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Boldness and vision in the wine industry

Close to Home, Press Democrat January 1, 2012

Vineyards cover only 6% of Sonoma County’s one million acres, but the county’s $400 million wine industry plays a major role in climate protection.

So it is heartening to read that Jackson Family Wines recently received a Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (“Viticulture Briefs”, 11/27/11, Press Democrat.)

Jackson Family Wines offset 130% of its annual electricity usage by purchasing credits from renewable energy projects such as wind and solar. The company also invested in solar power and energy and building efficiency.

Through their actions, Jackson Family Wines have highlighted opportunities that exist throughout the industry.

Grape growers and vineyards produce greenhouse emissions in a variety of ways: through their electricity and fuel usage (to power tank heaters, water pumps, and equipment, and to package and ship wines), through fertilizer usage, and through land management practices. All these activities offer opportunities for emissions-reducing improvements.

Deforestation and extensive tillage reduce the amount of carbon stored in biomass and soils. Conversely, adding trees, hedgerows, and cover crops increases carbon stocks and revitalizes the land. Wineries’ biomass-filled wastewater ponds generate methane, a greenhouse gas about 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane can be captured and converted into electricity.

Frequently improvements that combat climate change also help the bottom line. However, making change requires vision, entrepreneurial action and investment.

It is one thing to know that dry-farming can produce healthy grapes at low cost and with fewer emissions. It is another thing altogether to embark on a multi-year experiment with 30 acres of grapes.

It is simple to say that solar power can reduce energy bills over the long term. More difficult is investing $1 million in capital improvements.

This is particularly true in the wine industry. Demand currently doesn’t reward eco-friendly wines because a bad taste lingers in consumers’ collective mouths left by questionable organic wines in the 70s and 80s. Consequently it is largely up to forward-thinking growers and winemakers to quietly instigate change.

Eventually all growers and winemakers will have to. Like much of California’s agriculture, Sonoma County’s wine industry stands to be severely effected by climate change over thecoming century. A warmer, more variable climate will stress plants and shift growing regions.

“We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California,” U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has warned.

Fortunately many of the same policies and practices that help lower emissions also help adapt to climate change. Opportunities that are now optional like reducing water usage or insulating buildings will increasingly become necessities as our world warms.

We congratulate Jackson Family Wines and others in the wine industry with the vision and courage to support climate resilient policies and implement climate-friendly practices.


Alex Dolginow handles agriculture, forestry, open space, and adaptation at the Climate Protection Campaign. He is currently on a postgraduate fellowship, having recently completed his undergraduate work at Harvard.