December 31, 2009
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Suit Settled Out of Court

By Nicole Montesano

An out-of-court settlement has been reached in a precedent-setting wine industry lawsuit brought by a well-known local winery against a prominent local winemaker.

Although the federal case has not yet been formally closed, the case file now includes notice of a pending dismissal. Because of that, a hearing on the docket for Dec. 2 was canceled.

Winemaker Tony Rynders notified the News-Register in McMinnville by e-mail that he and his former employers, Ken and Grace Evenstad of Domaine Serene, had reached a private settlement.

Rynders wrote, “While I am not at liberty to discuss the details, I can state:

a) That the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties...

b) That the parties have agreed to disagree on whether Domaine has (or does not have) any confidential, proprietary or trade secret information with respect to the white Pinot Noir wine it makes, but may make no further disclosure, comment or statement.

c) And that Tony Rynders has agreed not to make or consult on the making of white Pinot Noir wine for three years.

He said, “I am pleased to have this behind me and finally be able to focus on the present and the future, rather than the past.” He did not return a call seeking further comment.

The Evenstads sued Rynders in August 2008, seeking more than $75,000 in damages. They sought to have Rynders prohibited from using the winery’s winemaking process or disclosing it to anyone.

Rynders responded by arguing the process had been in use by multiple parties for many years and details were readily available on the Internet.

For 10 years, Rynders worked as the Evenstads’ winemaker. However, last year, he began planning to leave to establish his own winery. He says this longstanding dream had been shared with the Evenstads from the outset of their relationship.

He proposed that as an interim step, he serve as independent contract winemaker until a permanent replacement could be brought in. He said he would be willing to stay on as a consultant “as long as needed” to smooth the transition.

They responded by firing him and filing suit for damages. In the suit, they alleged he had been dishonest with them, violated company policy, used Domaine Serene equipment in his own venture, provided proprietary information to a competitor, delayed news of his departure to their detriment and threatened to resign immediately if he didn’t get a dramatic pay raise.

Rynders denied all the allegations. He countered by accusing the Evenstads of acting out of spite, saying they were angry over his plans to venture out on his own. 

Nicole Motesano is a reporter for the News-Register.