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Rather than end painful time, Viansa sale was start of Sebastiani?s troubles


When Sam and Vicki Sebastiani sold Viansa, the Italian-style winery they built on a knoll at the southern end of the Sonoma Valley, they?d hoped to put a painful chapter in their lives behind them.

It was the summer of 2005, and they were in the process of getting a divorce. The plan to turn the winery over to their children had been torn apart by sibling rivalries.

And the winery was becoming a financial drain.

So when a relatively unknown company called 360 Global offered $31 million for the winery, they took it, hoping to move on with their lives.

It hasn?t happened.

Sam Sebastiani, who is now remarried and lives part time in Nebraska, said recently that the financial failings of the pennystock company that purchased his winery have caused him endless heartache.

Time after time, when the company failed to pay its bills, he was in the line of fire of angry creditors.

The largest is GE Capital, which claims it is owed $1.6 million for leases on winery equipment that 360 Global failed to pay.

GE Capital, one of the largest financial services companies in the world, refused at the time of the sale to transfer the liability for the leases from the Sebastianis to 360 Global.

Under a compromise, 360 Global agreed to pay the leases and the Sebastianis remained the guarantors of the leases.

While he would have preferred to sell the winery free and clear, Sebastiani said he never imagined a group of people could screw up a winery so quickly.

?Whoever heard of doing what these clowns did and stop paying on just about everything?? Sebastiani said.

When 360 Global stopped paying the leases, GE sued the Sebastianis, claiming to be owed $1.6 million.

The suit remains a sticking point, and is one of the many issues that need to be resolved before the winery can be sold to the highest bidder, as is expected Thursday.

But that?s just one of many examples.

A similar situation surfaced with Cucina Viansa, the deli in downtown Sonoma run by the winery. 360 Global shut it down and stopped paying the lease, which Sebastiani had also guaranteed.

When the company stopped paying taxes on wine shipped into other states, those states came after the person whose name was on the licenses ? Sam Sebastiani.

Same for a company credit card that 360 Global executives used to pay for $14,000 in expenses but then stopped making payments on.

A joint grape venture between Sebastiani and one of his neighbors came to a similar result when 360 Global stopped paying for its grapes, causing the neighbor to sue Sebastiani.

All told, Sebastiani estimates that he and Vicki have incurred more than $300,000 in legal bills alone since selling the winery, and paid more than $300,000 to resolve debts.

All the while, even as 360 Global was laying off longtime employees and making what Sebastiani considered to be poor business decisions, the company kept trying to stay on good terms with him for the marketing value he could offer.

Not that long ago they even tried to give Sebastiani a ?lifetime? achievement award, which he turned down.

?A lifetime achievement award in the rear end is what they gave me,? he said.