Why Sustainable Winemaking Helps the Entire Industry

Sustainable winegrowing is a group effort that benefits everyone. Members of the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers created the Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP) in 2001 to promote practices that are sensitive to the environment, socially responsible and economically feasible.

Two years later the nonprofit California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) launched to assist with implementation of the program, promote its benefits and recruit industry commitment. I recently spoke with CSWA Executive Director Allison Jordan about what eco-conscious practices mean for the industry, from vineyards to retail shelves.

Beverage Dynamics: Why is sustainability so important in the wine industry?
Allison Jordan: Sustainability is longevity. California vineyard and winery owners and employees are dedicated to the land and strive to maintain a healthy and beautiful environment for themselves, neighbors and wine-country visitors. These mostly family-owned businesses make decisions for the long term to pass on a thriving business to future generations.

BD: When did the industry begin to embrace sustainability?
AJ: Many CA growers and vintners have served as stewards of the land and their communities over multiple generations. More than 2,000 California vineyards and wineries of all sizes have participated in the program since it launched in 2002. A key feature is that participants document their progress and benchmark their operations with regional and statewide averages.

BD: How does your organization promote sustainability?
AJ: As the fourth-leading wine producer in the world, the California wine industry is a global leader in sustainability, which is useful in both public policy and the marketplace. The industry’s commitment to sustainability sets an example for the rest of the world, and maintains an open dialogue with other wine regions on best practices, research findings, etc.

In 2010, the CSWA launched Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (Certified Sustainable), a certification option that provides independent third-party verification of stringent vineyard and winery requirements to ensure key sustainability areas such as soil health, water and energy and habitat are addressed.

The program was updated in 2017 to enable use of a new logo on wine labels for wine made in certified wineries, with 85% or more of grapes from certified vineyards (including Certified Sustainable, SIP and Lodi Rules), and 100% from California.

The program updates require meeting an overall score threshold, measuring and tracking sustainability performance metrics and complying with restrictions on crop protection materials. The first wines to feature the logo will likely appear in the market in early 2018.

BD: What are some of the more modern sustainability practices?
AJ: Some energy efficiency practices are fairly modern, incorporating technology such as solar panels, using smart meters or building wineries with gravity flow design to help reduce energy use. Additionally, weather stations and water monitoring technology have really come a long way in allowing growers to make very precise irrigation decisions in the field.

BD: What are some of the more common practices?
AJ: Common practices vary region to region throughout CA, but in many regions, it’s common to see the use of cover crops, drip irrigation to help conserve water and improve wine quality, and nesting boxes to attract owls that will prey on gophers, moles and other pests that cause root damage. On the winery side, most wineries are now measuring and monitoring water use and energy use to make more informed decisions for conservation.

BD: How much are wine customers now aware of sustainability?
AJ: Recent research, commissioned by CSWA, shows that a majority of the U.S. wine trade considers sustainability when making purchasing decisions, and expects demand to increase over the next decade. The research confirms what wineries active in sustainability programs have been reporting for years: demand for sustainably produced wine is increasing.

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece When Will Americans Embrace Premium Vodka?

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