Vintners in Willamette Valley—home to world-class Pinot Noirs—seek $100 million after raging fires tainted their grape harvest

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Dozens of Oregon wineries and vineyards have sued PacifiCorp over the deadly 2020 wildfires that ravaged the state, alleging that the utility’s decision to not turn off power during the Labor Day windstorm contributed to blazes whose smoke and soot damaged their grapes and reduced their harvest and sales.

In the latest lawsuit to hit the utility over the fires, some 30 wineries and vineyards in the Willamette Valley accused PacifiCorp of negligence and requested over $100 million in damages. The suit was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court last week.

In an emailed statement, PacifiCorp said it is “committed to settling all reasonable claims for damages as provided under Oregon law.”

“The safety of our customers and communities remains our top priority,” the statement said.

The wine producers named as plaintiffs in the suit are located in the Willamette Valley, home to two-thirds of Oregon wineries and vineyards and the oldest wine region in the state, according to the Oregon Wine Board.

In their complaint, the wine producers say the fires “produced harmful smoke particles that landed on and infused themselves into the grapes.”

Vineyards couldn’t sell their grapes to winemakers, and wineries have been unable to sell their wines, resulting in lost revenue and damaged reputations, the complaint says.

“Grapes and grape juice that are infused with smoke can carry the smoke compounds and smoke taste through the entire wine production, bottling process, and sale to the consumers,” the complaint said.

Despite paying “extraordinary costs” to try to cleanse the soot and smoke from their 2020 vintages, such efforts largely failed, according to the complaint.

Other Oregon wineries have also sued PacifiCorp in separate lawsuits that contain similar allegations and requests for economic damages.

In other cases that have gone to trial over the past year, Oregon juries in multiple verdicts have ordered PacifiCorp to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to victims. Ongoing litigation could leave it on the hook for billions.

Last June, a jury found PacifiCorp liable for negligently failing to cut power to its 600,000 customers despite warnings from top fire officials. The jury determined it acted negligently and willfully and should have to pay punitive and other damages—a decision that applied to a class including the owners of up to 2,500 properties.

Thousands of other class members are still awaiting trials, though the sides are also expected to engage in mediation that could lead to a settlement.

The 2020 Labor Day weekend fires were among the worst natural disasters in Oregon’s history, killing nine people, burning more than 1,875 square miles (4,856 square kilometers) and destroying upward of 5,000 homes and other structures.



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