Biz Buzz: Liquidation process starts for principals of lending firm

For those who closely followed the Estate Financial criminal proceedings, the scene looked familiar Tuesday in the Grover Beach division of San Luis Obispo Superior Court: the little courthouse’s cinderblock walls, the wood paneling, the creaky seats and Judge Jac Crawford on the bench.

Deputy District Attorney Steve von Dohlen was arguing on behalf of the money lender’s victims, and Estate Financial attorneys on behalf of defendants Karen Guth and Joshua Yaguda, as friends and family of Guth and Yaguda listened, shaking their heads at what was said.

The difference was that Guth and Yaguda were sentenced and sent to prison Dec. 5 for defrauding investors in the $350 million money-lending case.

Only about five investors and one borrower were in the audience Tuesday. The rest of those assembled were lawyers, and there were lots of them. At least seven were in the courtroom and six conferenced long-distance on the phone.

The purpose of the hearing was to consider claims of various parties to specific properties, Crawford said.

Creditors claiming personal assets of Guth and Yaguda included Estate Financial trustees on behalf of all of the investors; Estate Financial investors who got judgments or settlements against Guth less than a year before she was arrested (and therefore may have gained an allegedly unfair advantage over the other investors); a developer/builder who has filed a $64 million claim against Guth; at least five banks holding trust deeds for real estate in North County or other personal property of Guth and Yaguda, and Deborah Applebaum, wife of Guth’s third husband, Charlie Applebaum.

After hearing all sides, Crawford allowed one bank to repossess Guth’s 2004 Jaguar. The rest of the matter was continued for another hearing on April 8.

— Melanie Cleveland

Wine lounge opens in Paso Robles

A new business called Meritage Wine Lounge is betting on Paso Robles as a draw for tourists who love wine. The idea is to create a place for wineries to showcase their wine in a comfortable but contemporary setting, said Stacy Mullins, who owns the firm with her husband, Ron Mullins, and Bill Ridino.

“Our business model is in a way like a barber shop,” Mullins said. “The wineries lease space, the glasses, the linens, from us and they provide the servers. … They join in as a kind of co-op and share the expense.”

The space is about 4,000 square feet, which once housed the Classic American Theatre group.

Currently, eight Central Coast wineries, including Roxo Port Cellars, SummerWood, TKL Wines, Hope Family Wines and Brochelle Vineyards, are selling wine by the taste, glass or bottle. Four more are coming soon when they get their licensing, and Piazza Bistro, based in Templeton, is the lounge’s in-house caterer providing appetizers and desserts.

Construction of the tasting lounge cost about $500,000, Mullins said.

Meritage Wine Lounge is at 810 11th St. on the library and courthouse side of the square. Tasting hours are from 2 to 7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursday; 2 to 10 p.m.

Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

— Melanie Cleveland

Ortman wines to expand distribution

Signaling an effort to expand their distribution beyond California, Paso Robles’ Ortman Family Vineyards has hired Ron Rawlinson as its national sales manager.

Rawlinson has nearly 20 years of sales and marketing experience in the wine industry. He has been director of sales and marketing for Domaine Alfred Winery and director of wine club and retail sales for Justin Winery. He also owned and operated his own wine retail shop, The Wine Guy, for eight years and is a wine instructor at Cal Poly.

— Melanie Cleveland