Sustainability: No Longer an Option

Post # 1 of 4

The possibility that human societies will be able to maintain sustainability, our very capacity to endure, is in question – in light of  environmental degradation, climate change, over-consumption, population growth and societies’ pursuit of indefinite economic growth in a closed system.  With all this stacked against us, I decided to write an article which covers sustainability as it relates to the area of winemaking and the vineyards (viniculture and viticulture), respectively.  My initial thDVOY3WO4intent was to explore the trilogy of organic, sustainable and biodynamic agriculture.  While there are overlapping areas, each practice is unique and will be covered individually in sequels to this post.  That said, I am ecstatic to report that the criteria and rigor to become a Certified Sustainable Winery so exceeds my pre-conceived notion that containing the length of this article while maintaining its integrity is a challenge.  Even more impressive and optimistic is the discovery that within the framework of sustainability, social concerns for employees, vendors, the community and future generations share equally with environmental and economic concerns.  Every criterion is result-driven and runs the academic rigor of assessment, goal setting, progress monitoring and evaluation with a healthy dose of staff training and involvement central to its core.   It’s really about holistic stewardship by the people to the people and our land.

While there are domestic programs in several states and an International Sustainability Alliance, I have selected California for the role model in this post as their Sustainable Winegrowing Program is all-inclusive, statewide and cohesive with-in the wine industry.  2,191 wineries and vineyards are participating in the program and 574 have attained full certification.  Today California’s 4,100 wineries produce 90 percent of all U.S. wine.  The California wine industry generates 820,000 jobs and accounts for $26 billion in U.S. wages. Wine contributes significantly to our economy, 2014 U.S wine sales were $37.6 billion.

The California Sustainable Winegrowing Program

The “3 E’s of Sustainability”

3Es_circles[1]The Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP) was initiated in January 2001 by an alliance between members of the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) to promote best practices that are environmentally sound, socially equitable, and economically feasible­, referred to as the “3 E’s of Sustainability”. They encompass every aspect of the vineyard, winery, surrounding habitat and ecosystem, the employees, the community and future generations.  These three overarching principles provided a general direction to pursue sustainability however, needed to be translated into everyday operations of winegrowing and winemaking. To bridge this gap between general principles and daily decision-making, in October 2002, the SWP project published a 490-page workbook containing the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices. The book covers more than 200 vineyard and winery sustainability practices – from grapes to glass – in 15 chapters to assist the vintner through the process.  At a point of their choosing, the vintner ccsw-logomay submit for their final accreditation audit. Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW-Certified) is a third-party program that verifies a vineyard or winery has implemented and satisfied all performance metrics set forth in the Code.  Successful candidates receive accreditation yet must continuously improve year after year to retain their certification.  To view the list of CCSW-Certified Wineries & Vineyards click here

In addition to the workbook and accreditation, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance compiles a Progress Report every four years that contains wine industry sustainability data and statistics.   The report highlights SWP accomplishments and acknowledges the many collaborators that have made these strides possible. It also identifies areas that need improvement.

The California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook (2012- 3rd edition)

                         Chapters Include:

  •        Sustainable Business Strategy  swpworkbook2
  •        Viticulture
  •        Soil Management
  •        Vineyard Water Management
  •        Pest Management
  •        Wine Quality
  •        Ecosystem Management
  •        Energy Efficiency
  •        Winery Water Conservation & Quality
  •        Material Handling
  •        Solid Waste Reduction & Management
  •        Environmentally Preferred Purchasing
  •        Human Resources
  •        Neighbors And Community
  •        Air Quality

The 15 chapters in the Code Book contain more than 200 industry-specific criteria to self-assess the sustainability performance of vineyard and winery operations. Each criterion has four performance categories that move growers and vintners beyond compliance and onto a continuum towards increased sustainability.  For purposes of illustrating the specificity of the Code Book and to further emphasize the commitment to Social Equity the 10 criteria from the chapter on Human Resources are outlined below:

Human Resources Criteria for Sustainability

  1. 14-1 HR Planning and Goals
  2. 14-2 Staffing and Recruiting Strategy
  3. 14-3 Interviewing Process
  4. 14-4 Employee Orientation
  5. 14-5 Safety Training
  6. 14-6 Continuing Education, Training and Development
  7. 14-7 Industry Knowledge and Participation
  8. 14-8   Promoting Sustainability in the Workplace
  9. 14-9 Employee Performance
  10. 14-10 Compensation Benchmarking

