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Senate bill proposes Oregon vineyard and winemaker task force

A senate bill that would create the Oregon Winery and Winemakers Task Force was referred to the Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.

Senate Bill 111 was proposed at the request of the Senate Interim Committee on Business and Transportation to ensure winemakers meet certain label or branding criteria. The task force would investigate the laws, administrative rules and policies relating to wine or wine grapes to determine what would provide effective brand protection for Oregon wines and would dissolve Dec. 31 according to the amended bill.

The proposed bill split people in the wine industry throughout the committee process with 18 individuals, business owners and coalitions giving testimony at the work session for the fourth amendment. All five representatives from the Umpqua Valley opposed the bill.

The Southern Oregon Winery Association sent a letter arguing the proposed changes favor winemakers and fail to consider wine growers before the committee made the task force amendment.

“High quality wines made from Oregon fruit by out-of-state wineries has increased market awareness and the overall reputation for quality of Oregon grapes and wines,” association President Scott Steingraber wrote. “The proposed changes however seem to benefit only Oregon winemakers … A solution needs to be found that benefits winemakers, wine grape growers and the Oregon wine industry as a whole.”

The task force would consist of four non-voting members from the Senate and House of Representatives and 20 voting members evenly split between wine grape growers and winemakers in six American Viticultural Areas.

Scott Kelley from Paul O’Brien Winery called the bill a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and a “solution in search of a problem.”

“We have existing state and federal laws that protect the Oregon wine industry,” Kelley wrote. “These laws work when enforced (as with the Copper Cane case).”

The Copper Cane case was a complaint against California-based Copper Cane Wine and Provisions which the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau found to violate federal labelling laws with the Elouan and Willametter Journal wines.

“Jim Bernau would like you to believe there is an epidemic of wineries using deceptive labelling to gain a competitive advantage,” Kelley wrote. “This is untrue and purely a ploy to pass legislation that will eliminate competition. One winery utilized creative, but true, marketing and has fixed those labels.”

A continual theme through all the amendments before the task force amendment increased the penalty fee to $25,000 and changes to the grape-tonnage tax, made the Oregon Liquor and Control Commission the authority to create labelling rules, and required the commission review the rules in the next two to five years and compare the rules to complaints received.

Bernau submitted a presentation on labelling laws in Oregon with graphs showing that in order to “preserve identity and create transparency,” the laws are stricter and require wine to be made up of 100% Oregon-grown wine in order to claim Oregon on the label. Federal regulations require 75% to claim any country, state or county.

Wayne Parker from Melrose Vineyards wrote to the committee, saying Bernau would “jeopardize the whole industry.” He said over 50% of the industry was “up in arms” about the bill.

“One man’s overreaching, self-enriching acts can kill an industry that is so valuable to Oregon,” Parker wrote. “We as an industry need all of the buyers we can find and hold onto.”

Teal Stone from Blue Heron Vineyards wrote to the committee, asking that the writers of the bill consider wine grape growers like her 600-acre vineyard that she and her family started planting in 2011.

She said she saw a shift between 2013 and 2015 when the Oregon buyers needed more than she could produce.

“From 2016 until present, there has been a seismic shift in the marketplace and an oversupply that couldn’t be absorbed by Oregon wineries alone,” Stone wrote. “To us it would make the most sense to give Oregon growers, winemakers, and buyers all the incentives and resources possible to continue to grow this industry.”

According to the 2016 Oregon Vineyard and Winery Census, Oregon crushed about 73,000 tons of grapes in 2015, which would make about 4.3 million cases of wine according to estimates for one ton of grapes from Wine Spectator. Oregon sold about three million cases of wine that year, with the difference primarily coming from out-of-state wineries buying the grapes.

In a letter from Copper Cane, the winery with the labelling issues, Vice President of Operations Jim Blumling said the company paid over $15,000 in grape tax in 2018 but doesn’t believe legislation is needed.

“What was once a labeling legislative action has ballooned into an ill-conceived mess of hurdles for out of state vintners,” Blumling wrote. “Out of state vintners are utilizing nearly 40% of Oregon’s fruit and helping grow the Oregon wine market share for the state.”

Final two Roseburg city manager candidates address community members and city officials at reception

The final two candidates for the Roseburg city manager position met with community members and city officials at a reception in the Public Safety Center on Thursday evening.

After a long hiring process, which began more than seven months ago and included a delay so the city could advertise the position again, Mayor Larry Rich said the City Council will vote to hire one of the candidates at its meeting Monday.

City officials made up the majority of people at the Thursday reception for Brian Latta and Paul Eckert, the two candidates. About 10 other people, primarily leaders of local organizations, also attended the reception, which was announced Wednesday evening following a special City Council meeting.

The candidates introduced themselves, answered questions and chatted with people in separate rooms for an hour before giving 20-minute presentations.

Both candidates are qualified for the highly consequential position, which oversees all city staff.

Eckert has been city administrator in Gridley, California, a city with a population of about 6,600, since 2016. Between 2013 and 2016, he was city manager of Mount Shasta, California. Before that, he was city manager of Sioux City, Iowa, a city with a population of about 82,500, where he worked in city administration for 16 years.

Brian Latta has been city administrator of Harrisburg, a city with a population of about 3,700, since 2013. Between 2008 and 2013, he was an associate planner in the Corvallis Community Development Department. Before that, he was a planner with the Clark County, Washington Community Planning Department between 2006 and 2008.

The candidates showed contrasting demeanors during their presentations.

Latta, who presented first while Eckert was in another room, calmly addressed each of five questions prepared by the city for their presentations sequentially. Eckert spoke to the audience continuously using note cards to orient his comments that tied back to the questions.

