The inventor of South Carolina's best-selling flavored vodka says he'sbeen cheated by the distillery that makes and merchandises it. RichardPatrick says the owners of the Irvin-House Vineyard and FireflyDistillery on Wadmalaw Island conspired to keep the profits fromFirefly Sweet Tea Vodka to themselves.
Patrick, a onetimetour guide and tasting room associate at the Irvin-House Vineyard andFirefly Distillery, sued both businesses and their principals, JimIrvin and Scott Newitt.
The vodka is sold in South Carolina and10 other Southeast states, including Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia,Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee.
But the lawsuit comes on theheels of an announcement that Firefly Distillery and The SazeracCompany of New Orleans have formed a joint venture to sell FireflySweet Tea Vodka globally.
Charleston attorney Daniel Slotchiverrepresents Patrick with Clayton McCullough of the Pratt-Thomas Walkerlaw firm, declined to comment, saying the complaint speaks for itself.
MaryFrash, a spokeswoman for the vineyard and distillery, said thedefendants have not issued a response to Patrick's allegations.
Irvin-HouseVineyards produces wine from muscadine grapes. Firefly Distillery,located on the same property, produces and sells two products: FireflyMuscadine Vodka, using grapes grown at the vineyard, and Firefly SweetTea Vodka.
The two companies have overlapping staff, ownership, management and business interests.
Accordingto the complaint in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas,Patrick was hired to work in the vineyard's tasting room and to conducttours, and later entered into an independent contractor relationshipwith the distillery. Under that agreement, Patrick sold muscadine vodkaon commission.
Patrick decided to try his hand at coming upwith a new flavored vodka. He experimented with different formulas andingredients, outside of the scope of his daily work, the complaint said.
DuringSeptember and October 2007, Patrick says he worked almost exclusivelyon trying to come up with a coffee-flavored vodka. After multipleattempts failed, he was inspired by a bourbon and sweet tea drink hesampled, and turned his attention to creating a vodka that tasted likesweet iced tea.