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05.22.2012  
 

Maple Creek Winery Goes on Block

Mendocino County property and brand to be auctioned in August

 
by Jane Firstenfeld
 
 
maple creek winery
 
Linda Stutz and Tom Rodrigues enjoy the Maple Creek Winery property during happier times. Photo: Vanessa Kelly.
Yorkville, Calif.—A fully equipped winery with 9 producing acres of Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel vines, a home and guest house, goat and horse barns, 2 miles of creek, orchards and wine inventory will be auctioned Aug. 16 at the Mendocino County Courthouse in Ukiah, Calif.

Not a foreclosure victim, Maple Creek Winery is instead a casualty of a soured relationship, according to Linda Stutz, who founded the brand and purchased the 164-acre property with then-partner Tom Rodrigues in 2001. They both agree on one thing: This was not an amicable split.

Stutz told Wines & Vines that, after nine years (according to Rodrigues) or 14 (per Stutz), the couple broke up more than two years ago. “I left the property. Tom is living there. I’m on the deed. Tom refused to buy me out, and he refused to sell,” she said.

The auction is result of a court-ordered partition sale. “I’ve had to strap on my warrior armor everyday,” Stutz said, but in the end, “The judge ruled I’m 50% owner” and ordered the partition in late April.

Rodrigues told Wines & Vines that he had provided the majority of funding, investing $1.4 million in the property vs. $300,000 from Stutz. Additionally, he said, he contributed most of the sweat equity toward the winery and brand. A well-known artist and label-designer since 1978 (including Far Niente’s iconic label), he was tutored by consulting winemaker Kerry Damsky in the art and science of winemaking.

Stutz, he said, had been only a part-time winery resident since 2007 and “hasn’t been here at all since 2010.” He said he’d offered to buy Stutz out for $1.1 million, but she refused the offer. The judge, he said, had credited him with his $650,000 down payment.

In addition to designing the labels, “I’m the winemaker and the vineyard manager,” Rodrigues said. “It was my mistake, in 2006, to put her name on the deed. It’s been a nightmare. It’s unbelievable what I’ve been going through; she’s been riding my coattails.”

Minimum bid for the property is $2.35 million, “far below the market value,” Stutz said. “Tom did not want to sell on the open market; I’d take a good offer in a heartbeat.” The price reflects debt and some return of initial equity and, Stutz claimed, “The winery turns a profit. We don’t have millions in debt. It’s a real rockin’ deal” for the right buyer.

Will Rodrigues be the ‘right buyer?’
For his part, Rodrigues intends to be that buyer. He said that he and an undisclosed investor would attend the auction, hoping to place the winning bid. Stutz also vowed to be there.

“I am a bidder, and I intend to buy it again. Sure, she’s trying to promote a high sales amount,” he said. “If someone’s going to outbid me, I hope it’s super high. I’ll just go and do it somewhere else.”

“My hope is whoever wants to buy it is interested in the winery lifestyle,” Stutz said. It’s also an ideal equestrian property, with miles of isolated trails.

An interior architect by trade, designing and furnishing commercial spaces, Stutz said she sold her home in pricey Mill Valley, Marin County, to help finance the ranch and winery. Since the break-up, she’s moved to Sonoma. “I love the wine business, but I’ve had to go out and make a living. It’s the first time in 20 years that I’ve worked for someone else, but I needed some stability,” she lamented.

Situated off State Highway 128 between Yorkville and Boonville in the Yorkville Highlands Appellation, Maple Creek is a turnkey operation, according to Stutz. The majority of its 2,500-case annual production (1,200 cases in 2012, according to Rodrigues) is sold direct-to-consumer via its tasting room and a wine club that numbers some 600-700 members.

Although vineyard water can be a contentious issue in Mendocino County, it’s not a problem on this property: Maple Creek flows year-round and there are also abundant springs.

Rodrigues believes that Stutz’ bid offering is exaggerated to inflate the price. He said that the minimum bid is close to the market value, and that Stutz has overstated some of the assets. Most of the 9-acre vineyards are planted on St. George and phylloxera-prone AxR rootstock. “My goal is to replant,” he said.

Only 6 more acres can be used for vineyards, he said. The 80-acres claimed in the bid offering as “plantable” are relatively flat but, Rodrigues said, most are occupied by old-growth Douglas fir, which cannot be replaced. He recalled losing all but a ton of his 2011 harvest to voracious wild hogs that devoured 14 or 15 tons of Merlot.

Included in the sale, which has not yet been well publicized, is the Maple Creek inventory: Stutz and Rodrigues don’t agree on that, either. Stuz claimed “maybe 1,500 cases and bulk wine amounting to 7,000-8,000 cases.” Rodrigues said he’s sold more than 34 barrels of wine; some of the remaining bulk wine is as old as 2007, and there’s only about 1,000 cases of bottled wine.

Eager to encourage bidders, Stutz is available for questions or tours of the property. Download more details here or call (707) 338-7512 or email linda@maplecreekwine.com.

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