Ten years after opening Vino Piazza, Don and Karyn Litchfield, owners of Copperford LLC., have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy was filed Nov. 14 and will be heard in federal bankruptcy court in Sacramento on Jan. 14.
Vino Piazza, which means "wine public square" in Italian, will remain open, and the bankruptcy will give the Litchfields the opportunity to repay their outstanding debts. The complex is home to eight different wineries, an art studio and Gigolo's, an Italian restaurant.
Karyn Litchfield said the bankruptcy is a chance for Copperford to reorganize its debts while the company is bought out by a third party. Don Litchfield said the buyer is presently forming a new entity and has yet to be identified.
"It will be a change of ownership, and the wineries will still be here - and so will the dinosaurs," Karyn Litchfield said, referring to the popular fossil exhibit housed inside Olde Lockeford Winery's tasting room. Olde Lockeford Winery is one of the eight wineries at Vino Piazza and is owned by the Litchfields.
"It was a hard thing to manage. It took on a life of its own," Karyn Litchfield said, referring to the popular destination. What eventually led to the bankruptcy, aside from a slumping economy, she said, was "poor management. I take responsibility for that."
Karyn Litchfield said that a possible partnership could exist between her company and the buyer, but nothing had been finalized at this point. The new company would buy out Copperford's assets, and the Litchfields could be retained as consultants while operating their winery.
And though the bankruptcy has been a confusing time for both landlords and tenants, Karyn Litchfield said things are finally settling down.
"We care about our tenants, and we want to protect their opportunities," Don Litchfield said. "This is a way that allows us to keep the facility open."
Craig Watts, owner of Watts Family Winery, sympathized with the Litchfields' problem, knowing what it takes to make a business successful.
"I know it's a difficult business. They tried very hard to get things going, and that's part of the risk," Watts said. His winery has steadily grown since opening nine years ago, and Watts is planning on building a new facility. He said they don't plan on moving just yet. "The retail we've developed (at Vino Piazza) is good retail." He added they wanted to see how the complex would be run by the new owners.
Cynthia Haynes, the CEO of the Clements-Lockeford Chamber of Commerce, said that she has enjoyed her visits to Vino Piazza, and believes it's an integral part of drawing tourists to the area.
"It's really put the Lockeford and Clements area on the map as a destination," Haynes said. "They put their heart and soul into that place. I think Don and Karyn should receive a lot of accolades for that. They had a vision, and they created it."
Haynes said that Vino Piazza and the Ava Hotel - a proposed '40s-style hotel including conference rooms - would greatly compliment each other, making the area an even bigger attraction.
Karyn Litchfield said they would continue to work on keeping the complex open, and even expanding into other areas. She said they've been trying to get the area rezoned to allow for different types of retail, such as candy shops, clothing and other types of stores that would draw a variety of consumers.
In the future, Karyn Litchfield said she may even consider opening her own winery featuring organic wines. She remains optimistic despite the financial troubles.
"I always thought bankruptcy was the end of business," Karyn Litchfield said. "But it really is a good option to get everyone paid."