French wine group Vignerons de la Mediterranee has filed a lawsuit against its ex-US importer, a subsidiary of Domaines Barons de Rothschild, claiming US$600,000 for breach of contract.

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The Narbonne-based company, which is part of the Val d’Orbieu group, alleged that importer Pasternak Wine has conspired to limit sales of Pays d’Oc wines in the US.

Pasternak also imports Domaines Barons de Rothschild (DBR) wines in the US and has been solely owned by DBR since 2013. DBR, which owns Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, was named as co-defendent in the lawsuit.

Vignerons de la Mediterranee also accused Pasternak of selling on the distribution rights on its wines to DBR without its written consent. It claimed that its own products were then put at a disadvantage. Both DBR and Pasternak are understood to deny wrongdoing.

In a complaint dated January 5 2015, Vignerons de la Mediterranee asked the state of New Jersey Supreme Court to award damages of US$613,749.60 plus interest and counsel fees.

Christophe Salin, chairman of DBR and of Pasternak, said Val D’Orbieu terminated its contract with Pasternak in the second half of 2014. He said the new distributor for the Languedoc group was an ex-employee of Pasternak. ‘We have been running Pasternak as majority shareholders for 10 years, only the structure changed in 2013 to move from 70% to 100%,’ he added.

A spokesperson at Pasternak gave no comment ‘at this time’, while requests to Vignerons de la Mediterranee have so far not been answered.

Lindsey A Zahn, a New York based lawyer who is focused on the food and drink field, told Decanter.com, ‘At its heart this is a question of breach of contract and conflict of interest. The complaint was served on January 5, so Pasternak now has up to 30 days to respond.’

Written by Jane Anson