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Two new companies win Crushpad assets for $654,866


The assets of custom-crush Sonoma winery Crushpad have been sold, but hundreds of clients still are seeking details about the fate of more than 900 barrels of wine stored at a Sebastiani warehouse.

The assets were sold for $654,866 to Structural Solutions Inc. and Aspect 2 LLC, new companies created by Tiburon-based CastleGate Partners.

The winning, and sole, bid was placed by Aaron Hayos, principal of CastleGate. The sale figure is equal to the amount of Crushpad's debt that CastleGate Partners had acquired when it assumed the company's debt to Silicon Valley Bank.

A half-dozen attorneys representing clients of Crushpad and grape growers who haven't been paid attended the public auction at a San Francisco law firm Tuesday morning, asking which barrels of wine are subject to liens and who owns the title to which assets.

Many clients have been asking how they could obtain their finished products after details about Crushpad's financial problems leaked out.

"No one seems to be really clear on who has title to what, and my question is, how did we go through a sale without knowing that?" one client representative asked.

Bidders interested in acquiring the assets, including Robert Mondavi Jr., had difficulty getting any information about the sale.

There were liens on substantially all Crushpad's assets, said Bennett Young, attorney from Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, the San Francisco law firm that conducted the sale. The nearly $655,000 represented only part of Crushpad's debt, but the company also owed vendors, grape growers, utilities and others, Young said after the meeting. He did not know the dollar amount of total outstanding debt.

After the sale, the buyers met privately with Crushpad clients and grape growers but did not answer calls or questions from the media.

"Our number one priority at this moment is communicating to our customers and to the members of Aspect," Hayos said in an email.

Carl Briggs, a Santa Rosa attorney, said he met with the new buyers to represent Kent Gray, a San Francisco client of Crushpad. Over the past five years, Gray paid more than $31,000 for three barrels of wine that have not yet been bottled, and at least one barrel that was to be produced in the 2012 vintage.

"They're saying all the cash is gone, and it's a little disturbing," Briggs said "They're saying they have the cash accounts, but they're empty. Where did the cash go?"

Crushpad had borrowed money against all its assets, including the wine, but the clients didn't know about it, Briggs said.

"Perhaps a notice went out, but my clients didn't receive it," Briggs said.

Hahn Family Wines is owed about $40,000 for grapes sold to Crushpad in 2010, said Thomas Duhameau, chief financial officer for the Monterey County winery.

"Payments have been trickling in, but not much," Duhameau said. "We're trying to recover as much as we can. It's very sad for all of the individual customers. From the winemaker's perspective, you have a lot invested personally in the wine. It's not just financial, it's personal."

Personal relationships are what drew client Doug Stoveland of San Francisco to Crushpad with a group of friends from around the country who all chipped in to make a few barrels of wine together.

"We used this as a way to make sure we got together and kept in touch," Stoveland said.

Stoveland attended the auction Tuesday and met with the new owners. He said they mentioned a fee that would be charged to finish his wine, but they did not state an exact dollar amount.

"It's nice that their stated goal is to work with clients," Stoveland said.

Suzanne Truchard, a lawyer representing two grape growers from Napa, said it was frustrating for the grape growers who hadn't been paid for the past year.

"They'd been given the run-around," Truchard said. "Every time they'd call Crushpad, there would be no response. But hopefully the new owners are willing to work with them."

You can reach Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz at 521-5276 or cathy.bussewitz@pressdemocrat.com.