SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Today Willamette Valley Vineyards, Brigadoon Wine Co., Samuel Robert Winery, Retraite, LLC (fka Lingua Franca – LS Vineyards Holdings, LLC), and Elk Cove Vineyards Inc. announced they have hired a well-known legal team to investigate filing suit against Pacific Power, a division of PacifiCorp, in the Oregon state circuit courts. Subject to the investigation results, the lawsuits would request a jury to award the wineries damages they suffered due to the smoke from the 2020 Santiam Fire that covered the Willamette Valley and their grapevines. The smoke ruined the majority of the 2020 harvest in the Willamette Valley, as well as the wineries’ wine sales and profits over the next several years. The investigation evaluates whether Pacific Power’s electrical system failed repeatedly in the Santiam Canyon during the record 2020 Labor Day windstorm and ignited 13 separate fires, with the resulting smoke choking residents throughout the Willamette Valley and saturating the 2020 grape harvest.
The investigation is evaluating whether Pacific Power’s alleged negligence and recklessness caused the fires and greatly magnified the resulting damage in a number of respects, including whether the utility: failed to trim trees that could fall onto the electrical lines and spark fires in high wind events, neglected to replace outdated electrical equipment that was prone to cutting out in high wind events, refused to turn off the power in advance of the record winds as discussed with state fire officials, and failed to follow the industry practice of preemptively turning off the power before and after the fires started, even as other Oregon utilities turned off the power during the same wind event. The investigation is evaluating the extent to which the wineries suffered millions of dollars in damages, which are to be doubled or tripled under Oregon’s applicable statutes upon proof that Pacific Power acted as a result of recklessness, gross negligence, and willfulness consistent with Pacific Power knowing of the risks in advance and refusing to follow the recommendations of the state government officials and the example of neighboring utilities to turn off the power.
The wineries issued this joint statement:
“These fires devastated our industry, and we believe it’s time we investigate seeking compensation. We are encouraged by the recent news reports that the other fire victims in the state are finally able to settle their claims against Pacific Power (PacifiCorp). We have hired the lawyers who led the $13.5 billion recovery for the 70,000 victims in the PG&E bankruptcy in California and who recently settled their lead fire victims’ claims against PacifiCorp in the Archie Creek Fire litigation in Douglas County, Oregon.”
The legal team is led by Robert Julian of BakerHostetler and Mikal Watts of Watts Guerra. A local Eugene, Oregon, trial lawyer, Gregory Lusby of Arnold Gallagher, rounds out the trial team. The wineries’ legal team has already retained Oregon’s leading smoke taint expert as well as wine revenue loss experts. Their smoke taint expert, Dr. Elizabeth Tomasino, Associate Professor of Enology at Oregon State University, is well known to the Willamette Valley’s winery and vineyard owners. Tomasino and her colleagues have already analyzed hundreds of Oregon wines damaged by the 2020 wildfires.
The wineries will host two town hall meetings at Domaine Willamette, located at 19255 N. Hwy 99W, Dayton, Oregon 97114, so other Willamette Valley winery and vineyard operators can learn about the case and how they can join the litigation to recover their respective losses if the lead wineries decide to file suit based on the results of their investigation.
The town hall meetings will take place on Friday, May 12, 2023, at 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Wineries and vineyards can reserve space at the town halls by emailing [email protected].
The contact information for Lusby is:
Gregory T. Lusby
Arnold Gallagher PC
800 Willamette St., Suite 800
P.O. Box 1758
Eugene, OR 97440
Email: [email protected]
The contact information for Julian (expected pro hac vice admission in progress) is:
Robert A. Julian
600 Montgomery St., Suite 3100
San Francisco, CA 94111
Email: [email protected]
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About Elk Cove Vineyards Inc.
Elk Cove is a historic Willamette Valley winery owned by the Campbell family. Second-generation winemaker Adam Campbell sustainably farms over 300 acres of primarily pinot noir and pinot gris grapes on six separate sites in the northern Willamette Valley of Oregon: the Elk Cove Estate, Windhill Vineyard, Five Mountain Vineyard, Mount Richmond Vineyard, Clay Court Vineyard, and the newly acquired Goodrich Road Vineyard. This year marks Elk Cove’s 40th year growing grapevines in Oregon. Visit elkcove.com.
About Willamette Valley Vineyards
Founded in 1983 by CEO Jim Bernau with the dream of creating world-class pinot noir while serving as stewards of the land, Willamette Valley Vineyards has grown from a bold idea into one of the region’s leading wineries, earning the title “One of America’s Great Pinot Noir Producers” from Wine Enthusiast Magazine. All the vineyards have been certified sustainable through LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) and Salmon-Safe programs. Visit https://www.wvv.com/.
About Brigadoon Wine Co.
Brigadoon Wine Co. is a small family-owned estate vineyard and winery located in the Willamette Valley. The winery produces small lots of premium wines, primarily pinot noir, pinot blanc, riesling, and rosé of pinot noir. Production is small — currently at only 1,500 cases per year. A majority of its wines are sold directly to consumers, both through an active wine club and when casual guests stop at the winery. The vineyard is nestled into a small canyon in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range. The vineyard’s early vines were first planted in the early 1990s, and through the years the vineyard has grown to approximately 15 acres. Both the winemaking and vineyard care are a very hands-on, family-involved venture. Visit brigadoonwineco.com.
About Samuel Robert Winery
Samuel Robert Winery’s passion is introducing wine enthusiasts to the luxury of Oregon pinot noir, specifically Willamette Valley pinot noir. Our premium wines are crafted from select vineyards and express the unique terroir of their distinctive sites. Today, Samuel Robert Winery is recognized as one of the premier makers of Oregon wine that strives to deliver varietally correct bottlings of pinot noir and pinot noir rosé. We are focused on sustainable farming and dedicated to building a legacy Oregon brand. Learn more about the winery at samuelrobertwinery.com.
Courtney B. Smith