Village Wines closes, owner accused of defrauding high-end clients

Number of judgments already on books; group of ex-customers looking to reopen store

Village Wines, the noted Hillsboro Village wine shop, has closed under a cloud of debts, default judgments and allegations of fraud.

The store was opened in 1999 by Hoyt Hill, who previously managed the wine programs at F. Scott's and Wild Boar, and had a significant number of high-end clients. One of Hill's specialties was so-called "100 point" wines, mainly French and German varietals rated among the world's best. But at some point in the last two years, Hill began taking money without providing anything in return.

According to court documents, Hill would approach existing clients about partnering with him to import expensive wines, claiming that the wines had already been sold. They were required to provide the up-front capital. This was one offer:

"2009 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage, rated 100 points by Parker. We buy 10 cases for $16,675 each. When it arrives on 9/31, we sell it for $40,000, netting $3,325 each! Zero risk because the wine is sold. Just need a partner to make the purchase. And I will pay a $100 per day penalty for late payment."

The pitch was not uncommon, but neither was the failure to produce the wine. Hill has judgments issued against him totaling at least $200,000 and claims for more, but the actual amount owed to several dozen former clients may be significantly higher. Two different sources described the amount as being in excess of $1 million.

When contacted, Hill referred the Post to his lawyer.

News hit wine enthusiast message boards two weeks ago. For many lovers of rare vintages, the offer to do a deal with someone like Hill — who enjoyed a good reputation from his long tenure in Nashville's food and beverage scene — was an exercise in good economics as much as good wine.

A post on the Wine Berserkers site explained: "The deal with Hoyt was that you had to pay when he got the offer, not when the wine came in. He didn't have the capital to put out to pay all the different suppliers, sometimes many months in advance. So you might wait a month or you might wait 6 months, but wine got delivered. I have a bunch of Leroy and Dujac and DRC and Rousseau and Coche Dury in my cellar, all from Hoyt. [...]

"As Mike said, this is a constant tradeoff when searching for the 'rare birds'. Do you pay more today from someone who has the wine in stock (and had the capital to pay the suppliers up front)? Or do you look for someone with less capital, help them pay their suppliers, and then get a much better deal on the wine when it arrives? The difference can be as much as 25-50%."

A group of former customers formed Coat Door LLC and has purchased Village Wine's non-alcohol assets and plans to renovate and reopen the store under a different name before Thanksgiving.