This concludes a cursory view on the California Winegrowers Sustainability Program.   For a more in-depth study or for the avid reader, highlights from each of the Code Book’s 15 Chapters are summarized below and further delve into the specifics.  In addition, I have prepared a list of sustainable practices that everyone can perform to propel you along the journey of assisting Mother Nature in her arduous task of maintaining our planet. To receive a copy, place your request in the comment section of this blog, along with your thoughts on this plight


Sustainable Business Strategy

California wineries have embraced sustainable winemaking to protect and conserve the natural resources they depend upon, to operate more efficiently and, ultimately, to make higher quality wine. Because so many wineries are family-owned, they know that the decisions they make today can have a profound influence on future generations.

A sustainable business strategy is central to the Code of Sustainability.  However, the three key areas of focus in recent years have been:  energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction which are discussed in subsequent chapters.

In addition, wineries are in a position to create tourism and contribute toward philanthropic endeavors and must make action plans accordingly in their business strategy.   Wine tourism is a boon to local economies and small businesses such as restaurants, retailers and hotels throughout the nation. Wine-related events such as auctions, festivals and winemaker dinners raise millions of dollars for charitable and nonprofit organizations. It is estimated that over $100 million is raised annually by the California wine industry alone for philanthropic concerns.


The Heart of the Operation Incorporating all “3 E’s of Sustainability”

California winegrape growers have a long history of producing excellent quality grapes for winemaking. They also have a great record of adapting to change and confronting challenges as required along the way.  The intense international and domestic competition compels every California grower to fully engage in the quest for quality. Employing vineyard practices aimed at fulfilling these expectations will allow California growers to increase their share of the domestic and world markets and continue to enhance California’s role as one of the finest wine regions in the world.  As noted in the introduction, Economic Feasibility is one of the three tenets of sustainability.

The other major trend facing growers is the emphasis on environmental quality and the long-term sustainability of our vineyards. Environmental regulations are a reality that the 21st century farmer confronts every day. California winegrowers strive to be forward thinking to ensure that future generations inherit viable vineyard lands and are able to continue farming; thus addressing the remaining two tenets of Social Equity and Environmental Soundness.

The purpose of this chapter is to help growers confidently address Viticultural practices that affect winegrape quality. It includes 19 criteria and centers on vine canopy management, optimum development of the vineyard and important environmental constraints affecting the vineyard.  The vineyard is the heart of the whole operation and this 31 page chapter puts forth very specific “how to” information from leaf removal to row and vine spacing to creation and conservation of habitat for wildlife.

Soil Management

Healthy soil is the foundation of sustainable vineyards. After all, one-third of the grapevine lives underground in the form of roots. Well-structured soils provide roots with three vital resources: water, nutrients and air. Healthy soils feature vibrant populations of microbes and worms that help by slowly decomposing organic matter.

Soil Testing and Monitoring – understanding vineyards’ soil chemistry is the first step to making informed decisions about the timing and volume of fertilizer and soil amendment applications

Cover Crops –planted between vine rows improve vine health by allowing roots better access to nutrients from organic matter, providing habitat for insects, enhancing biodiversity, and improving air quality by intake of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis

Adding Manure and Compost – to increase organic matter and nutrient content

Soil Erosion – Growers use practices that limit soil erosion not only to prevent  the loss of valuable topsoil, but because soil can end up in streams and other water bodies where it can impact water quality

 Vineyard Water Management

The good news is that winegrapes use less water than most crops.  Vintners regularly walk their vineyards to monitor vines for signs of water stress and evaluate overall vine health. Growers also use several tools to provide data that helps growers precisely determine the vineyard’s water needs and apply water only when necessary.  These include weather stations which monitor evapotranspiration (loss of water from the soil and plants), “neutron probes” that track water availability and depletion in the soil, and “pressure bombs” which quantify plant water stress. Flow meters are attached to wells and pumps to track how much water is used for irrigation.

