Practical Winery
58-D Paul Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903-2054
phone:415/479-5819 · fax:415/492-9325

November/December 2002

BY Karen Ross, President of the California Association of
Winegrape Growers

Almost every industry today is told to “think outside the box” in order to succeed in an increasingly competitive global market and ever more diverse and complex political and social environment. But to do that, we first need to consider a crucial question: What is inside the box?

Throughout our history, “inside the agriculture box” has meant an orientation toward the most efficient production. Our focus has been on higher volume, lower cost, and ensuring the availability of inputs, such as water, soil, and crop protection tools. Our markets have been driven by expanding population and income growth. There really has not been much emphasis on what consumers want.

In the film, Field of Dreams, the theme was “Build it and they will come.” Inside the box, agriculture has said, “Grow it and they will buy.”

But, we can’t afford to think that way anymore. Thinking outside the box, we must shift from being production-driven to being market-driven. That means we must grow not only what consumers want, but we must do it in a way that is acceptable to our changing society. By doing so, we increase the possibility of adding value to our products and services and expanding support for our industry from a predominantly urbanized society with strong environmental values.

California Sustainable Winegrowing Practices project
The wine community, through Wine Vision and other collaborative efforts, has taken a significant first step in “thinking outside the box.”

Building on the impressive work in sustainable practices already undertaken by regional winegrowing organizations, individuals, and private companies, and inspired by the Wine Vision strategic goal to be a leader in sustainable practices, the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) initiated the joint Sustainable Winegrowing Practices (SWP) project in June 2001.

Real ToolBox, a sustainable-agriculture and resource-conservation professional services firm, was retained as project manager to work closely with a joint Wine Institute/CAWG committee of 50 growers and vintners. The project culminated in October 2002 with introduction of The Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook, a voluntary self-assessment guide.

The primary audience for the workbook is California winegrowers and vintners, but it promises to be a model for sustainability for wine communities in other states and countries, for other agricultural crops, and perhaps for other industries. The workbook content can also be useful to a wider audience including employees, suppliers, wine buyers, neighbors and local community members, representatives of the environmental and social equity communities, policy makers, regulators, media, and consumers.

The principal purpose of the workbook is to provide winegrowers and vintners with a tool to voluntarily:
• Assess the sustainability of practices;
• Identify areas of excellence and areas where improvements can be made; and,
• Develop action plans to increase an operation’s sustainability.

Sources for the model
Two groups, the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission (LWWC) and the Central Coast Vineyard Team (CCVT), provided the model for development of this self-assessment tool. CCVT members were pioneers in developing the first vineyard self-assessment, the Positive Point System.

LWWC combined elements of the Positive Point System, new winegrowing content, and a four-category self-assessment format developed by Farm*A*Syst to produce the Lodi Winegrower’s Workbook. The LWWC allowed the joint committee to directly adopt chapters from the Lodi Winegrowers Workbook for the project.

The overall, long-term mission for the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices includes:
• Establishing voluntary high standards of sustainable practices to be followed and maintained by the entire wine community;
• Enhancing winegrower-to-winegrower and vintner-to-vintner education on the importance of sustainable practices and how self-governing will enhance the economic viability and future of the wine community; and,
• Demonstrating how working closely with neighbors, communities and other stakeholders to maintain an open dialogue can address concerns, enhance mutual respect, and accelerate results.

A vision for sustainability
The vision of the SWP project is long-term sustainability of the California wine community. To place the concept of sustainability into the context of winegrowing, the project defines sustainable winegrowing as growing and winemaking practices that are sensitive to the environment (Environmentally sound), responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large (socially Equitable), and are economically feasible to implement and maintain (Economically feasible). The combination of these three principles is often referred to as the three “E’s” of sustainability (Figure I).

These three overarching principles provide a general direction to pursue sustainability. However, these principles are not easily translated into everyday operations of winegrowing and winemaking. To bridge this gap between general principles and daily decision-making, the workbook’s chapters translate the overarching sustainability principles into specific winegrowing and winemaking practices (Figure II).

Sustainability values
This project is guided by the following set of sustainability values:
• Produce the best quality wine and/or grapes possible.
• Provide leadership in protecting the environment and conserving natural resources.
• Maintain long-term viability of agricultural lands.
• Support the economic and social well-being of farm and winery employees through training and competitive compensation.
• Respect and communicate with neighbors and community members; respond to their concerns in a considerate manner.
• Enhance local communities through job creation, supporting local business, and actively working on important community issues.
• Honor the California wine community’s entrepreneurial spirit.
• Support research and education and monitor and evaluate existing practices to expedite continual improvements.

What the workbook is and is not
It is important to note that this workbook is a voluntary self-assessment tool. The workbook is not:
• a “how-to” manual for winegrowing and winemaking;
• a set of “rules” that must be followed; or
• an external rating system to be used by others to judge your operation.

