Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Attention readers: Charles Smith may be suing you

Last week I received notice from Google that K Vintners and its winemaker Charles Smith are suing some people who commented anonymously on my site.

I am not named as a party in the lawsuit. But if you are one of my readers, you might be.

This post is a courtesy to you. Google received a subpoena demanding that it provide the Internet protocol addresses of the people who made the comments.

Google Legal Support wrote to me, "To comply with the law, unless you provide us with a copy of a filed motion to quash the subpoena (or other formal objection filed in court) via email at no later than 5pm Pacific Time on October 11, 2010, Google may provide responsive documents on this date."

I cannot provide legal advice. If you are one of the commenters in question, you may want to consult an attorney.

For obvious reasons I am restraining myself at this time from comment on this case -- which isn't easy, because it's interesting. I will say that because of the way Blogger works, I do not know the identity of the commenters, and because of this I do not want to.

The lawsuit is public record, so I am posting the other four pages below; sorry, that's as big as I can figure out how to make them. Here is the original post and the comments in question. Because of the lawsuit comments on that post will no longer be published. Comment on this post at your own risk.


  1. Very interesting turn of events that will make for some emotional debate over the next few days! Looks like there are lessons to be learned on both sides. Glad I didn't comment on that one! (Though I never comment anonymously. If I don't have something decent to say, I don't say it.)

  2. I get the feeling the plaintiff has an idea who "anonymous" is given the focus of the suit on certain comments. Regardless, the anon postings were just not acceptable. One can't hide behind anonymity if he's going to make accusations like that. Smith may or may not be rough around the edges, but one has to at least take ownership of the criticisms.

    Note than Dan Posner's comment is one of the more damning ones in the original post. But he took ownership and the incident described is publicly known. He is not named in the suit.

  3. Blake Gray is not, and never has been a writer. His wife writes everything.

  4. All of his tasting notes are written by Dan Posner.

  5. Never mind, I hereby retract the previous two statements. Blake is an excellent, original writer and I have seen him take notes while tasting wine.

  6. Just as I was gathering new material for media training winemakers and execs, this gift comes along...both in what not to do with ink-stained wretches around, and how not to handle criticism when they share what they've experienced. You've never been one to pull your punches, and I hope this doesn't cause you to soften future blows when they're worth delivering. Nothing you wrote was out of line based on your experience, and it appears to me that you went above and beyond to direct commentary toward more civil discourse. I think counsel for CS failed to mention that this approach will only bring renewed attention to the comments he finds libelous, as this is tweeted and posted and reported on again and again.

  7. Gee, and one might think that K responding in the comments would have been enough.

    But then, I suppose giving more money to lawyers is one way of stimulating further economic recovery.

    Does this mean that wine blogs have "arrived?" Be carefl what we wish for, I suppose!

  8. Wow. I'm totally nonplussed. Welcome to the wild world of the Internet Charles. Your suit will be dismissed under lots of previous precedent, and you will come off looking very bad.

  9. As a general newcomer to the details of this fascinating world of wine (currently a home brewer living in Chile trying to figure out if there's anyway to make money in this art/science), i just wanted to say thanks Blake, thank you for showing and discussing the real side to poetry.

  10. A lawyer friend of mine (who also owns a winery) Facebooked me: "Here in CA we have AntiSLAPP which would protect the bloggers and posters."

  11. More tax dollars wasted, I suppose. Having once worked in the legal world and having a brother and wife who currently practice law, I would estimate that that 4 page complaint cost about $1000 to file. Not much there for anyone to read. Looks more like a "threat" to the anonymous posters.

    Personally, I am not a fan of anonymous posting. Even on this blog entry, someone mentioned my name, anonymously.

    Just speak the truth. And speak, using your name.

  12. Well, the suit may not win but it IS credible. There is clearly damage caused too. Given the broad definition of 'winemaker' it's pretty clear that the statements were false. Clearly they were malicious.

    I am not a fan of lawsuits but in this case, I sort of like the fact that the gutless and (initially) faceless attackers will be made to squirm a bit.

  13. Ridiculous waste of time and money. The 2007s will be the last wines I purchase from CS.

  14. Didn't Korbel wine a similar case (if not at least the injunction to get commenter's IPs) some time ago?

  15. that should be:

    "Didn't Korbel win a similar..."

