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Oregon wine producer files lawsuit over pesticide drift

Oregon wine producer Willamette Valley Vineyards (WVV) has filed a lawsuit claiming that it lost prized Pinot Noir grapes worth nearly US$0.5m due to a neighbouring farmer's use of a herbicide.

In a case filed at Polk County Court, Oregon wine group Willamette Valley Vineyards claims that ‘herbicide drift’ from a neighbouring grass seed farm destroyed 12.7 tonnes of top Pinot Noir grapes in Elton Vineyard in 2013 – equating to 826 cases of wine, worth $413,780.24.

The lawsuit claims the damage was caused by herbicide spraying without ‘reasonable care’ on neighbouring Five Cent Farm by Jeffrey Nichols. The farm could not be reached by Decanter.com, but was reported to contesting the claim and denies wrongdoing.

A official Department of Agriculture report previously concluded that, while Nichols was likely to have been the source of the damage, it could not be absolutely certain that this was the case.

‘We will know better at the end of this harvest how the vines have recovered,’ WVV founder Jim Bernau told Decanter.com.

‘It is our hope that the attention given this issue will result in more careful use of these dangerous chemicals, both on crops and in our environment generally.’ WVV is seeking up to three times its estimated losses from the incident in compensation.

WVV has leased Elton Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills – which it describes as ‘one of Oregon’s top 10 vineyards’ – from owners the O’Brien family since 2007, using its grapes in the winery’s Estate Pinot Noir, O’Brien Pinot Noir, Signature Cuvée and Elton Pinot Noir.

Earlier this year, WVV announced plans to establish a small-scale winery at Elton Vineyard under the Oregon Estate Vineyards banner, making estate bottlings of the vineyard’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

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