How can wine take sustainability to the next level? Six tips from Sonoma County Winegrowers

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

'Remind everyone why sustainability matters' - a top tip from Sonoma County. Pic: iStock
'Remind everyone why sustainability matters' - a top tip from Sonoma County. Pic: iStock

Related tags Sustainability

Sonoma County Winegrowers is working to become America’s first 100% certified sustainable wine growing region by 2019, an ambition that has progressed rapidly since set in 2014. So what can other wine growing regions learn from Sonoma County’s experience to date?

So far, more than half the vineyard acres have already been certified sustainable, and Karissa Kruse, president of The Sonoma County Winegrowers explains the ambitious journey so far here.

So what is Kruse’s advice to other wine growing regions who want to take their sustainability ambitions to the next level? What are the key lessons the organization has learned so far?

Here, Kruse sets out her six top tips.

Goal Setting & Reporting Back on Progress

It’s important to set clear goals, both short and long term, to help everyone remain focused.

In addition, transparency with an initiative such as sustainability allows for open dialogue, sharing of best practices and celebration of successes along the way.

Karissa Kruse, president, Sonoma County Winegrowers

For us, this meant publishing an annual Sustainability Report that highlights case studies and other information on our sustainability practices, reports on our progress, market trends, and also acknowledges our growers and wineries who have become sustainable through an ‘Honor Roll.’

We also provide vineyard signs that say ‘Sonoma County Sustainable’ so that visitors to our region and our own local community members can identify which vineyards are sustainable.  We’ve got over 650 signs displayed throughout the county!

Build Sustainability Leaders

You must also build strong consensus and support among industry and community leaders because they will be the loudest voices and ambassadors for the program to their peers.  It goes without saying, they help us ‘lead by example.’  

Remind Everyone Why Sustainability Matters​ 

Our ultimate goal with our sustainability efforts is to improve our local community and ensure agriculture is preserved long term, so it’s important that we are always communicating why sustainability matters to our stakeholders and the public so that everyone works together to make a difference.

Sonoma County achievements

  • sustainability stamp
    37,392 vineyard acres (64%) of Sonoma County’s 58,280 vineyard acres have been sustainably self-assessed.
  • 27,761 vineyard acres (48%) have been certified sustainable by a third party audit.
  • 18,780 vineyard acres participate in the Fish-Friendly environmental program.
  • More than 1,280 Sonoma County grape growers participated in sustainability workshops, meetings and related events in 2015.
  • More than 162,340 pounds of vineyard material was recycled by growers in 2015.

    (As of December 2015). 

Provide Support To Ease Challenges of Certification Process

When we launched our sustainability program, we acknowledged from the start that the two main hurdles for growers were time​ and money​. 

So, we hired a sustainability manager with decades of sustainable viticulture experience who meets with growers and supports them through the entire process.  This has helped reduce the time it takes them to finish an assessment. 

In addition, we also launched a voucher program to help offset some of the costs of certification.  It’s important that we put our ‘money where our mouth is’ by providing some financial support to those small growers where every dollar counts.

Educate, Educate, Educate!

Sustainability is not a simple thing to understand and there are many different definitions and practices, so we have spent a lot of time and resources educating consumers, wine trade representatives (sommeliers), and our own local community so they understand how we define sustainability and why it matters. 

This has helped build recognition and credibility for our program, as well as create brand ambassadors for Sonoma County because they believe in what we’re doing.

Maintain Leadership

One of the main components of sustainability is continuous improvement, so we are always thinking ahead and asking ourselves “what’s next” to ensure we continue to be leaders in the global marketplace. 

That value has led our organization to relaunch our Grape Growers Foundation to help support our vineyard employees, as well as create a ground breaking 100-year business plan to preserve agriculture in Sonoma County.

The vision for wine

wine vision

What will the wine industry look like in ten years’ time? Who is looking to break the mould and do things differently? How can we map out a future vision for the sector?

Wine Vision​ will be held in Sonoma County, California, from December 5 to 7, 2016.

Last year the event was hosted by Bilbao in Spain, putting the spotlight on Basque country. By partnering with a new location each year, Wine Vision is bringing debate about the wine industry’s future to the centers of production and creating a showcase for regional innovation and ingenuity.

Highlights of Wine Vision’s visit to Sonoma County will include:

  • An interactive 3-day conference program  with global perspectives as well as the chance to experience a premier world wine region close up.
  • The option of wine tours across Sonoma County immediately following Wine Vision.
  • A first night Prohibition Party at the Francis Ford Coppola winery, celebrating the 83rd​ anniversary of the end of prohibition in movie-maker style.  
  • Networking luncheons and dinners at some of California’s most innovative wineries including Rodney Strong Vineyards and Jackson Family Wines.
  • An introduction to the county’s sustainability projects including an initiative to power a winery with high tech battery technology developed by Tesla, the ground-breaking electric car company founded by the serial entrepreneur and multi-billionaire founder of PayPal, Elon Musk.

Find out more about the event here.

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