Willamette Valley Vineyards is suing Five Cent Farm, Inc., a neighboring farm. According to Statesman Journal, the lawsuit filed against Five Cent indicates that the Vineyard is claiming more than $400,000 in economic loss from damage to the Vineyard’s pinot noir grapes. The complaint states that Willamette Valley Vineyards has a sole source contract for pinot noir grapes grown at Elton Vineyards, the neighbor to Five Cent Farm. Allegedly, an herbicide drift at the Farm caused the Vineyard a “‘significant loss of high-end commercial pinot noir wine grapes.’” Id. (quoting a representative from the vineyard). The vineyard owner mentioned that Willamette Valley Vineyards has not suffered economic loss from pesticide usage in the past, however the use of pesticides by other parties is an ongoing issue for winery and vineyard owners. Pesticides are capable of drifting, and users of such can have legal obligations to ensure their use does not affect or damage the crops of third parties.
The Department of Agriculture was notified and an inspection was conducted, the completion of which established the occurrence of an herbicide drift, cause on behalf of Five Cent Farm. A full copy of the lawsuit is available at Willamette Valley Vineyards v. Five Center Farm, Inc. The suit, which was filed in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for the County of Polk, alleges the following:
- “Approximately 12.7106 tons of high-end commercial pinot noir grapes were damaged and could not be harvested . . . result[ing] in a total loss of 826 cases of wine, for a total economic loss of $413,780.24.” Id. at 2.
- The application of herbicides and pesticides constitutes an “abnormally dangerous activity” and results in strict liability damages for damages incurred. Id. at 3.
- The Vineyard made four claims of relief: (1) trespass; (2) conversion; (3) negligence; and (4) trespass to chattels.
- The Farm’s spraying of herbicides that drifted onto the Vineyard is unauthorized entry, which constitutes trespass. Id.
- The Farm “wrongfully and intentionally exercised dominion and control” over the Vineyard’s grapes. Id. at 4.
- The Farm had a duty to apply the herbicides in a manner that would avoid damage to the Vineyard’s property; the Farm failed to “use reasonably care to avoid risk of foreseeable harm” by allowing the herbicide to drift onto the Vineyard’s property. Id. at 4.
- The Farm’s action is “unauthorized interference with the interests of personal property . . . which constitutes trespass of chattels.” Id. at 5.
According to Statesman Journal, the owner of the Farm alleges that the Department of Agriculture could not find evidence that the damage to the Vineyard was necessarily the Farm’s fault.
The foregoing suit against Five Center Farm is a cut-and-dry tort suit with cut-and-dry claims, but what makes it interesting is the law’s application to the wine industry. The owner of Willamette Valley Vineyards is correct in saying that an agricultural issue such as an herbicide drift is an ongoing concern for winery and vineyard owners. Not only is there the potential loss of harvest and revenue, but there can be an even greater damages. For example, if the winery claims its wines are organic (or a similar “organic” claim) on its labels, an herbicide drift could certainly present difficult legal issues for the winemaker. Based on the website of the aforementioned vineyard, the terms “organic” do not appear on the labels or website of its wines, however claims such as “certified sustainable” or “made with sustainably grown grapes” or similar are present on labels and the website.
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DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.