Saturday, March 23, 2024

"Mystery among the vines: Why is the FBI probing some of Napa Valley's fanciest wineries?"

From the Los Angeles Times via MSN, March 20:

Highway 29 winds along the floor of the Napa Valley through Yountville and St. Helena and up into Calistoga, passing by vineyards that produce some of the most celebrated and expensive wines in the world.

The road, lined with rows of grapevines planted along sun-dappled hills, is justly famous for its stunning beauty — and the stunning number of Michelin-rated restaurants, spas and boutique inns that have popped up among the vineyards.

And lately, for locals anyway, it is also the source of a pressing mystery: Why have so many of the fancy wineries along this road — and their rich and powerful owners — been named in federal subpoenas that were served late last year on Napa County?

“Please provide any and all documents relating to the following individuals, entities, and/or projects,” one subpoena says, before unspooling a roster that reads more like a high-end tourist brochure than what is normally found in a court docket.

Among the glittering names whose county records are being sought are Hall Wines, known for its bold cabernets and luxe St. Helena winery with a towering statue of a silver rabbit. Kathryn Hall, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria, is also named, as is her husband, Craig Hall, a former part-owner of the Dallas Cowboys whose art collection is so revered that portions went on loan to the Jeu de Paume arts center in Paris.

Caymus Vineyards, whose cabernet is a frequent favorite of Wine Spectator, and owner Charles J. “Chuck” Wagner are listed in the records request, as are Wagner's son, Charlie Wagner, and his vineyard, Mer Soleil.

The inventory of luminaries rolls on: Robin Baggett, a former general counsel for the Golden State Warriors, and his Alpha Omega Winery. Dave Phinney, whose “Prisoner” label changed the industry. Grant Long Jr. and his wineries Aonair and Reverie II. Jayson Woodbridge and Hundred Acre. Darioush Khaledi and his namesake winery. And on it goes — 40 people and businesses in total, including Napa's exclusive Meritage Resort and Spa.

The subpoena seeking records on the wineries and their owners, dated Dec. 14, 2023, is filed under the name of Patrick Robbins, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. It also references an FBI agent, Katherine Ferrato, who has experience working on complex financial crimes....