Good Times in 2012 – From the Vineyard to the Ballpark

Great article in last week’s North Bay Business Journal regarding the 2012 wine grape harvest: “Postseason glow of the Super World Bowl grape harvest.”

As you might have already guessed from the title, author Brian Clements compares the abundance  of 2012 grapes with the athletic success enjoyed last year by the 49ers and the San Francisco Giants:

All in all, harvest in the North Coast of California was like getting a field goal, touchdown, home run and grand slam all in one play.

Given that my two great passions are wine and sports, I was loving the article, right up until the point that I realized there was absolutely no mention of the Oakland A’s. Hellooooo? Historic run to first place?  Clinching the division title on the final day after not leading the division even once during the entire season? And let’s not forget the way that Oakland A’s outfielder and designated hitter Jonny Gomes championed the success of the Petaluma Little League.

The 2012 A’s were considered  to be one of the greatest comeback stories in all of sports, particularly the way they won the Division by sweeping the Rangers in that final series. That’s right, the Oakland A’s, a team  “assembled on the fly from spare parts, held together by bubble gum and pine tar,” swept the Texas Rangers, a team with triple the payroll. You’d think that the A’s 2012 season would be rich with opportunity for analogies, and therefore get plenty of coverage in Brian’s column. Go figure. Sometimes Oakland just doesn’t get the same love and attention as its neighbor across the Bay. Sound familiar to any of you Sonoma County winegrape growers or winemakers?

So consider this my P.S. to Brian’s article – and from now on, let’s refer to the 2012 harvest to the “Super Division-Winning Comeback World Bowl” grape harvest.” Yeah, you’re right, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? But the main point being that there is a lot to celebrate – and a lot to love – about the 2012 Bay Area sports scene and the 2012 winegrape harvest.

In particular, I’d like to acknowledge the amazing accomplishments of Sonoma County winegrape growers. In Brian’s article, he has a great graphic illustrating the upward trend in Sonoma County production of pinot noir, and he clearly explains that

Sonoma County pinot noir won the prize for the most remarkable jump in production, up 85 percent over 2011 and 52 percent over the five-year average. The total of 52,000 tons accounts for over 20 percent of the California pinot noir harvest and will produce nearly 42 million bottles of 2012 Sonoma County pinot noir.

Glad to see that Sonoma County is really establishing itself on the big stage.

Of course, a big difference in applauding the 2012 A’s and celebrating Sonoma County is that nobody really expected the A’s to do so well last season, whereas Sonoma County winegrapes (and Sonoma County tourism) have been experiencing a steady rise in popularity. In fact, just as the A’s were celebrating their Division Title last October, Sonoma County was being voted the “top wine destination in the U.S.” by TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards.

One of the things us fans love about A’s baseball is the respect for tradition coupled with an appreciation of individual quirkiness, along with the capacity to stay loose and have fun, even in the midst of a long, grueling season.  I’ve been delighted to find this same down-home spirit and “love of the game” right here in the  Sonoma County wine world. The willingness to let vineyard blocks express their unique character,  a commitment to making interesting wines, and the dedication to hard work while keeping it low-key and real – these are all qualities that I’ve encountered again and again in my wine tasting travels throughout Sonoma County.

I got to experience this same commitment to authenticity up-close last fall, when I spent the 2012 harvest hand-sorting grapes at Vinify Wine Services in Santa Rosa. Crush 2012_Vinify grape sortingThe abundant harvest allowed us to be super picky in vetting grapes to the exact preference of our winemaking clients, and you couldn’t get any more “hands on.” (Not to mention all those grape parts and ear wigs that ended up in my hair during the sorting! ) I can’t wait to start tasting those fruits of our labor, and my first opportunity to imbibe 2012 is going to be the bottle of Vaughn Duffy rosé  recently gifted to me by my Vinify boss, Matt Duffy.

Vaugh_Duffy_2012_rose Thanks, Matt!

And thanks again for giving me that day off from sorting last October, so I could attend the final A’s game of the season – and witness first-hand their amazing comeback victoOakland A's 2012 champs6ry.Oakland A's 2012 champs4




Now it’s time to move forward and celebrate some things that we can all agree on: Spring is in the air, bud break is starting to unfurl, and baseball games are back on the radio. Looking forward to see what 2013 has in store for us!

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Step Into Your Learning Curve

What are you waiting to learn before increasing the productivity of your winery?

A lot of great information is available, but it really all depends on finding something that matches your personal learning.

