Vineyards and wineries are increasingly considering how to adopt more sustainable practices in every aspect of how they farm, the products they create, and the services and methods they utilize. The list of factors that can be altered to allow for increased sustainability range from vineyard farming practices to the winery workings, to the distribution of the final packaged goods.
Several of the sessions at this year’s North Coast Wine Industry Expo (WIN Expo) turn on the theme of sustainability. Karrissa Kruse, President of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, has been working tirelessly with the wine industry for several years on the issue, and will be on the panel for the session: Vineyard of the Future: Combining Technology and Autonomy to Improve Profitability.
Kruse says, “When Sonoma County Winegrowers made its commitment to be 100% certified sustainable back in 2014, sustainability did not have the support or wide sweeping pervasiveness that it enjoys today in the wine community. Almost a decade later, local grape growers in Sonoma County have not only embraced sustainability as an approach to best practices in all aspects of their farming business, but they continue to ask the question “what’s next?” for innovation and climate stewardship.”
The thirst for understanding, including formal certification, is coming from within the industry, which is the only way it can continue to grow. Allison Jordan, Executive Director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, will be in the panel Exploring Water Conserving Practices in the Vineyard.
Through the pandemic and multiple wildfires in California, Jordan a slowdown in applications. However, there is still ongoing interest in certification within California. She showcases the statistics, saying, “Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing was first launched in 2010 and certification has continued to grow year over year in the past five years. From 2017 to 2021, we saw a 118% increase in the number of Certified California Sustainable Vineyards and a 40% increase in the number of Certified California Sustainable Wineries. Our 2022 numbers will be released in early 2023.”
As for translating that into wineries and acres, she notes, “Currently, 178 Certified California Sustainable Wineries produced 255 million cases (80% of California wine) and 2,402 Certified California Sustainable Vineyards farm 204,857 acres (33% of California wine grape acres). Another 22% of vineyards are certified to other California sustainability certifications.”
Greenhouse gas emissions is a common starting point in the quest for sustainability. Josh Prigge, Chief Commercial Officer & Sustainability Consultant for Sustridge Sustainability Consulting notes that, “The most common thing I’m asked is to quantify greenhouse gas emissions. It’s the most important first step. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”
Prigge will sharing his insights in the session: Tech & Sustainability: The Wine Industry’s New Power Couple. He further points out, “Quantifying, tracking, and reporting are something companies haven’t necessarily been doing. A lot of facilities are starting to do this across all areas of their production.”
It was this quest to understand emissions, according to Kruse, that ”led Sonoma County Winegrowers to be the exclusive pilot partner for the Climate Adaptation Certification with the California Land Stewardship Institute, learning the best way to sequester carbon on their entire ranch and the farming operations that lead to lowering GHG emissions.”
Jason Haas, partner and general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard showcases that Tablas Creek Vineyard was led to biodynamic farming in 2010 and has expanded that to include using grey water for irrigation and dust control, being largely dry-farmed (reducing our ground water use by 80% compared to normal in Paso Robles, CA) and is now 100% solar-powered.
Haas will be on the panel discussing Minimizing Your Carbon Footprint: New Approaches to Packaging Driven by Eco-Responsibility, and says that on the packaging side, Tablas Creek Vineyard has made a conscious push to lower the footprint of their containers.
“This has included moving to lightweight bottles in 2010 (which has saved nearly 2 million pounds of glass), starting to package wine in zero-waste reusable stainless steel kegs in 2011, moving from 6-bottle cases to exclusively 12-bottles cases (reducing cardboard use by nearly 50%) in 2012, and just this year in putting three of our wines in 3L bag-in-box, saving 84% of the carbon footprint of the same volume in glass bottles.”
Haas points out, “Given that the glass bottle accounts for more than half of the carbon footprint of the average California winery, it’s essential that we continue to look for ways to lessen its impact.
Prigge acknowledges that the back end is driving some of the changes, as large, powerful outlets are having consumers ask them to source products that are sustainably produced. “A lot is happening across all aspect of a company’s operations, including input from both consumers and retailers. Consumers want to purchase from more sustainable wineries. Large corporations are looking to their suppliers regarding sustainability. Companies purchasing from larger vineyards are being asked what they are doing to become certified. There is a definite trickle-down effect.”
Innovation within the sustainability realm is a an all-time high, and with this in mind, Kruse explains their partnership with Ford Pro:
“Working with Ford Pro, Sonoma County Winegrowers will be learning how to move towards electric vehicles, fleet management optimization and how they can play a bigger role in lowering the use of fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This innovative new effort will make farming in Sonoma County and around the country even more sustainable. Our intent is for Sonoma County to be an active case study with new corporate partnerships similar to what we have with Ford Pro and a living lab for the world to enable us to achieve our mission.”
Catch the following WIN Expo sessions exploring new options for sustainability within the wine industry, on December 1st at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds:
Offering a well-rounded view of the wine industry, Dawn Dolan transitioned from doing administration for the University of Michigan, to spending six years as both Marketing and Wholesale Manager for the Wilson Artisan Wines group, where she learned the ins and outs of the wine industry. Dolan describes herself as a Zinfandel grape grower who has also been an amateur wine maker for fifteen years. She learned viticultural and winemaking strategies from attending classes at the Santa Rosa Junior College, as well as from the professional winemakers with whom she has worked. With this multi-faceted experience in the wine world, she brings a consideration of different viewpoints to her work.
Dolan started Dolan Wine Business Consulting, a private marketing consultancy, eight years ago. She works with wineries and a variety of wine country businesses. She has been contributing to Wine Industry Advisor since 2015.