Wine Without Regrets: Award-Winning Sustainability Programs

Last post I shared the news about GRID Alternatives, an award-winning California organization that is devoted to bringing solar power and sustainable technology to low-income residential neighborhoods. Today I want to tell you about the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), an award-winning California organization working with California wine makers to increase sustainability in the agricultural/industrial sector.

Earlier this month at the Governor’s Global Climate Summit, CSWA was honored with the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA). One of 13 organizations selected throughout the State of California, CSWA was commended for their role in producing the Code of Sustainable Winegrowers Workbook, used by vintners and growers statewide. Having won this award previously, in 2004, CSWA received this year’s award in the category of “Enhanced Environmental and Economic Leadership.”  This category is specifically geared towards previous award recipients “who have sustained exceptional leadership and can demonstrate significant and robust improvements in voluntary efforts previously recognized, which conserve California’s precious resources, protect and enhance the environment and/or strengthen the economy.”

Since incorporating as a non-profit in 2003, CSWA has conducted more than 200 self-assessment workshops with more than 1,500 vintners and growers who have assessed their operations against 277 sustainable winegrowing criteria. Current programs include the educational California Sustainable Winegrowing Program, which provides a regular schedule of workshops, access to publications, and a web-site chock full of useful resources on sustainable practices. In 2010, CSWA introduced the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW-Certified) Program to “enhance transparency, encourage statewide participation and advance the entire California wine industry toward best practices in environmental stewardship, conservation of natural resources and socially equitable business practices.” Based on a model of continuous improvement, wineries and vineyards use self-assessment data to determine areas for improvement and set annual sustainability goals.

The state-wide work of CSWA successfully leverages some key components of an impressive regionally-based sustainability program developed by the member vineyards of the Lodi Winegrape Commission. As CSWA Executive Director Allison Jordan describes it,

the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance and Lodi Winegrape Commission have a long history of collaboration on grower and vintner outreach and education on sustainability topics. In fact, the statewide Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Workbook, which is the foundation for both the educational Sustainable Winegrowing Program and CCSW-Certified, is based on the viticultural chapters of the The Lodi Winegrower’s Workbook.

First published in 2000 as a self-assessment tool for Lodi growers, this workbook evolved from a grassroots effort started back in 1992 to support integrated pest management in this San Joaquin County winegrowing region. By 2005, the Lodi Winegrape Commission succeeded in establishing the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing as California’s first 3rd party-certified sustainable winegrowing program. The importance of this achievement was acknowledged in 2006 when the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing were awarded the afore-mentioned Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award.

The certification process requires growers to pass an independent audit of their farming practices, covering seven core content areas: integrated pest management, land stewardship, air quality control, water management, soil health, human resources, and renewable energy resources. Beginning with 1,455 certified acres in 2005, there are now over 21,000 acres enrolled in this program.

7,400 of these acres are under the stewardship of LangeTwins, a Lodi winery that is actively engaged in both the Lodi Rules and the Sustainable Winegrowing Program, and stands as a terrific example of sustainability in practice. Just looking at their modest website, you might think they were a relatively small enterprise, and it’s true that their annual production under the LangeTwins label is approximately 6,000 cases per year. But when you turn up the driveway from Jahant Road, you immediately realize there is a lot more going on! Turns out they also provide custom-crush and private label services for wineries throughout California, all in their gleaming facility that opened in 2006.

During a recent visit, I was impressed by the range and extent of their energy sustainability practices. The winery facility was designed in partnership with PG & E’s Savings by Design Program, and netted them nearly a million dollars in rebates. The majority of the rebate was connected to their solar array, which manages to increase worker comfort by providing shade during grape-sorting and loading the wine presses, while also being the first known agricultural application of “bifacial PV,” a particular kind of solar panel that generates power not only from overhead sunlight but also from ambient and reflected light on the underside of the panels, thus increasing efficiency and overall generation capacity. The main PV array on the roof of their cellar building has the additional impact of increasing the roof insulation value to R-33, thus racking up significant energy savings even while producing nearly 40% of their electric power needs.

In addition to energy generation, the winery design also incorporated a number of energy efficiency measures, including 3” of foam insulation on their 42 outdoor stainless steel fermentation tanks as well as high-efficiency operating systems for such winery mechanical systems as their water-cooled chiller, hot water boiler, air compressors for the pneumatic presses, and wastewater system pump motors.

But “sustainable” is about much more than energy use, and that’s why you’ll find the winery staff as eager to talk about their owl boxes or riparian habitat restoration project as their 250 KW solar array.

The twin brothers who comprise LangeTwins (Brad & Randy Lange) are the 4th generation of family farmers to work these lands in Lodi, and their children – the 5th generation – are also actively involved. Their commitment to this work clearly reflects their understanding of what the Lodi Rules refers to as “the 3 E’s” of sustainability: Environmental soundness, socially Equitable, and Economically viable.

And did I mention their delicious wine? I am particularly enjoying their 2008 blend of Petit Sirah and Petit Verdot. Perfect for raising a celebratory glass to toast all three of these leaders in sustainable wine making.

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