Many people like to watch informational videos as a first step in understanding new ideas, and I hope you’re already familiar with the terrific series of videos presented by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Looking for a great introduction to vineyard water efficiency, high speed roll up doors, or variable frequency drives? Check out their succinct videos posted on the Media page.

Other people learn best at conferences and trade shows, which explains the popularity of Unified Wine & Grape Symposium or the North Coast Wine Industry Expo.

My personal preference is for hands-on learning, so I was thrilled to get lots of direct experience during the 2012 harvest, including sorting grapes at Vinify, a premium custom-crush facility right here in Santa Rosa.





Now that we’ve mostly recovered from the hard work of crush, it’s the perfect time to identify your learning objectives for 2013.

Here are some of the things that I’m busy learning more about:

Step Into Sustainability stands ready to be your go-to source for new information and project implementation support.

One way to get started is by conducting a “treasure hunt” at your wine production facility: discover what’s working well, how your resource efficiency could be improved, and easy-to-implement upgrades identified by your very own cellar crew.

Contact us today and let’s work together to fine-tune your winery operations.

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Tracking and Talking at the Green Wine Summit

It’s time for the 4th annual Green Wine Summit, and I’m looking forward to robust conversations about sustainability issues in the wine world.

Words like “green” and “sustainable” are in frequent use these days, but what exactly are we talking about? Some details are more important to track than others, so we need to know what we’re tracking – and how we’re interpreting that information. Several sessions at the Green Wine Summit address this topic, including:

  • “Global Green Perspectives: Benchmarking California With Other New World Countries”
  • “Green Operations: Measuring What Matters”

I’m glad to see that both of these sessions will include participation from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), an organization I highlighted in my previous post “Wine Without Regrets: Award-Winning Sustainability Programs.”

Another aspect of performance tracking supports the business case for sustainability. I expect to hear more about this at the morning session on “Business & Sustainability” and also from the lunchtime speaker, Bob Bunting, who will be sharing highlights from the International Integrated Reporting Committee and their efforts to develop integrated reporting as  “a globally accepted framework for sustainability accounting.”

Refining our ability to track and interpret the key measures of  sustainable wine-making is the focus of my work in the Sustainability Practices Certificate Program at Dominican University, under the auspices of their Green MBA program.

While tracking helps us to “know what we know,” we won’t get very far unless we can talk about what we know – and in a way that makes sense to everyone involved. In this regard, I’m grateful for the work of Matthew Hoffman, a graduate student at UC Davis working to clarify winegrape grower perceptions of sustainability programs.

I learned a lot from Matthew’s article in the Spring 2011 issue of Practical Winery and Vineyard Journal: “Defining sustainable viticulture from the practitioner perspective.” The article includes a really interesting graphic illustrating the range of issues that are important to winegrape growers. It might not surprise you to learn that the top concerns of many California wine producers are expressed in terms of “continuing into the future” and “generational succession.” Preserving what we have for future generations is of course a core sustainability goal, but it helps to be able to connect-the-dots between family farming and approaches such as integrated reporting.

Matthew will be a panelist at the Green Wine Summit during the session “Green Operations: What Is New & Upcoming In Sustainable Winegrape Growing?” To learn more about his work, I invite you to visit the UC Davis project page: Sustainable Viticulture: Practice Adoption and Social Networks. (For a link to the article mentioned above, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the pdf titled “Hoffman_Defining-2011”).

I’ll report back on other highlights from the Green Wine Summit in future posts – just let me know if there are specific topics you want me to cover.

In the meantime, my hearty thanks to the Hoffman family, who hosted my recent visit to Heritage Oak Winery. I was back up in Lodi earlier this month to participate in the annual First Sip event, and had a chance to meet up with Matthew at his family’s winery; Matthew’s dad Tom is the fifth generation to farm that land. It’s always good to see the links between academic research and real life experience. And thanks, Carmela, for the cup of coffee!


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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.

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 the 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 abouttheir 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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GRID Alternatives expands scope of solar benefits

I was glad to see the recent media coverage highlighting a report that indicates speedy progress  in pursuit of energy alternatives: “Upbeat forecast for new systems.”  That said, large-scale access to these resources is still years in the future.

So I am especially pleased to share the news with you about GRID Alternatives, a terrific organization that is already making great strides toward sustainability right here in California – reaching out to  the neighborhoods and communities that are often the last to benefit from technological advancements.

The importance of their work was recently acknowledged by the Northern California Chapter of the US Green Building Council, who chose to honor GRID Alternatives as the “Outstanding Community Organization” at their annual Green Building Super Heroes Awards Gala.

