Jeff Hill Arrested for Allegedly Mislabeling Bottles as Pricey Premium Napa Valley Wine
November 03, 2016
A federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted a former Napa Valley vintner for allegedly mislabeling bottles as pricey premium Napa Valley wines, according to federal prosecutors.
Jeff Hill, 38, the former owner of Hill Wine Co. near St. Helena, allegedly mislabeled fruit, pre-fermented juice, as well as bulk and bottled wines, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.
He allegedly overcharged customers by misrepresenting the AVA of the wine. Customers ended up paying $1.5 million for mislabeled fruit, grape juice and wine products, federal officials alleged. Hill Wine Co. filed for bankruptcy in 2014.
Hill was arrested Wednesday in Clovis near Fresno, Calif.; he appeared in federal court in the Eastern District of California in Fresno before he was released from custody, according to federal prosecutors. Hill is due back in court in San Francisco at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 16.
The former vintner created or altered bills and other records to hide his alleged scheme, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.
Hill is suspected of falsely telling his winery employees that grapes grown outside Napa County were from the Napa Valley, federal officials alleged. He also allegedly moved grapes among three facilities to obscure the true origin of the fruit grown outside Napa County, according to federal prosecutors. In addition, Hill instructed growers outside the Napa Valley never to tell anyone he was buying fruit from them, federal officials alleged.
He has been charged in the indictment with four counts of federal mail and wire fraud, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office. He faces up to 20 years in prison for each count.
Hill also worked as a vineyard manager. In March 2014, Hill was charged in Napa with two counts of felony grand theft for stealing grapes from a Napa Valley client a few months earlier. Authorities said Hill diverted grapes from Del Dotto Vineyards to his winery during nighttime harvest in October 2013.
In July 2015, Hill pleaded no contest to one felony count of grand theft. Vintner Dave Del Dotto estimated he lost more than $800,000 worth of wine, according to a letter Del Dotto wrote before Hill’s sentencing hearing.
In August 2015, a Napa County Superior Court judge denied Hill’s request to be sentenced to community service and imposed a one-year jail term, according to court filings. Napa County Superior Court Judge Michael S. Williams also ordered Hill to repay Del Dotto nearly $813,000 with 10 percent annual interest, according to court records.
It is unclear when Hill was booked and released from the Napa County Department of Corrections.
A few weeks before Hill filed for bankruptcy in May 2014, two federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau agents met with Hill and others at the winery on the Silverado Trail, according to a letter filed during Hill Wine’s bankruptcy proceedings.
The two TTB agents, who came with manila folders 15 inches thick, demanded that Hill surrender his permits and that he and his wife transfer ownership of the winery to a third party.
According to the summary of the meeting, the TTB agents made a series of allegations against Hill, including that Hill did not pay winery taxes and sold Lake County wine as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Sonoma Coast wine as Napa Valley Chardonnay. A witness testified Hill allegedly shipped 125 tons of Merlot and 40 tons of Syrah from Solano County to wineries in Lodi after instructing the trucking company to change the weight tags to show the grapes were Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley, according to the letter.