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Relief for wine: It might be time

Southern Oregon wine grape growers whose 2018 crops were rejected by wineries because of smoke taint may get a new source of relief.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is pushing to include compensation for vintners whose crops were damaged by relentless wildfires in the lame-duck session spending bill.

Although many of the region’s grape growers believe their crops were still capable of producing desirable wine, the loss of millions of dollars in income from canceled contracts was undeniably painful.

“Farmers in Southern Oregon who grow wine grapes just got clobbered,” Wyden said before appearing at Monday’s Oregon Leadership Summit in Portland. “They took a huge economic hit.”

Some growers had crop insurance to cover part of the losses, but others had no insurance.

Wyden has asked Congress to include wine grape growers in the $3 billion Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program in the fiscal 2018 spending bill created in response to damage from a series of natural disasters in 2017.

“There has been a lot of thrashing around with respect to the formula and the like,” Wyden said. “Essentially, if you make most of your money growing wine grapes and you just got clobbered, you would be in a position to get between 60 and 90 percent of your loss (restored).”

The proposed cap would be $900,000, he said during an interview. “Suffice to say, the federal government is wrestling with the rules and the formula.”

Wyden said if the funding wasn’t included in the spending bill, he would keep pushing.

“Because this is one of the really promising additions to the Southern Oregon economy, and to rural Oregon, I’m going to pull out all of the stops,” Wyden said. “We’ve got all kinds of programs for other parts of the country that get clobbered by hurricanes, earthquakes, and the like. This is the kind of disaster that is very real around the kitchen table and work benches in Southern Oregon.”

Wyden also requested $5.25 million in additional funding for research on the effects of smoke exposure to wine grapes to help limit future losses associated with smoke exposure.

“The effects of smoke exposure on wine grapes is relatively unknown, which further exacerbates the economic damage inflicted on producers during bad smoke years,” he said.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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