GRID Alternatives was one of three finalists in this category, and I encourage you to learn more about the other two organizations, who are also doing exemplary work: MEarth – The Hilton Bialek Habitat and the RichmondBUILD Green Careers Academy.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a few of the reasons I’m so inspired by GRID Alternatives, namely their mission to empower communities by providing renewable energy and energy efficiency services, equipment and training, along with their commitment to the combined goals of economic impact and environmental justice. Their work at it’s core is about increasing access to new technologies, and Executive Director and Co-Founder Erica Mackie summed this up beautifully in her heartfelt acceptance speech for the award: “If we truly want to make renewable energy solutions mainstream, and to make this a movement that everyone can take part in, we need to make sure we have ALL of our communities at the table.”

This approach to empowerment-by-way-of-solar-power is clearly articulated in the GRID Alternatives mission statement:

We believe making energy choices that are good for the environment can go hand-in-hand with improving the lives of those living in low-income communities. GRID Alternatives works collaboratively with communities and local organizations to identify specific needs and to develop renewable energy solutions that are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.”


Their core approach to this work emphasizes local training and leadership opportunities  to install solar electric systems with low-income homeowners in diverse and traditionally under-resourced communities. GRID Alternatives recently hit their goal of 1 Megawatt of installed solar electric generation and counting.  You can watch their progress on the cool “impact calculator” on their website,  tracking such details as “number of homes solarized” (596), total capacity generated (now up to 1.2 megawatts), amount of CO2 saved (51,769 tons), and number of volunteers trained – a whopping 5,302! All of this arises from a program that started with just two installations in 2004, and now they complete hundreds of projects every year.

Another exciting program they’re involved with is SASH: the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes Program. Serving as the program administrator of this state-wide program (on behalf of the California Public Utilities Commission), they offer incentives on PV solar systems to qualifying low-income homeowners. Additional components of the program emphasize workforce development, green jobs training opportunities, and community engagement. GRID Alternatives proudly declares that “no other low-income solar program in California  has such a diverse range of benefits for low-income communities.” And this diversity is visible even in their outreach materials: informational pamphlets are available in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Tagalog.

In further pursuit of their shared goals of economic impact and environmental justice, GRID Alternatives has taken an active role in partnering with local job training programs, and set aside a certain percentage of installations as learning projects to provide the supplemental  hands-on work experience that ensures program graduates are viable candidates for future job openings. These partnerships are unique to each of their current core program locations, which currently include the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Coast, the Central Valley, Greater Los Angeles, and San Diego. Here in the East Bay, for example, one such partner is Solar Richmond.

They also partner with local volunteers, so if you’ve ever been curious about the solar installation process, here is your chance to work with their experienced construction staff and lend a hand in installing solar electric systems for low-income households throughout California.

Not quite sure you’re ready to get up on a roof? Then at least visit their newly renovated website and check out their inspiring stories… and while you there, see how they are progressing with their “impact calculator” – another innovative way to track our shared progress towards sustainability!

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West Coast Green: Talking Tech

One of the things I like most about attending professional conferences is being reminded of  how many things I still don’t know…

In that spirit, here are some of the interesting acronyms, products, and phrases I encountered at West Coast Green:


Vertical gardens. SolarSync. PowerZoa.

Smart houses. Smart grids. Smart cities.

Green leases. Biomass resources.

Ecologically enhanced cities.



Rigid mineral wool.

“The future is already here, it’s just not widely distributed yet.”

And speaking of distribution, there were several workshops addressing different aspects of the smart grid, with an emphasis on maximizing  efficient distribution of energy we’ve already captured — so as to avoid the need for additional energy production.   For those of us without a background in electrical engineering or energy use management, I was especially thrilled to discover the clever and concise Smart Grid Dictionary. Assembled by Christine Hertzog – a consultant, blogger, and “professional explainer” –  this volume goes A through Z to define “over 1200 terms and acronyms covering generation, transmission, distribution, storage, and consumption of energy, plus significant new content for cyber security and standards.”

Curious about the nuances between voltage collapse, voltage sag, voltage optimization, and voltage stability? Sometimes get confused about whether you should be reviewing the IEC standards, the IEEE standards, or the EEPS standards? Wondering if trying to shift a BAU might actually result in a BANANA due to the Bakersfield Effect?

While this handy guide won’t be able to generate your strategic plan or negotiate shared use agreements, at least it will help you be more informed and less tongue tied in the process.