Latta began his presentation by talking about his family.

“I’m a family man,” Latta said. “They come first. Before work. If there’s an emergency and I’m working here, I will make sure the city is taken care of, and then I will go take care of my family because they mean that much to me.”

He said he and his wife, Wendy, have been married 12 years. They have an 11-year-old daughter, Navy, and a 9-year-old son, Bertram.

Latta said working as a community planner has given him a lot of experience with economic development.

“I love that you guys are growing your own with entrepreneurs and small businesses,” Latta said. “I think it’s important that we provide as many resources for those entrepreneurs and ‘wanna-preneurs’ — people that just have an idea but don’t know how to do anything with it — we need to support them and get them to be here because they’re the ones that are already here. They like being in Roseburg and they’re the ones that are going to want to stay.”

He said he doesn’t want to use traditional forms of economic development in which communities offer tax incentives to entice businesses to come in from the outside.

“We steal a business from someplace, they come here, they stay until the incentive is gone and then they go on to the next place that provides them another incentive,” Latta said. “That form of economic development actually hurts a community more than it helps. And so growing our own is the way to go.”

He said various local economic development groups will allow the city to do that.

“I’m glad to say today, that we have very few vacant storefronts (in Harrisburg),” Latta said.

He added he is already connected to the state legislature, and part of his job will be to help influence legislation that will help Roseburg. He recently helped write two bills that made it out of their committees, he said.

He also made a commitment that revealed his public service philosophy.

“I am committing to guys here, and to those that are not here, that I will be honest,” Latta said. “If you come to me I’m always going to give you an honest answer. It may not be the answer that you like, but it’s an honest answer. I also hold myself to very high integrity standards. And then also to be transparent. What you see is what you get, and that’s just who I am.”

Eckert began his presentation by discussing his experience working in city administration, which he said also included being a part of state legislative processes.

He said his 16 years in Sioux City showed him how to run a city that is the economic center of an area, like Roseburg is.

“I was city manager for a community of 80,000, a budget of $300 million and a metro area of about 200,000,” Eckert said. “So much of my career, I’ve managed two or three times the size and complexity. But I’ve also downscaled and was able to manage small communities. And I think that helps me be a more effective manager, understanding large and small.”

He said he also has experience capitalizing on opportunities to make communities destinations for nonresidents.

“I know you have some representatives here who this is key to, but tourism, amenities in the community, really promoting the community from a regional standpoint, a state standpoint and even a national standpoint,” Eckert said.

He said his life’s purpose is his children. His youngest son Reed, who attends the University of Victoria in British Columbia, came with Eckert to the reception. He said his other son is a college student in the Port Angeles, Washington area, and his daughter is pursuing a doctorate at the University of Victoria.

Eckert said he has always sought to give back to his community. He was a Marine, and he said he was always involved in coaching youth sports, even after his kids aged out of their programs. He said he always tried to expose his children to at-risk people’s experiences.

“We started an at-risk track team,” Eckert said. “Reed and our family found ourselves the only family of our persuasion sleeping on Baptist church floors as we went away for track meets.”

Eckert also teared up while discussing a personal aspect of his life.

“Reed is a stage 4 cancer survivor,” Eckert said. “You learn community when you’re that family of the beautiful 8-year-old boy who’s fighting cancer. And you really learn what community is all about.”

A survey of media reports about Eckert show that while working as city manager in Sioux City, he and the city settled a retaliation lawsuit filed by a former city employee, who had previously made sexual harassment claims about Eckert.

The Sioux City Journal reported in 2015 the suit was settled for $300,000 and cost the city more than $1 million in legal fees.

Fundraiser benefits breast cancer victims

Kimmie Murray wants to help other women get checked for breast cancer before it’s too late, because she put it off, and it was almost too late when her cancer was diagnosed.

Murray is currently going through breast cancer treatments and is using her experiences to encourage others to get regular checkups.

Contributed photo 


Murray said she has good insurance and funds to take care of the medical bills, but she wanted to do something to help others that were going through cancer treatments. So, with the help of family and friends, she set up a barbecue dinner and auction on Saturday at the Scoreboard Sports Bar in Roseburg that will raise money for the Kimmie Murray Breast Cancer Fund to help others who are fighting cancer and to encourage them to get their mammograms.

“Proceeds go to the Kimmie Murray Breast Cancer Fund and the money will help women to get mammograms,” Murray said. “I am very proactive because I don’t want them to do what I did and wait.”

Murray was diagnosed with breast cancer in January. She knew she had something going on about a year ago and she didn’t do anything about it at the time.

“A friend of hers said ‘You can’t let this go,’ so she went to see a doctor and had a mammogram and it turned out she did have a lump,” said her husband, Bob Murray.

Kimmie Murray had a biopsy and found out it was malignant. She began treatments every two weeks for four months and now has 12 weekly treatments coming up. So far the prognosis looks positive.

She started a blog and has documented her experiences to get women to get a checkup. She’s had about 40 women indicate that they have scheduled mammograms after following her blogs, and four of those were found to have malignant tumors. She also opened a page called “Walk with me through my Journey.”

Rick Merlino, the owner of the Scoreboard Sports Bar, a friend of the family, also jumped in and was ready to help.

“We teamed up with Mercy Foundation to do the fundraiser, and everything we raise goes to people in Douglas County,” Merlino said.

The event is Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Scoreboard Sports Bar at 920 SE Stephens St. in Roseburg. To make donations, call 541-672-2599.

The money will be distributed by the Mercy Foundation to promote breast cancer checkups and help women that can’t afford a checkup.