  16. Korbel won against a former employee, correct? It was not anonymous posters. In addition, how many people read this blog? No offense to Mr. Gray, but probably not many Charles Smith clients. Unfortunately for Smith, many will catch wind of the lawsuit, and many will gravitate to the Blowjob comment now, and many will not buy his wines.

    What happens when a women's organization reads those comments? "You could f*** up a B***job!"

    He ain't gonna make many more fans.

    I think he got some bad advice.

  17. Great blog.. and very interesting post.

    If I'm correct, this is the guy that makes Motor City Kitty Syrah?

    One of our local pdx wine merchants turned me on to this and I love it...

    After reading all the blog posts associated with Charles Smith, I have to agree that some of those comments sound actionable... but then again, I'm an IT Mgr, and not a lawyer.

    I have to say that this guy sounds very interesting, and if he's just a "snake oil salesman" it worked, because I'm going to go look for some of his other wines and give them a try.

    He sounds like the kind of guy I'd like to spend a night barhopping with.


  18. Charles Smith is suing for libel,
    but apparently he has not read the bible. Turn the other cheek Chuck, I mean who gives a fu(k. No reason at all to go tribal.

    Pearls before swine, it was all pretty benign - To err is human, to forgive divine; all over a post that he did not make the wine.

  19. I read this story to my wife, who travels to WW several times a year for "girl weekends" .. her and her friends now want to meet CS and try some of his wines.. apparently, Gray's article on him was very good and entertained them.

    The specifically loved the BJ comment and as they're all prolific wine buyers, I can see how this couldn't help him... 4 or 5 more wine buyers lining up for his stuff.

    From a consumer's perspective.. there are so many wineries out there making good to great wine, that most of us are looking for a connection to the winery.. or at least an interesting story.

    CS has definitely accomplished that, and I'll be toasting him this weekend with a bottle of his syrah.


  20. A very interesting can of worms has been opened here. Is there really a legal definition of 'winemaker'? My gut feeling is that there is not, but simply an implied understanding of the title. The real issue here is how and where a wine is labeled according to the federal laws as administered by the TTB. 'Produced and Bottled By...', 'Cellared and Bottled By...' and 'Bottled By...' are sometimes thrown around quite loosely. I suspect that this lawsuit may be opening up a whole new discussion as to how wines are labeled, and not simply a rather nebulous (at times) title associated (sometimes) with a name.

  21. Believe me, TTB is very much on top of the Produced and Bottled by statements when approving labels. Granted, staffing limitations would prevent them from catching all that bottle in a way that deviates from what is on the label.

  22. The AntiSLAP comment is right on the money. If you are limited purpose public figure (which Smith probably is) you have to meet a very high bar to bring charges of libel. One of them is questioning a lady's virtue.

    Maybe he could argue that.

  23. If there were any doubt that CS is a complete jerk (or stronger word), here's your confirmation. Unlike fellow poster Todd and his wife and friends, I am very disinclined to seek out his wines. What's the point? There are likely far better wineries out there made by people that I like and respect.

    Some would argue, by the way, that there are no winemakers other than the yeast that converts the sugars to alcohol.

  24. As a winemaker you have to have pretty thick skin. I absolutely don't understand why anyone would respond to comments that hurt your feelings. Buck up!

  25. I hear Lindsay Lohan is suing everyone who has claimed she can't act. I hear Barack Obama is suing everyone who claims he doesn't govern.

  26. From a publicity standpoint, winning this suit would be the worst thing that could happen to Charles Smith and K Vintners. His side of the story has been heard. He has nothing to gain but negative attention by going through this process.

  27. In order to have a valid claim for defamation, you need a false statement of fact, which causes damage to the plaintiff. I have handled many defamation cases, and I simply don't see any statement in this suit rises to that level.

    The only thing that this suit has accomplished is a) it has convinced me that I will never buy one of this guy's wines, and b) I will never have any respect for the attorneys who signed it.

    The potential defendants can, and should, get in touch with a competent and ethical attorney who will stick up for them. I know a lot of attorneys in Washington who fit that bill, who would handle a motion to quash, and who might even do it for free.