re doing a lot of private events,” she said, adding that she loves the town of Smithfield and has no intention of relocating somewhere else. 

Natasha said that the vines are in their dormant stage at this time of the year, and that there’s limited time to relocate them before their value is lost.

“We’re going to be putting them into bins, then deciding whether or not we’re going to find another property,” she said.   

Because the lease was not renewed, the winery had to postpone an order of 1,000 grapevines for a year, and Natasha said that in the past, whenever the winery made intentions to expand their acreage, they were “stopped at every turn” by the town.

In terms of stock, Natasha said that they’ve got enough wine to keep going as they have for another year and a half, but added that the lawsuit and issues with the town have stymied the expansion of the business. 

“We’ve had people offer property, other vineyards have offered to help,” Natasha said, adding that she’s bought grapes from other area vineyards in the past.   {/mprestriction}