How Napa and Sonoma Wineries Go Beyond Sustainability to Achieve Positive Climate Goals

California wineries have long been leaders in eco-friendly practices, recognizing early on that wine grapes are one of the crops most sensitive to global warming. Indeed by 2019, 99% of Sonoma County wineries have been certified as sustainable and 94% of Napa wineries and wineries have achieved certification under the Napa Green Program. However, now the two countries have set even more ambitious targets to reduce their carbon footprints and become climate positive – which is beyond carbon neutrality, with negative emission reductions.

The sustainability certifications the wineries have achieved have focused on efforts to improve the environment, working conditions for employees, and the economy – also known as the planet, people and profits. Certifications have been provided by third party organizations such as California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Napa Green, and Fish Friendly Farming. However, with so much progress, sustainability has become a new basis for moving forward.

“Any continued action we can take to reduce energy use in the vineyard and wineries will help reduce our carbon footprint,” says Anna Brittain, Executive Director of Napa Green. With this in mind, Napa Green has set a goal of working with certified growers to become carbon neutral within six years (2027) and carbon negative, or climate positive, within nine years (2030). .

Sonoma County has also adopted a similar program called the Climate adaptation certification program. “We launched this program in 2020,” says Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers, and are working with local vineyards administer best practices to maximize carbon sequestration. Some of these practices include reduced tillage of the soil, as well as planting native shrubs around vineyards.

These efforts could not have come sooner, as the recent UN Climate Report confirmed that a global warming of 1.5 ° C to 2 ° C would occur as early as 2040 if the world does not take action to reduce carbon (CO2) emissions soon. The results of global warming have already been seen in the increase of extreme weather events such as forest fires, floods and extreme frost / heat episodes that negatively impact agriculture. According to EPA, the most effective way to reduce CO2 is to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. It is also possible to sequester CO2 in the soil by planting more trees, plants and cover crops.

But what is the carbon footprint of wine?

Several studies have been carried out on the carbon footprint of the global wine industry, and it turns out that growing vines produces very little CO2 and other greenhouse gases. A study assumed that the fertilizers used in the vineyard would be a big contributor, but compared to other agricultures, the vineyards use very little fertilizer. Indeed, according to Kruse, “In California, all agriculture, including ranching, produces only 8% of the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Instead, it is the transport of wine that is the biggest culprit, along with gasoline tractors in the vineyard and energy consumption in the cellar. According to a Italian Wine Study 2021, the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions from wine are: glass bottles (29%), cellar electricity (14%), transport and distribution of wine to consumers (13%), heat used in the cellar (9%) and fossil fuels used in the vineyard (8%).

For this reason, efforts in the vineyard are focused on reducing the number of passes a tractor has to make through the vines, as well as adopting regenerative farming practices that include less tillage. This will not only reduce the fossil fuels used in the vineyard, but the cover crop will allow the vineyards to sequester carbon. In this way, the vineyards represent “fruits at hand” to become carbon negative or climate positive.

Efforts to reduce energy consumption in the cellar are also underway, but will take longer. “Doing a large-scale carbon footprint inventory of a winery is very complicated,” says Brittan, “but we have some wineries working on it as well. They focus on reducing bottle weight and other packaging changes, as well as installing solar power, tracking waste, and implementing other energy saving mechanisms. and water.

Napa / Sonoma Wineries Commendable Efforts and Goals

Individual wineries in Napa and Sonoma are also taking other steps to become climate positive. Joe Nielsen, director of winemaking at Ram’s Gate Winery in Sonoma County, has decided to convert his certified sustainable vineyards to organic vineyards. “We decided to bring in sheep to eat the weeds in the vineyard to reduce the number of times the tractor has to go through the vines to spray herbicides,” he said. “We are also investigating the use of electronic tractors, rather than gasoline-powered ones.”

At Quintessa Winery in Napa Valley, they’ve just been certified as an organic and biodynamic winery. “We have been certified sustainable for many years,” says Rebekah Wineburg, Quintessa winemaker. “But this year we have completed the formal 3 year certification process with CCOF and Demeter. Our philosophy is also to conserve as many native oaks and shrubs as possible to sequester carbon. ”

Other wineries are making positive efforts to reduce water consumption and the energy associated with its pumping through vineyards and winery operations. Hope Goldie, winemaker in Darioush, Napa Valley, says, “We are reducing leaf stripping in the vineyards and using micro-transmitters under the canopy to spray as little water as possible, while helping the vines stay healthy. and survive drought.

In Chandon California, they also reduce water by converting all of their landscaping to drought tolerant plants. “For the next two years, we are starting a major renovation of our land and the cellar in order to reduce our water and energy consumption,” says Pauline Lhote, director of winemaking at Chandon. Chandon has also made an effort to reduce the weight of our bottles, which is one of the biggest contributors to wine’s carbon footprint. So far, we have managed to reduce it by 25%, which means less weight in transport to customers and therefore less use of fossil fuels.

Two of Napa and Sonoma’s biggest wineries have set ambitious goals to become climate positive. Jackson family wines, owners of Kendall-Jackson, Cardinale, La Crema and many other brands have just set the goal of halving their carbon footprint by 2030 and becoming climate positive by 2050. Wineries treasury, owner of Beringer, Chateau St. Jean and many other brands has set a goal of achieving zero net emissions by 2030.

Other Napa / Sonoma wineries and wineries that have made progress toward positive climate goals include Benziger, Dutton Ranch, Spottswoode, Larkmead, Cakebread, Raymond, Chimney Rock, and Protector Cellars, among others.

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