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PG&E Employees Went Wine Tasting as Company Prepared to Cut Power

Their CEO has apologized, calling it “tone deaf”

Harvest Time in Sonoma County Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

Just as Pacific Gas and Electric prepared to cut power to roughly two million people in a fire prevention effort this week, some PG&E employees were enjoying dinner and a wine tasting at Silver Oak Winery, north of Healdsburg, on the company dime. The Chronicle learned of the ill-timed soirée, which involved 10 to 12 top gas employees and 50 to 60 of their biggest customers. PG&E Corp CEO Bill Johnson apologized for the unseemly move in an interview with the Chron, calling the wine dinner “insensitive, inappropriate, [and] tone deaf.”

According to Johnson, he was not made aware of the event until after it took place. However, the event was planned for a year, he said, and was not at the expense of ratepayers, but was a show of appreciation for major gas customers. While the current spotlight is on PG&E’s electric business — whose power lines started many of the fires that have singed wine country — PG&E’s gas business is not without its own disastrous history. The company recently agreed to a $65 million settlement in the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion, which killed eight people.

Silver Oak Winery, founded in the Napa Valley, expanded in 2018 to its new Alexander Valley property in Sonoma, where the PG&E event was held. One of the region’s best-known winemakers, it produces mostly cabernet. Ironically, given PG&E’s presence, Silver Oak’s original winery was the first LEED Platinum-certified winery in the world, and its new Alexander Valley property was the second, with 2,500 rooftop solar panels.

Those panels and backup generators have kept the Sonoma and Napa tasting rooms open during this week’s outages. They’re open for regular business hours today and this weekend, the winery says.

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