Five years ago, the Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) made a bold declaration to the wine world that its more than 1,800 winegrowers were committed to becoming the nation’s first 100% certified sustainable wine region in 2019.
Today, Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, addressed the local winegrowing community to announce that Sonoma County now has a record-breaking 99% of its local vineyards certified sustainable. Kruse also announced that SCW will continue to build on its sustainability leadership as an exclusive participant in the California Land Stewardship Institute’s Climate Adaptation Certification Program which is the first program of its kind available in the world for agriculture.
While carbon farm plans have been utilized by some farmers and ranchers in the past, this new climate adaptation certification marks the first time farmers will have a certification and a comprehensive greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction and carbon sequestration program that includes all three main GHG - carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. This voluntary climate adaptation program will be customized to site and operations with growers documenting their reductions, monitoring their greenhouse gas emissions and undergoing an annual audit. After launching and piloting the effort in Sonoma County vineyards, the program will be available to other wine regions around the world.
“When our leadership realized that 99% of the vineyards in Sonoma County were going to be certified sustainable, they began looking ahead and identified climate adaptation certification as the next natural step for Sonoma County Winegrowers,” stated Kruse. She added, “Climate change is a critical threat, yet there is little information available on the role agriculture can play. This program addresses that by focusing on the importance of local solutions to combat a global concern. We are excited that this new certification program highlights the unique role and opportunity agriculture and local communities have in climate adaptation and mitigation.”
The Climate Adaptation Certification program is a customized farm plan that will track the impact of climate friendly farming practices and develop recommendations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The certification program will focus on proven scientific concepts that growers can implement without compromising their farming practices. It will limit nitrous oxide emissions and focus on carbon sequestration to improve the health of the soil and the farm. The program meets both the State of California’s climate goals and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Soil goals.
Each participating vineyard in Sonoma County will have its own land management program developed specifically to address the sequestration of nitrous oxide and carbon emissions. The greenhouse gas reductions will be monitored and documented with the information shared with farmers and the general public.
“Through the Climate Adaptation Certification program, both the grower and the public will be able to better understand the role of vineyards in climate change and the immediate benefits of agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon,” said Laurel Marcus, executive director of the California Land Stewardship Institute. She added, “We are excited to collaborate on this pilot project with the Sonoma County Winegrowers who have demonstrated great leadership in land stewardship and environmental responsibility.”
Sonoma County’s wine industry is primarily comprised of multi-generational family businesses. There are 59,218 acres planted to vineyards, which accounts for only 6% of Sonoma County’s total acreage. In fact, more than 40% of Sonoma County’s vineyard parcels are less than 20 acres, with 80% of the county’s vineyards less than 100 acres.
Duff Bevill, Bevill Vineyard Management and past chair of the SCW board of directors, is often referred to as the godfather of sustainability by the locals and is credited with playing a key role in bringing the idea of committing to 100% sustainability to the SCW board and local growers. He is excited about participating in the first Climate Adaptation Certification program for vineyards.
“I have long felt that sustainability is the best approach to ensure we protect our land for future generations, improve the quality of life for our employees, and enhance the community where we live and work,” said Bevill. He added, “That foundation is critical as we now look to reduce and document greenhouse gas emissions and further our carbon sequestration efforts. Though the issue is big, there is little understanding as to what solutions can make a difference. This program excites me because it has a lot of depth to it and it will enable us to actually monitor and determine how best to lower our impact through a combination of best management practices.”
Sonoma County has some of the world’s most recognized grape growing areas in the world with the first vineyards dating back to 1812. The region’s unique combination of rich geological history, fog patterns generated by its more than 50-miles of Pacific Ocean coastline and topography has given rise to 18 unique American Viticultural Areas (AVA), with plans to designate more. Each AVA offers distinct climate, soils, temperature areas, elevations and historical significance perfect for growing world-class Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and more.
Sonoma County is also home to almost 500 wineries whose wines are renowned throughout the world. In 2018, SCW launched its “Sustainably Farmed Grapes” logo for wineries to use on their wines beginning with the 2017 vintage. To use the label, wines must be using at least 85% certified sustainable Sonoma County winegrapes following an audit by SCW.
“What is most exciting is that given that we are a certified sustainable wine region and participating in the first Climate Adaptation Certification for vineyards, consumers can always purchase Sonoma County wines with confidence knowing that we are the global leader in growing and making great wine while minimizing the impact on the environment,” said SCW’s Kruse.