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The Business Plan to Preserve Sonoma County Winemaking

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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The Sonoma County Winegrape Commission (SCWC) is determined to protect and preserve the region’s wine industry. The SCWC, founded in 2006, recently announced its 100-year business plan to preserve agriculture in Sonoma County, California, namely growing wine grapes.

The wine industry is important for Sonoma County. In 2012, the wine industry contributed $1.4 billion to the local economy and accounted for 1 in 3 jobs. Over 1,800 growers are a part of the SCWC.

The area is no stranger to sustainability: Last year, it announced plans to be the nation’s first sustainable wine growing region by 2019. The region has reached one-third of its target in just one year. The winegrape growers are following a sustainability program as well, which focuses on 138 farming and business practices, including land use, energy efficiency, water quality assessments and carbon emissions.

Over 43 percent of the county’s vineyard acres have completed a sustainability assessment, and 33 percent are certified under a third-party auditor program. Over 950 winegrape growers have attended sustainability-related events.

“Last year when we announced our intent to be 100-percent sustainable by 2019, it was always viewed as the starting point, not the end goal,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, in a statement. “It is our job as farmers to be caretakers of the land in Sonoma County and preserve our agricultural legacy and way of life for future generations. Just as we inherited the land from previous generations, we have a fundamental responsibility to make the land better for those who inherit it from us."

Profiles in sustainability


The SCWC released its first sustainability report this month. The profiles of Sonoma County wineries and vineyard owners are some of the most interesting parts of the report. Balletto Vineyards and Winery is one of the vineyards profiled. Balletto owns 14 estate vineyards totaling 600 acres in three regions in the Russian River Valley. Balletto has been certified for five years under Lodi Rules, which certifies a farmer’s use of 101 sustainable farming practices in six categories. The vineyard has implemented a number of sustainable practices, including irrigation systems that are monitored monthly in order to maintain consistent pressure and stop leaks. A pipeline carrying recycled water from Santa Rosa helps Balletto to minimize the use of its wells. That is very important in a state suffering from its fourth year of one of the worst droughts in its recent history.

Jackson Family Wines (JFW) has wineries in six coastal California counties. All of JFW’s vineyard acres and wineries are certified sustainable by the California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing and the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) programs. JFW has implemented a number of sustainability measures. Some of those measures include retrofitting lighting systems and installing more efficient HVAC, conveyors, pumps, air compressors, cooling and refrigeration systems. In 2013, JFW started to invest in rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, and by the end of 2016 it plans to install seven megawatts across nine of its wineries. That will be enough to to supply over 50 percent of JFW’s electricity needs, equivalent to the energy needed to power 1,400 homes.

Some consumers are willing to pay more for sustainably produced wine


Several polls show that some consumers want to buy wine that is sustainably produced. A recent national survey conducted by Wine Opinions and commissioned by SCWC and Sonoma County Vinters found that 33 percent were more likely to buy Sonoma County wine, and 36 said supporting sustainable agriculture is important. Another poll by Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility found that 55 percent of those polled will pay more for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. That’s an increase from 50 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2011.

Image credit: Mike Boening Photography

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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