This workbook does provide the opportunity to voluntarily self-assess the relative sustainability of a vineyard and/or winery operation. The workbook is not linked to any outside certification system. However, due to the interest of some wine community members, it is designed to be easily adapted to international environmental management system (EMS) standards, such as the ISO 14000 family, and the international sustainability reporting efforts, such as the Global Reporting Initiative.

Five key points for using the workbook
1. Familiarize yourself with the workbook:
First, thumb through it to get a feel for the scope and format. There are 221 self-assessment questions within 13 chapters: Each chapter has a set of industry-specific criteria to self-assess sustainability performance of vineyard and winery operations. Each criteria has four performance categories. From right to left in Table II, the categories represent increasing sustainability.

2. Decide what to assess:
Begin by selecting one or more vineyards and/or winery facilities to assess. If you manage multiple vineyards and/or winery facilities, it may make sense the first time through the workbook to select an operation you think would assess the highest and another that you think would assess lower.

3. Do your self-assessment:
Read each question and decide if it is applicable to your vineyard and/or winery. Not all questions are applicable to every vineyard or winemaking facility. After reading each category, decide which category best describes the operation(s) you are assessing. The workbook includes a set of self-assessment evaluation sheets to keep track of your assessment. An example is provided in Table III.

Many of the self-assessment questions are followed by educational boxes to provide supplemental information on specific sustainable practices. Specific resources and Internet links are included for many questions. Additional resources and references are provided at the end of the workbook.

4. Develop your action plan:
Once you have completed the self-assessment portion of the workbook, the next step is developing an action plan for your vineyard and/or winery operation. Your evaluation sheets will show which areas of your vineyard and/or winery operations may need some changes to maximize performance or prevent environmental problems. Pay special attention to all issues that have a 1 or a 2 rating. These are areas for potential improvement.

To develop an action plan, you will need to analyze your situation, then decide what you want to do and when it can be done. You decide what actions to take over the next five years. Remember, this is your action plan — it must suit you and your operations. The educational boxes and resource links in the workbook may be helpful in developing your action plan.

5. Submit your self-assessment evaluation and provide feedback:
The SWP project is interested in receiving self-assessment evaluations, which will be kept confidential. The project would also appreciate receiving feedback about the workbook on the “Comments,” “Corrections,” and “Suggestions” sheets, included to be returned to the joint project.

The submission of self-assessment evaluation sheets is voluntary, and they will be treated with strict confidentiality. The information will be used by the project for the following purposes:
• To establish baseline information on statewide adoption of sustainable practices by winegrowers and vintners.
• To provide feedback to regional winegrower and vintner associations on areas of excellence and areas that need improvement, thus helping to target educational programs and other resource investments.
• To improve the workbook self-assessment questions to accurately capture useful information on sustainable practices.
• To document beneficial sustainable practices and innovation that can be rapidly adopted by other vineyards and wineries.

Steve Schafer, CAWG chairman, has been part of a Central California group of growers who reviewed various chapters and provided input to the authors. One of the things he likes best about the workbook is how it is formatted.

“It brings everything together in a way that’s easy to follow, and it makes it easier to get your arms around the idea of sustainability,” says Schafer. “I can go at my own pace, or I can participate in a workshop with other growers to review and discuss the issues addressed. In the tough competitive environment we face, we need to look for every way we can to differentiate ourselves and meet consumer expectations. This focus on sustainability is critical for our survival.”

In addition to the Central California group of growers, the following regional grower and vintner groups reviewed the workbook and provided input: Sonoma County Grape Growers Association, Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, Lake County Winegrape Commission, Napa Valley Vintners Association, Napa Valley Grape Growers Association, Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group, Calaveras Winegrape Growers, and the Central Coast Vineyard Team.

Input was also received from many reviewers from the University of California and California State University campuses, in addition to the federal EPA, the California Department of Food & Agriculture and other state agencies, plus environmental and social equity organizations.

A 501(c)(3) organization, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, has been created by Wine Institute and CAWG to advance the adoption of sustainable viticulture and viniculture practices through research and education. The group’s board of trustees will focus on raising funds to print workbooks and sponsor regional workshops in every part of the state. Their purpose is to introduce the book to growers and vintners and to fund ongoing education programs that will advance the principles of sustainability articulated in the workbook.

California’s rapid population growth (600,000 people per year currently, with an anticipated annual increase to 850,000 by 2015) has resulted in intense competition for natural resources — the very natural resources that make California wine the unique product it is.

As one of the largest sectors of the California agricultural industry, the wine community is taking responsibility for environmental stewardship and good neighbor policies. The workbook is the first step in actively promoting sustainable practices that respect nature, our employees, our neighbors, and communities — while also helping meet the industry’s bottom line.

Based on the enthusiastic response not only from California growers and vintners, but also from the wine industry in other states and countries, “thinking outside the box” has positioned the California wine community to be a leader in sustainable winegrowing, thus enhancing our historical and cultural value to the state.