Debt lands Whitman Cellars in court

The winery, which is for sale, is being sued for about $2.7 million by Community Bank.


WALLA WALLA -- Community Bank is claiming Whitman Cellars has defaulted on three loans and owes the financial institution a total of more than $2.6 million.

A civil lawsuit against the winery at 1015 W. Pine St. was filed by the bank Monday in Superior Court. Individual defendants include John R. Edwards, listed as a member and resident agent, in addition to members Larry and Sally Thomason and Stephen Lessard.

In connection with the suit, Judge Donald W. Schacht granted the bank's request for a "writ of attachment," which orders the county sheriff to seize property at the winery to secure and preserve it to help satisfy any final judgment in the case. The property reportedly includes an estimated $1 million of bottled wine inventory, according to a court document.

The property that was ordered seized reportedly is collateral pledged as security for the loans.

Co-owner Larry Thomason said this morning he hasn't yet received any notice about the suit. He acknowledged the debt owed to Community Bank, but said he has not been issued any information and knows nothing of a possible seizure.

"It's completely news to me," Thomason said.

He said the winery has been for sale for about five years, but has garnered some new attention through social networking over the last day or so because of a change in brokers. According to the listing at Coldwell Banker First Realtors, the 9,440-square foot winery, constructed in 2001, has an asking price of about $3 million. The building sits on 1 acre and includes a Tuscan-designed tasting room, offices, kitchen, barrel room, production area and crush pad.

Undersheriff Edward Freyer explained this week that within the next week or so, deputies will serve paperwork on the defendants and post an order on the property. "We're just seizing or freezing the property, if you will, so it doesn't change hands or (get) used as an asset in some other financial deal," Freyer said.

The bank's complaint claims that Whitman Cellars entered into three separate commercial loans with the bank between April 2003 and September 2008. The total principal of the loans reportedly amounted to about $2.94 million. "Defendant Whitman Cellars, LLC has defaulted in the repayment of the above-described loans by failing to pay the outstanding balance when due," according to the complaint.

As of Monday, a total of about $2.67 million in principal, interest and other charges remained unpaid, the document says.

The winery was started in 1998 by Edwards and the Thomasons, according to its website. Lessard joined as head winemaker and fellow member in 2002.

Terry McConn can be reached at or 526-8319. Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at or 526-8321.


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