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Wine Advocate Uncorks Lawsuit at Writer

GREENBELT, Md. (CN) - A writer toured wineries around the world, sipping on The Wine Advocate's dime, but didn't turn in his stories and plans to use them on his own soon-to-be-launched website, the magazine claims in court.

The Wine Advocate sued Antonio Galloni, of Scarsdale, N.Y., and All Grapes Media, in Federal Court.

The Wine Advocate, founded by (nonparty) Robert M. Parker Jr., is "one of the world's most influential wine guides," according to The New York Times.

It accuses Galloni of fraud, defamation, tortious interference, misappropriation of confidential information, breach of contract and other charges.

The magazine claims that Galloni, an independent contactor earning $300,000 a year, took proprietary information about subscribers to solicit readers to his wine-review website, his alter ego, All Grapes Media.

"This is an action arising out of, inter alia, defendants' fraud and breach of their contractual obligations and their intentional and unjustifiable withholding of tasting notes and articles created while engaged and paid by plaintiff and based upon tastings which defendants undertook while representing to wineries that they were visiting on plaintiff's behalf," the complaint states. "To the contrary, however, and unbeknownst to plaintiff, defendants traveled to wineries, at Plaintiff's expense, only with the intention of creating tasting notes and articles for their own use. As a result of defendants' actions, plaintiff has suffered damages and irreparable harm, including loss of subscribers.

"Defendants' fraud is based upon their secret scheme to travel to wineries throughout the world, at plaintiff's expense and using plaintiff's reputation, when in fact, they intended to use these visits solely for their own benefit.

In its complaint, The Wine Advocate claims Galloni began working for it as a contractor in 2006 at a rate of $12,500 and his fee dramatically escalated with each subsequent revision of his contract. In recent months, he attended tastings in the wine regions of Sonoma, Brunello, Barolo, and Burgundy, according to the complaint.

The magazine said its relationship with Galloni began to sour this year when he failed to turn in material as expected. It says the relationship ended on Feb. 12, when Galloni informed it that he was severing their relationship.

That very day, The New York Times published a story in its Diner's Journal column announcing Galloni's new venture, according to the complaint.

In its write-up, the Times mentioned that Parker had sold his stake in The Wine Advocate to a Singapore investor, and was stepping down as editor-in-chief in favor of another Wine Advocate reviewer, Lisa Perrotti-Brown.

Galloni told the Times his decision to start his own venture preceded the sale to the Asian investor.

However, the Los Angeles Times wrote, also on Feb. 12, that Galloni had been widely seen as Parker's successor, and that his departure "seemed inevitable" once Perrotti-Brown got the job instead.

According to the magazine's complaint: "After repeatedly ignoring plaintiff's request for certain of the articles and tasting notes that defendants regularly provided, and were owed, to plaintiff, defendant's fraud was revealed when they informed plaintiff they were no longer working for plaintiff and would be retaining the aforementioned articles and tasting notes for their own benefit.

"Defendants fraudulent and deceptive conduct not only damaged plaintiff's reputation, of being a highly regarded publications, to its current and prospective subscribers, but it also damaged its relations with wineries in that defendants' fraud utilized plaintiff's personnel and goodwill and, thus, unjustifiably and wrongly imputed a lack of integrity onto plaintiff and tarnished its image.

"As a result of defendants' actions, plaintiff has lost, and will continue to lose, subscribers to its publications for, among others, two main reasons:

"a. First, plaintiff has not received from defendants the highly anticipated tasting notes and articles regarding wines that subscribers expect to be in The Wine

Advocate. The absence of certain scheduled tasting notes and articles has resulted, and will continue to result, in lost subscribers.

"b. Second, as a result of defendants' improper use of plaintiff's confidential subscriber information, defendants have been raiding plaintiff's subscribers and directing them away from plaintiff's publication and toward defendants' website."

The Wine Advocate seeks at least $75,000 in damages and an injunction. It claims include, breach of confidentiality agreement, intentional interference with economic relations, tortious interference with prospective advantage, conversion, unjust enrichment, and breach of faith and fair dealing.

It is represented by Ronald F. Wick of Cozen O'Connor in Washington, D.C.

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