Sonoma County wine executive's vineyard business firm accused of water quality violations

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Prominent Sonoma County wine executive Hugh Reimers, who last month abruptly left as president of Foley Family Wines, faces allegations that his grape growing company has violated regional, state and federal water quality laws for improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Board accused his Santa Rosa vineyard management company, Krasilsa Pacific Farms, of violations of the water board’s local water rules, the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The water quality board concluded the work on a section of Krasilsa Pacific’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 board filed a notice of its violations on June 6 to Reimers, as manager of Krasilsa, listing 28 different locations on the property three miles east of Cloverdale where infractions were found by investigators with the board and Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. Many of those spots had multiple violations within the cleared land: a steep, grassy ridge featuring oak woodland between the Russian River and Big Sulfur Creek.

The water quality agency’s findings have not been linked to Reimers’ sudden resignation from Foley’s Santa Rosa wine company he joined in 2017 and he led as president since January 2018.

The water agency is in the process of determining what sanctions to levy against Krasilsa, said Josh Curtis, assistant executive for the agency. The penalties could range from a cleanup of the property in an attempt to return it as close as possible to its condition before Krasilsa’s work started in late 2017 or early 2018, to the assessment of fines.

Investigators with the water board and county ag department have forwarded their report and underlying findings regarding the Krasilsa land to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The case is under review by the district attorney’s environmental and consumer law division, office spokeswoman Joan Croft said.

The most significant allegations included in the inspection report prepared in February are: the removal of 40 acres of trees, including those within 500 feet of a natural water channel; the placement of branches, tree tops and organic debris in at least eight natural channels; the improper dredging and filling of at least 2,450 feet of a water channel and the dredging of at least 10,000 square feet of wetland.

Reimers, 47, a vintner from Australia who had been president of rival Jackson Family Wines of Santa Rosa until leaving to join Foley’s company, said in an interview Monday, since he has not received a copy of the inspection report prepared by the North Coast water board and county ag department in February or the notice of violation the board issued in June, he could not address the specific allegations against his grape vineyard enterprise.

However, he pledged to comply with the water board. “We’re absolutely more than willing to work with the water board to rectify any issue out there and correct the situation,” he said in an interview.

He contended the work in question Krasilsa performed on a portion of its land was “agricultural cultivation” of the soil.

“Everything we did was under agricultural cultivation,” Reimers said, in a reference to the 2,278-acre property near Cloverdale that his company bought in September 2017. “We are not building anything out there.”

The water quality allegations and his unexplained exit from Foley Family Wines represent a dramatic turn for Reimers, who a few years ago was on the fast track at Jackson. In October 2015, he was promoted from chief operating officer to Jackson’s president, overseeing global sales and marketing in addition to all production activities.

He earned as much as $450,000 annually plus benefits at Jackson, according to a court filing in his divorce case settled in January 2018. When he went to work for rival Foley in September 2017, Reimers took a sharp pay cut and was earning a $150,000 salary, according to court documents in his divorce from Ashley Reimers.

Managing Krasilsa is now his main job, Reimers said in the interview, overseeing 240 acres of vineyards in the region as part of a partnership formed in 2013. He did not name any other investors, though he and his ex-wife had a joint 30% stake in Krasilsa as of January 2018, according to a filing in the couple’s divorce case. They each retained their share of that stake as part of the divorce settlement.

Asked if his departure from Foley Family Wines was tied to the water board’s accusations against Krasilsa, Reimers said, “Bill (Foley, the company founder) wanted to make a change, so he did. I just suppose I have to accept it.”

Meanwhile, the water board and ag department’s report of its investigation of Krasilsa noted some discrepancies in Hugh Reimers’ statements to investigators who conducted an on-site assessment of the Cloverdale land with him on Jan. 14. For example, Reimers initially told a county ag department employee that the work done to the land was for grazing sheep and horses, not vineyards.

Yet on Dec. 28, 2018 Reimers told one official from the regional water board and another from the county ag department that “he intended to plant vineyards on the property, and that he directed and took responsibility for all work performed on the site,” the report said.

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