The Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, also known as Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW), announced this week that by 2019, consumers will be able to purchase any Sonoma County wine confident that it was grown and made in the nation’s first 100 percent sustainable county.
Sonoma County has committed to becoming the nation’s first 100 percent sustainable wine region through a three-phased program to be completed within the next five years, according to the SCW. Although many of the region’s multigenerational growers and winemakers have been practicing sustainable farming techniques and winemaking practices for decades, this initiative demonstrates their seriousness and commitment to ensuring all vineyards and wineries across Sonoma County will soon be sustainable.
“Our county’s grape growers and winemakers have long been at the forefront of creating and utilizing sustainable practices in the vineyard, in the winery and in running their businesses, so this is the next natural step in their continued evolution,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, which represents 1,800 wine growers throughout Sonoma County. “Sonoma County has great leaders who have championed the wine industry’s sustainable efforts, and I’m proud of the unparalleled partnership between Sonoma County Winegrowers and Sonoma County Vintners that enables us to put this stake in the ground for sustainability as a wine region.”
The first phase of the effort will focus on helping winegrowers assess their vineyard operations through trainings and educational sessions focused on over 200 best management practices such as land use, canopy management, energy efficiency, water quality assessments and carbon emissions, healthcare and training for employees, and being a good neighbor and community member. Although many vineyards and wineries are already implementing sustainable practices, the goal is to assess 15,000 vineyard acres per year for the next four years until every acre of planted vines have been assessed for sustainability.
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As their acreage is assessed, phase two will involve the SCW working with vineyard owners to achieve certification. Once the winegrower program has kicked off, focus will be expanded to work with wineries and winemakers to roll out sustainability assessments and certification all with a goal of 100 percent sustainability for the wine industry in Sonoma County by 2019. The key of sustainability is continuous improvement. Once all of the county’s vineyards and wineries are recognized as sustainable, improvement plans will be developed to provide access to new production models, techniques and approaches.
SCW says third-party verification and certification programs will be used, such as the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s Code of Sustainability, which involves 15 chapters and over 200 best-practice assessments for growers and wineries, focused on environmental, social and economic viability and continuous improvement with verification by a third-party certifier. Another critically important factor to this initiative is transparency, which will be accomplished through regular progress updates, an annual Sonoma County Wine Region Sustainability Report Card and a vineyard and winery real-time tracker on the SCW website.
“I commend the growers and wineries of Sonoma County for pursuing this bold initiative. It speaks volumes about their love of the land and their commitment to environmental stewardship, their community and their consumers,” said Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. She added, “It is a unique branding proposition and I wish them great success.”
Sonoma County’s wine industry is primarily comprised of multi-generational family businesses, which by their very structure, are sustainable. There are 59,218 acres planted to vineyards, which accounts for only 6% of Sonoma County’s total acreage. In fact, more than 40% of Sonoma County’s vineyard parcels are less than 20 acres, with 80% of the county’s vineyards less than 100 acres. “Having spent the last 40 years farming around a thousand acres of vineyards throughout Sonoma County, I am really excited to participate in this major initiative to make our county 100% sustainable,” said Duff Bevill, Bevill Vineyard Management. He added, “I have long felt that sustainability is the best approach to ensure we protect our land for future generations, improve the quality of life for our employees, and enhance the community where we live and work.”
Sonoma County has some of the world’s most prized grape growing areas in the world with the first vineyards dating back to the 1820s. The region’s unique combination of rich geological history, fog patterns generated by its 70-mile Pacific Ocean coastline, and topography has given rise to 16 unique American Viticultural Areas (AVA). Each AVA offers distinct climate, soils and temperature areas perfect for growing world-class Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and more. Sonoma County is also home to around 450 wineries whose wines are renowned throughout the world. In a recently released report, Sonoma County’s wine industry brought an economic impact of $13.4 billion in 2012. This includes providing 54,297 full-time equivalent jobs, directly and indirectly, from winegrowing and winemaking in Sonoma County.
Another Sonoma County institution, Bear Republic Brewing Company, also announced its next step in its commitment to sustainability this week when it unveiled an EcoVolt water treatment system at its brewery in Cloverdale. Created by Cambrian Innovation, a water and bioenergy technology provider, the system uses a proprietary bioelectric technology to treat wastewater and generate biogas, which will cut Bear Republic’s water treatment costs, generate clean water and energy for use onsite, and significantly reduce the brewery’s CO2 footprint.
In August, San Luis Obispo's County Business Improvement District launched the country's first Stewardship Travel program in California’s central coast wine region, to promote appreciation for the region’s food and wine, place and culture, adventure and learning, while also providing opportunities for participants to assist with regional conservation and preservation.