Highly recommended for early adopters!

I look forward to continuing this conversation, but for the time being, please excuse me, as I have to go figure out how to make use of my mash-up master control panel…

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Solar Sonoma County: Advocates for Megawatts

In my previous post, I spotlighted a few sustainability projects that I thought were particularly innovative and inspiring. But as we all know, cool technology won’t get us very far unless people are actually putting it to use. So today I want to tell you about an innovative delivery system I heard about during my weekend at Sol Fest.

Solar Sonoma County is a non-profit organization headquartered in Santa Rosa, California. They are one of 25 “Solar America Cities” across the nation, as selected and funded (in part) by the Department of Energy. But Solar Sonoma County is unique in that they have partnered with the City of Santa Rosa, such that the City is addressing solar issues within the urban boundaries, thus leaving Solar Sonoma County available to advocate for increased solar usage throughout the rest of Sonoma County. At present, this partnership model is unique in the Solar Cities program, and enables Solar Sonoma County to be the only “Solar City” program that in fact is serving an entire county.

So what are they doing with all of this capacity? Preparing to launch an innovative “Clean Energy Advocate” program to promote solar retrofitting for homes and businesses. Their target goal is to achieve 25 new Megawatts of solar in Sonoma County by March 2011.

The Clean Energy Advocate project provides education and outreach to assist potential solar system consumers in navigating the various challenges that can be part of a solar installation, from choosing a vendor to accessing financing and incentives.

Solar Sonoma County has several clearly defined goals for this program, including:

  • increase the number of property owners in Sonoma County who install a solar photovoltaic or solar thermal system;
  • significantly improve the outcome and experience of property owners who install a solar system;
  • increase employment in the renewable energy sector of the County; and
  • help Sonoma County cities and Sonoma County reduce energy use and meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Solar Sonoma County is currently working through some test projects to ensure all their systems are in place, and expect to bring the program to scale at the beginning of 2011. I spoke with their Executive Director, Alison Healy, and she shared that “We’re very excited to be launching this groundbreaking program, which is the first county-wide program of its kind across the nation.” Check back with them for more information as the project unfolds.

In the meantime, I am spending the weekend at West Coast Green, and hoping I have enough energy bars on hand to make it through three days of workshops and conversations. Expecting to get lots of new information, and also looking forward to catching up with two dynamic speakers I’ve really enjoyed at other venues: landscape architect Josiah Cain spreading the word about “Ecological Bionics” and Eric Corey Freed premiering his fresh new presentation: “Spills, Sins, and Starbucks: How Oil Has Negatively Altered Our Built Environment.”

See you on the other side!

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Courage, Clear-Seeing and Creativity

Sustainability obliges us to act in a way that makes sense over the long haul.

Not using more energy than we can reasonably produce… Not producing more trash than we can dispose of… Choosing new ways of acting that address a simple fact: we share a single planet with a finite amount of resources.

Sometimes it can be scary to acknowledge things as they really are, and we try to avoid it by looking away or distracting ourselves. But once we can muster the courage to overcome such fears, and look at the truth of our situation with a fierce honesty, we gain access to incredible opportunities for growth and creativity. A phrase I heard recently in a dharma talk really captures for me a precise description of this potential: “when the mind is aligned with the truth, it has a tremendous amount of energy.”

My goal for this blog is to champion innovative projects which exemplify this spirit of truth-seeking and creativity. Projects which are the direct result of facing a problem head-on and refusing to be deterred by the enormity of the mess we’ve made for ourselves. Projects like planting sunflowers in Pittsburg, PA, to draw toxins out of former industrial land, or constructing artificial wetlands in the Sacramento Delta to treat town wastewater contaminated by copper.

In the words of Robert Frost: “The best way out is always through.”

As we seek to repair the existing damage, we must simultaneously develop new ways of being on the planet. Innovations like the effort to “re-vision” Dallas by turning a city block into a carbon-neutral community, or developing off-the-grid education centers that enable inner-city kids to gain first-hand experience renewable energy, wastewater treatment, and the green economy.

This is just a tiny sampling of the amazing – and necessary – new technologies that have the potential to change the world and help our entire planet step into sustainability.

You’re invited to join me on this journey of discovery. Next stop: the 14th annual Sol Fest, hosted by the Solar Living Institute, taking place September 25 & 26 at Redwood Empire Fairground in Ukiah. Sol Fest promises to an action-packed weekend of workshops, music, and inspiration — I look forward to sharing some highlights in my next post.

Thanks for reading.

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