After a Lane County Circuit Court judge in Oregon denied PacifiCorp’s motion to dismiss the negligence claims back in December, KOIN-TV reports that a Willamette Valley winery is wanting accountability from utility companies after the devastating 2020 Labor Day fires.
Brigadoon Vineyards filed in June 2023 with negligence charges against Pacific Power — and its parent company PacifiCorp. KGW-TV reported last week that several vineyards in the Pacific Northwest have sued the utility company, claiming that the utility company’s powerlines started some of the 2020 Labor Day fires, which tainted grape crops at numerous wineries with smoke wafting over Northwest vineyards during and after the 2020 firestorm.
“It boggles the mind that they had an opportunity to turn off the power and they didn’t do it.”
Brigadoon argues in court that the Labor Day fires — the Santiam, Echo Mountain, Archie Creek Complex, 242, and South Obenchain fires in western Oregon in 2020 — resulted from PacifiCorp’s electrical system failures and the utility’s decisons to not de-energize its powerlines — caused smoke to taint the winery’s grapes, which crippled wine production and the winery’s sales. Multiple lawsuits filed by Willamette Valley vineyards and wineries against PacifiCorp, the parent company of electric utility Pacific Power, will proceed in court after several recent rulings. Attorneys for the winemakers plan to get other affected businesses on board with the legal action.
Elk Cove Vineyards, Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Brigadoon Winery thus far are just three of the affected winemakers to sue PacifiCorp individually. The complaints were filed separately but are all substantively similar — they each allege that PacifiCorp equipment failures ignited several of the Labor Day fires of 2020, and that the smoke from those fires then damaged grapes, the grape harvest, and wine sales for the wineries. Complainants are seeking almost $16 million in damages.
KOBI5 recently reported that Elk Cove Vineyards, Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Brigadoon Winery are just three of the winemakers to sue PacifiCorp so far, alleging that the power company’s lines, which they chose to not de-energize, started some of the 2020 fires that tainted or ruined the vineyards’ grape crops with heavy and longterm smoke.
Lawsuits from the 2020 Labor Day weekend fires have already cost PacifiCorp more than $73 million. Brigadoon Vineyards says PacifiCorp decided to not shut off power despite warnings from the National Weather Service and Oregon officials that a “historic red-flag-warning weather event would occur, producing catastrophic winds in excess of 50 mph, and hot dry air that was likely to cause electrical system failures that would cause dangerous fires.”
Brigadoon Vineyards says they were unable to sell wines to the public at their regular price — if at all –and the winery claims that it lost retail shelf spaces and also suffered reputational damage, which may take 5 to 7 years to recoup after the fires. Brigadoon is just one of several wineries, including Willamette Valley Vineyards, suing PacifiCorp for damages from the 2020 Labor Day fires.
“Our grapes were just in the process of ripening at that time. And so many of the growers in the wineries were not able to use significant amounts of fruit they had grown,” said Jim Bernau, the founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards.