This post is part of a series written by MBA and MPA candidates in Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course, examining the role of marketing in advancing sustainability across all sectors.
California is practically awash with sustainable wine branding. At the state level, the California Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers provide the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing certification through their Sustainable Winegrowers Program. The SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified logo is available to vineyards and wines throughout the state as well. The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing Program offers their Certified Green certification for both vineyards and wines in Lodi County. Napa Green certification is similarly available for both vineyards and wineries in Napa County. Organic and Biodynamic (Demeter) certifications are also used to recognize agricultural and winemaking practices that meet those criteria. That makes for a lot of potential confusion for consumers that might be interested in sifting through this landscape.
In the world of California sustainable wine, the Napa Green certification would seem to have the competition beat. It appears to be, and is billed as, the most rigorous of the various programs. With its roots in preservation of agricultural lands, the program has grown to incorporate sustainable practices for vineyards as well as winery operations. To obtain certification under the Certified Land Program, growers must prepare a land plan for review by a panel of regulatory agencies: the US National Marine Fisheries Service, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the Napa County Agriculture Commissioner's office. Approval as a Certified Winery is obtained through Napa County and the California Green Business Program.
So far, Napa Green’s results are: 50 wineries and 80 growers, with roughly 61,000 acres enrolled, and 35,000 acres that have obtained certification. According to the Napa Valley Vintners’ website, the number of acres under protection exceed the total number of acres in vineyards (Napa Valley Vintners, n.d.). It’s an impressive story.
With these results, you might think that they would be “shouting it from the rooftops.” You would be mistaken: Of the 50 certified wineries, surprisingly, only three have opted to display the Napa Green logo on their wine bottle labels, despite the time and cost involved in obtaining those certifications.
My search for related marketing yielded only a single video, Napa Valley Vintners’ Napa Green — A History of Sustainability. No ads in Wine Spectator, no collaborative eco-tourism-focused marketing campaign - virtually nothing. I would have thought that Napa Valley wineries would be using this program as a differentiator in this crowded market, so I dug a little deeper.
For starters, I spoke with Michelle Novi, Industry Relations Manager for the Napa Valley Vintners, and Jenna Sanders, Marketing and Communications Manager at St. Supéry Winery (one of the three wineries using the logo) to see if they had any insights. Jenna’s response to why St. Supéry obtained the certification and uses the logo is that “It’s the right thing to do. St. Supéry is family-owned and was already farming to the standards of the Land Program before Napa Green existed. It obtained the Winery certification in 2013 because it reflects the values of the family and the business, and they want to share that with their customers. Interestingly, some visitors are surprised by the certification because they assume that all wine-growing is done sustainably; so there is clearly some customer education that is needed.
Neither Michelle nor Jenna could speak to why wineries would opt out of using the logo, despite talking about their involvement with pride on their respective websites. The Napa Valley Vintners has developed materials to help individual wineries “tell their story” and help make Napa Valley residents aware of the certification program and its goals, and expects that more wineries will start using the logo over time.
My next step is to explore this question further with individual wineries. This strikes me as requiring the sort of in-depth conversation that you can only have face-to-face with a glass of wine in hand — an assignment I will accept if I must!