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January 27, 2010

Sustainability Hot Topic At Winegrower Meeting

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For the second consecutive year, sustainability was a featured topic as the 2010 Wine & Grape Symposium kicked off Tuesday in Sacramento, CA. The whole notion of sustainability in agriculture is clearly still a red-hot (green-hot?) concept, as evidenced by the fact that on the following day, the topic of The Oprah Show was “Before You Grocery Shop Again: Food 101 with Michael Pollan.” Pollan, the best-selling author and “food guru,” talks frequently about the sustainability of various foods.

It’s a concept that will continue to garner interest, said a lineup of speakers at the symposium, which is organized by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture and the California Association of Winegrape Growers. In their introduction to the opening session, “The Metrics of Business Sustainability,” the organizers noted that stakeholders are closely monitoring the sustainability aspects of consumer products. “Consumer interest in how food is produced and where it comes from is at an all-time high,” stated the introduction. “These trends have resulted in initiatives by retailers and others to drive change across their supply chains, including how to measure and communicate the complexities of sustainability.” Here are a few of the comments heard at the session.

Tom Stenzel, CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, said that the issue of sustainability will become increasingly important, and it’s vital for growers to get out in front. For example, in the next Farm Bill, Stenzel said the federal government will try and define such terms as “sustainability” and “locally grown.” Stenzel said it’s critical that the “carrot, not the stick” be used in sustainability’s implementation, as it must be about the benefits, such as lowered input costs and reduced waste. “As long as it’s a demand,” he said, “it’s not going to work as well.”

Jeff Kunde, chairman of the board of Kunde Wine Estates in Sonoma County, CA, said his company has found ways to make sustainability pay off. For example, they have reduced their energy use by 35%, cutting the kilowatts used per case from 4.57 to 3.03. And the fourth generation winegrower said they’ve also come up with some novel approaches, such as “Eco-Hikes,” where they take people through the vineyards and explain their sustainable practices. There has been such demand for the hikes, which have recently been expanded to include “Dog Hikes,” that Kunde charges participants a fee.

Jeff Dlott, the president of SureHarvest and the co-founder of the Sustainable Index for Specialty Crops, said he often hears that growers just don’t have the time to implement sustainable practices. Dlott said that doesn’t make sense. For example, is anyone too busy to know how much fuel they’ve used? In promoting sustainability, many people cite the Peter Drucker quote: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” No one’s done a better job of this than the California winegrape industry, said Dlott. For more from Dlott, check out his guest column in the next (Feb.) issue of American/Western Fruit Grower magazine.