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December 2, 2008

First Green Wine Summit delves into sustainable business practices

Business Journal
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NORTH BAY, Dec. 2, 2008 – At the first Green Wine Summit held at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa today, third-party verification and certification of environmentally friendly business practices in the wine industry emerged as a main theme.

The summit brought together a couple of hundred industry professionals and natural resources regulators to talk about where the wine business has come in the past few decades in sustainable business practices and particularly in the past few years with the international attention paid to climate change. Since the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing was published in 2002, 1,482 organizations have completed self assessments of their performance in 227 individual criteria. That represents 63 percent of the winegrape acreage in the state and 59 percent of case production.

Currently the California Association of Winegrape Growers and the Wine Institute are putting finishing touches on a pilot voluntary certification program based on that code. Among the 15 wineries to be included in the pilot program starting early next year will be some North Coast wineries, according to Allison Jordan, executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

“Some time in 2009, when we get final approval from both boards of directors, there is the intent to open the certification program to the entire industry,” she said.

Next year the wine industry, in conjunction with other specialty crops in the state, will set industry-wide goals for improvement in areas such greenhouse gas reduction, energy efficiency, water use, waste reduction, biodiversity and work force training and retention.

“We plan to set healthy, hairy, big, audacious goals,” said Karen Ross, president of the Winegrowers Association.

There is a plan to get the word out about these sustainability initiatives among distributors, retailers and restaurateurs next year. Ms. Ross said marketing of these programs has not been done in earnest earlier to avoid being associated with “greenwashing.”

The industry interest in certification of green business practices is gaining momentum because of interests among retailers and pressure from environmental groups and regulators for verification of compliance, according to Jeff Dlott, president of SureHarvest, a developer of software for the wine and food business for monitoring sustainability solutions.

At the summit, Mr. Dlott detailed WalMart’s push to rank its 66,000 suppliers on a sustainability index, another criteria in addition to price for choosing purchasing contracts.

Joel Dillon, a habitat conservation specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, identified third-party verification and monitoring among the areas for improvement. He noted that the industry is finally moving in that direction with several programs, including the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing, Napa Green Wineries and Fish-Friendly Farming.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, a founder of the Congressional Wine Caucus, also spoke at the seminar.

“The wine community has been a leader in green business but needs to continue to be a leader to bring other people around,” he said.

When asked about rumors of his nomination for Secretary of the Interior, Rep. Thompson said, “I think I’m a real long shot. No one from the Obama campaign has contacted me.”