Irrigation Management System – At the heart of vineyard water management is the irrigation system itself. Approximately 80% of California vineyards use drip irrigation, a highly efficient watering method which conserves water by giving growers precise control over when, where and how much water to apply. Timing of irrigation is also important as watering before mid-morning or at night decreases ozone formation and conserves energy

Riparian Habitat – The presence of a riparian habitat – a wildlife habitat along a waterway – is important for a healthy watershed and growers whose vineyards border waterways are expected to actively protect and enhance riparian habitat. Growers will often plant various forms of vegetation near waterways to serve as a filter and prevent sediment and nutrients in vineyard runoff from entering the waterway. Growers plant shrubs and trees to shade the water and help maintain cooler water temperatures, which in turn maintain a diversity of aquatic life

Pest Management

Walking vineyards and documenting unwanted pests is a fact of life, and California growers have devised numerous methods for addressing them. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a multi-faceted, cost-effective approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, and chemical tools in a way that minimizes health, environmental and economic risks. For instance, sustainable growers introduce beneficial insect populations into the vineyard such as predatory mites, spiders, wasps or ladybugs. They also provide habitat – such as cover crops and native grasses – where beneficial insects can thrive. Many growers install nesting boxes for predatory birds such as owls that help control harmful rodents, and they use animals such as chickens, sheep and goats to keep unwanted pest populations and weeds to a minimum. Other examples include limiting tractor passes in the vineyard to reduce dust and associated mites, and companion planting on the outskirts of vineyards – using plants that serve as alternative habitats for pests.

Wine Quality

The intense international and domestic competition compels every California grower to be fully engaged in the quest for quality. Wine quality is a subjective measure affected by both personal experience and preference. However, understanding how it is interpreted and measured throughout the wine industry is critical to the success of the modern-day wine grape grower and winemaker.

This chapter begins with field fruit maturity.  Pre-harvest testing is implemented to assure the grapes have reached maturity before picking.  An educational component assures growers and winery representative frequently taste their grapes, compare their wine against other local wineries, attend wine appreciation classes and educational seminars and visit other wineries in far reaching wine regions.  Knowledge gathered should include market trends and competitive industry pricing.  Winemakers are required to conduct trials on specific Viticultural practices and compare their results against controls with the ultimate goal of improving wine quality.

Finally, there must be on-going written strategic plans monitoring systems and goal-oriented corrective measures based on results for both Food Safety and Food Security Defense directed toward intentional attacks on the food supply. .   The Food Safety Plan must include handling processes, sanitation, worker hygiene and corrective measures for employee infraction of policy and procedure.

Ecosystem Management

Biodiversity – a variety of plant and animal life – is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Sustainable wine growers protect native habitat, trees and plant species. They also encourage beneficial insects and natural predators such as owls, songbirds and other fowl which control populations of otherwise harmful rodents and pests. Growers plant vines around trees and away from waterways and vernal pools. Sustainable growers work with local community and government groups to actively protect and maintain streams, wetlands and riparian areas.

 Energy Efficiency

 In today’s energy environment, it is essential for wineries to have a comprehensive energy management plan that includes conservation, energy audits, monitoring efficiency and the utilization of alternative energy sources. Such plans can minimize energy costs and reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs), leading to a smaller carbon footprint per each case of wine.

Maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the winemaking and aging process is vital for wine quality. As a result, cooling systems are needed in wine cellars, barrel rooms and within wine tanks themselves.  Refrigeration is the most significant consumer of energy in the winery and therefore, drives many of the conservation measures listed below.  Some of the ways vintners improve energy efficiency include:

  • Insulating buildings, often with natural materials such as rock, rammed earth or even hay bales
  • Using underground caves that keep wine at an ideal temperature without refrigeration
  • Using retractable roofs that open at night for ventilation and cooling
  • Insulating tanks, pumps and hoses
  • Using high-speed roll-up doors that keep cool air inside and hot air outside
  • Locating tanks inside or under canopies to reduce cooling and heating needs
  • Improving lighting efficiency with fluorescent or LED, automatic lighting controls, skylights and natural light tubes
  • Monitoring pump efficiency – pumps used for irrigation are the biggest energy users in the vineyard, so many California growers perform pump efficiency tests to determine if they are operating at optimal efficiency

