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Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office files civil case against vintner Hugh Reimers for environmental damage

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch has sued vintner Hugh Reimers and his business over environmental damage her office says was caused by improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard in late 2017.

The prosecutor cited two specific causes of action in the case that was first filed in July by Deputy District Attorney Caroline Fowler against Reimers and his business, Krasilsa Pacific Farms: water pollution and stream bed alteration; and unfair business competition.

The civil complaint was the result of an investigation that was led by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board and the Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. The water board found in 2019 that Krasilsa Pacific violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The board concluded that the work on a section of the farm’s more than 2,000-acre property was done without applying or obtaining the necessary permits required by the county to operate a vineyard.

The water board is in settlement negotiations with Reimers and Krasilsa over a cleanup and abatement order it issued over specific water code violations, said spokesman Josh Curtis.

“If we cannot come to mutually acceptable terms, the regional water board will consider all its enforcement tools as options in resolving this matter to the benefit of our community and the people of California,” Curtis said in an email.

The District Attorney’s Office has focused on other alleged violations in the case, primarily regarding the state Fish and Wildlife code, Fowler said in an email. Each violation of the code can result in a fine up to $25,000, but Fowler added that prosecutors have not yet determined a maximum penalty.

The next hearing is a Jan. 25 case management conference, according to court records.

The attorney for Krasilsa Pacific said it is working toward a settlement to avoid a trial. “We have been working closely with the DA’s office to try and get all these issues resolved,” said Jane Gaskell, the attorney for business. The managing member of Krasilsa, Reimers is represented individually by local attorney Jack Weaver, who did not respond to a request for comment. Weaver filed a response last week for Reimers that denied the allegations on the two causes of action.

In response, Fowler said she could not comment on any settlement discussion, but added “we are open to those discussions and the defense has expressed interest in attempting to reach a resolution.”

Reimers has been known locally as a hard-charging Australian wine executive who worked his way up the corporate ladder at Jackson Family Wines to become president of the Santa Rosa wine company in 2015 after previously serving as chief winemaker at Constellation Brands Inc. Bill Foley hired him at Foley Family Wines in September 2017 and promoted him to president in January 2018. Reimers then left Foley in July 2019. Reimers told The Press Democrat at the time that “Bill wanted to make a change.”

Reimers was most recently in the news over a Lake County court case where he is trying to persuade a judge to release tens of thousands of gallons of 2020 wine being held by a winery over allegations involving smoke taint. In April, Krasilsa Pacific sold a vineyard parcel on Crane Canyon Road in Santa Rosa for $4.7 million to Flat Iron Farms, according to a filing at the Sonoma County Assessor’s Office.

Reimers and his ex-wife, Ashley, had a joint 30% stake in Krasilsa as of January 2018, according to a filing in the couple’s divorce case. The company is part of a partnership he formed with other investors in 2013.

The civil case also names “Does 1 through 10” as defendants who are unknown to the District Attorney’s Office but it believes were acting as employees and/or representatives of Krasilsa. Prosecutors alleged that Krasilsa Pacific and Reimers graded roads, installed culverts, removed trees and other debris that ended up in waterways and engaged in “deep ripping of the soil” to plant vineyards, all without approval from proper regulatory agencies.

The actions impacted streams that fed into Little Sulphur Creek, Big Sulphur Creek and Crocker Creek, which are all located in northern Sonoma County, the suit reads.

The civil complaint noted that in regard to the property east of Cloverdale, located on the 29000 block of River Road, that workers engaged in the “unpermitted deep ripping of hillsides” that included steep slopes on about 200 acres and that 50 acres of trees and vegetation were removed for specifically vineyard development. It also noted that “unpermitted deep ripping” occurred at another property located on the 4200 block of Adobe Road east of Petaluma.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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