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Wines vs. Lines

Local vintners say a pair of proposed gas pipelines could cost them millions
by: Chase Allgood, Roger Couch, representing a local vineyard owner, outlines a pipeline path while Rudy Marchesi, of Montinore Estate, looks on.

A group of government officials headed up to Montinore Estate last Thursday, but they weren't there to sample the vineyard's acclaimed pinot noir.

Instead, they pored over maps showing the route of a pair of proposed natural gas pipelines, at least one of which would bisect a portion of the winery's 240-acre spread south of Forest Grove.

As elected officials and top staffers looked on, owner Rudy Marchesi laid out how a pipeline running through the vineyards could impact his business.

Each acre of pinot noir, Marchesi said, has an annual gross value in excess of $30,000. The pipeline could wipe out three to four acres of those grapes.

'That's a substantial financial impact,' Marchesi said.

Marchesi's audience included Forest Grove City Councilor Pete Truax, state Reps Deborah Boone and Chuck Riley and staffers from U.S. Rep. David Wu and Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office.

Bill Kelley, who owns Elvenglade, a Gaston-area winery, has a similar lament about liquid natural gas.

Kelley says both companies pitching pipeline projects are proposing routes through his property.

'If they take their proposed track through my land they will have to take four acres out of production for construction and I would lose the right to replant two of those when they are done,' Kelley said.

If that happens, Kelley said, the cumulative financial impact could be as high as $10.4 million.

The cost of pulling grapes out of an established vineyard jumps so high because it takes years to establish grapes, and wine experts say soil conditions and topography all add up to affect the quality of wine.

Huge concern

That makes Kelley nervous about the prospect of letting anyone build on his property, especially given the chance that the construction project could reshuffle the soil composition.

'This would be very hard to identify and quantify,' he said, 'but it is a huge concern, as soil is just about everything when growing wine grapes.'

So far, the political debate in Oregon over LNG has hinged on whether the state should invest in more fossil fuel production capacity and how much say state and local governments can have in the federal siting process.

But that could change if wineries stepped up their lobbying efforts and shifted the focus to property rights.

'This is about as high-value property as you can get as far as agricultural land,' said Dan Serres, of Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmental group that has helped organize residents in opposition to the pipeline.

David Adelsheim, owner Adelsheim Vineyard in Newberg, said the pipeline proposal has sparked concerns with both the Oregon Wine Board, a semi-independent state agency charged with advancing the Oregon wine industry, and the Oregon Winegrowers Association.

'This doesn't just affect this part of the Willamette Valley - this is a statewide issue,' said Adelsheim, a former director of the wine board.

Early in the process

Ted Farthing, the executive director of the Oregon Winegrowers Association, issued a cautious statement on Tuesday saying that before the project moved forward, a need should be shown for LNG in Oregon.

If the group's concern bubbles over, it could be a major player in the statewide debate.

The Oregon Association of Nurseries could be another player in the debate. Elizabeth Peters, spokeswoman for the association, said that the group hasn't made a formal decision on the projects yet, but acknowledged that at least two of its members would be directly affected by the pipeline path.

Regardless of which trade groups weigh into the fray, Kelley said he hopes the cost of removing his grapes will scare off the pipeline companies, who he said would have to compensate him for any monetary loss.

'My opinion is that it will be so painful for them to come across my land that they will all find a different route,' Kelley said.