Solar Energy  – Perhaps it’s only natural that with so much sunshine California wineries have increasingly turned to solar power as an alternative energy source. In addition to solar panels on winery roofs and in vineyards, there are solar-powered aerators for wastewater ponds. Some wineries provide 100% of their energy needs – both in the winery and vineyard – through the use of solar power, and even generate additional energy which they send back to the grid

Alternative Fuels – Farming equipment is a major consumer of energy in the vineyard. Alternative fuels such as biodiesel and electric-powered vehicles are often used

Winery Water Management and Quality

Like energy, at the core of every water conservation program is the awareness of how much water is being used. Knowing the total amount of water moving through a winery by conducting a water audit is the first step in developing a water conservation plan with clearly defined, achievable goals. Many wineries install water meters at key operational points to monitor water use during specific operations.  Equally important are clearly communicated cleaning procedures that optimize water use.

Cleaning and Sanitation in the Winery – Pre-cleaning equipment and use of hoses with high pressure/low volume nozzles and shut-off valves are another key method for cutting down on water use when cleaning crush pad, barrels, bottling lines and cellars

Managing Process Water – California wineries have found innovative ways not only to reduce water usage but also to recycle and reuse this precious natural resource

Many wineries feature process water ponds that treat and clean used water.  Often, this clean, recycled water is applied back to the land to irrigate landscaping and vineyards, or it can be used for frost protection in the vineyard.  As an alternative to process water ponds, some wineries have installed “bio-digesters” or other types of water treatment systems. Other wineries remove water through septic systems or safely dispose of water off-site.

Material Handling

This chapter provides nine criteria to improve the wineries understanding of the full cost and responsibility of hazardous material handling, waste generation and disposal.  The multiple benefits of implementing pollution prevention throughout the operation are examined.  Also addressed are the handling of winery sanitation supplies, paint, paint thinners and aerosol cans, and the protection of Storm and Process Wastewater and fuel storage.

Solid Waste Reduction and Management

California has one of the best recycling infrastructure in the U.S., a fact that greatly benefits the state’s wine community when it comes to waste reduction. Much of the solid waste generated by wineries – including cardboard, paper, metal, glass and plastic – is collected and recycled.

Many of the packaging supplies that are purchased by wineries come with excessive “outer” packaging that must be disposed of, often at a cost to the winery. Wineries can reduce this unnecessary packaging by working with and encouraging suppliers to take back the materials the winery cannot use. This also prompts suppliers to develop systems for reusable containers and recyclable packaging, ultimately reducing the amount of waste going to landfills. Wineries also reduce waste by focusing on the packaging used to ship wine; many use materials that are easy to recycle and/or have specific environmental attributes such as high recyclable content.

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing

Another way California wineries reduce waste is by implementing an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) strategy. An EPP strategy includes a process for selecting products or services from outside vendors that have a reduced impact on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services.

Human Resources

In addition to embracing environmental practices, California vintners and winegrape growers understand that maintaining a satisfied workforce is a key element to sustainability.  Wineries and vineyards both large and small routinely use staff training to enhance skill levels and to protect, educate and motivate employees and keep them abreast of sustainability practices.  Some wineries and vineyards have dedicated ‘green teams’ of employees focused on sustainability improvements and recognize employees who go beyond the call of duty to promote sustainability on the job.

California wineries and vineyards work hard to provide positive workplaces. In addition to job, safety and sustainability training, common practices include new employee orientation programs, team building activities, career development coaching, educational opportunities, clearly understood compensation and bonus programs, and ensuring that employees have the right tools and equipment to do their jobs.

Neighbors & Community

California’s wine regions offer breathtaking rural vistas along with small town charm; however, vintners and growers are also keenly aware that their operations can impact the surrounding neighbors and communities. Understanding the concerns and issues of neighbors and the greater community is a priority for sustainable vintners and winegrape growers; they pro-actively engage with neighbors to ensure they understand the vineyard and winery’s operations and procedures. They provide contact information, communicate frequently, invite neighbors to visit their operations, offer seminars, vineyard tours and other educational opportunities to community members as a way of addressing important neighborhood and community issues, reducing misinformation and promoting mutual understanding.  Growers and vintners actively work to address potential issues such as winery light, noise and traffic.

Wine communities have a history of making significant contributions to the communities and regions in which they live and operate. In addition to preserving rural open space and promoting cultural activities, wineries spearhead charitable events and lend support – through financial contributions, wine donations and volunteerism – for a wide array of organizations and community services.

Air Quality

Air emissions associated with pumping water include nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and greenhouse gases (e.g., CO2).

Concerns about air quality likely will intensify. It is important, therefore, that the winegrowing community leads efforts to decrease emissions. Moreover, it is crucial to note that agriculture provides a key biological filter. Vines, cover crops, and other plants associated with the vineyard extract CO2 from the air and sequester the carbon in their tissues during photosynthesis. The conservation of flora is immensely important for enhancing this capacity.

The major greenhouse gases associated with grape and wine production are CO2 and N2O. In the vineyard, CO2 can be emitted or stored (sequestered) by plants and soils as a result of plant and microbial activities and management practices (e.g. tillage, irrigation).  The combustion of fuels by electrical utilities, irrigation pumping plants, or by tractors and other vehicles is a key source of CO2. N2O is mostly attributed to excessive use of fertilizers. Evaporative losses of refrigerants are important sources of greenhouse gas emissions for wineries.

There are many overlapping efforts or systems. For example, decreasing water usage leads to cleaner air as emissions associated with pumping water include nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and greenhouse gases.

Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5) Pose Varying Degrees of Health Risks – Sources include combustion of wood and fossil fuels (especially diesel), atmospheric conversion of gaseous pollutants and dust from industrial and agricultural operations, unpaved roadways and pesticides.  Additional information on air particles, what they are and where they come from, can be found at the bottom of this post.


The California Wine Industry has worked diligently throughout the 21st century to develop and implement a top-rate sustainability program. Their efforts and leadership are being recognized both domestically and internationally.   Oregon, Washington State and New York also have sustainability programs and other states are in the developmental stages.  All this and more is necessary for Mother Earth to maintain the capacity to endure and sustain her life forms.  It is essential that you and I and all sectors of the globe lend full commitment and participation.

Supplemental Entries

Sustainable Winegrowing Ambassadors Course


Wine professionals can learn about sustainable practices used in California vineyards and wineries through a one-hour online certificate course. The free course provides an opportunity for winery sales, marketing, hospitality staff, retailers, and restaurateurs to learn about sustainable winegrowing so they can confidently share information with others.

To get started, or learn more click here: 


Particles in the air are a mixture of solids and liquid droplets that vary in size and often are referred to as “particulate matter”. Small particles or respirable particulate matter – particles less than or equal to 10 microns in diameter (PM2.5 & PM10) – pose a greater health concern than larger particles greater than 10 microns because they can pass through the nose and throat and penetrate the lungs. Ten microns is about one-seventh the diameter of a human hair. Particles exceeding 10 microns usually do not reach the lungs, but can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat.

Fine particles (PM2.5) have diameters less than or equal to 2.5 microns and pose the greatest health concerns – PM2.5 is directly emitted when fuels such as coal, oil, diesel, gasoline, or wood are burned. Fine particles can be emitted during combustion associated with power plants, wood stoves, and motor vehicles. These particles also are produced during fuel use by construction equipment, agricultural burning, forest fires, and residential fireplaces. Moreover, a large fraction of PM2.5 is secondarily formed through the atmospheric reaction of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) or sulfur dioxide with ammonia to form ammonium nitrates and ammonium sulfates, respectively. NOx and sulfur dioxide are combustion by-products

PM10 include “coarse” and “fine” particles – Coarse particles, with diameters ranging between 2.6 and 10 microns, typically are released during crushing or grinding operations and, importantly, as fugitive dust disturbed by wind, vehicles, or equipment


The Perceived Benefits and Costs of Sustainability Practices in California Viticulture:  Mark Lubell, Vicken Hillis, Matthew Hoffman

Defining Sustainable Viticulture from the Practitioner PersPective  by Matthew Hoffman, Mark Lubell, Vicken Hillis, University of California, Davis

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission’s “Lodi Winegrower’s Workbook” (Ohmart and Matthiasson, 2000).

California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Wine Institute, and California Association of Winegrape Growers. 2012. California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook (3rd ed).

Sustainability:  Wikipedia

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