SAN FRANCISCO —The largest winegrowing states in the country — California, Oregon, New York and Washington, which produce 95% of U.S. wine — have established educational and certification sustainability programs over the past two decades, furthering the widespread adoption of sustainable practices by U.S. winegrowers and winemakers.
Since 2018, wine industry organizations from the four states have been partnering to advance sustainability initiatives industry wide. By providing a definition and principles for the U.S. wine industry, conducting trade and consumer research, sharing information through two U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summits and providing education on the industry’s sustainability commitment to trade and consumers, the project has been effective in furthering the understanding of sustainable winegrowing.
As the initial phase of the multi-year project concludes, the partners are sharing results and resources and look forward to future collaboration.
Common Definition and Principles
As a first step in the partnership, the organizations and sustainability programs created and agreed to a common definition for sustainable winegrowing and winemaking:
Sustainable winegrowing and winemaking is a holistic approach that conserves natural resources, protects the environment, enhances wine quality, enriches the lives of employees and communities and safeguards family farms and businesses — today and for generations to come.
“A frequent criticism we hear about sustainability is that sustainability isn’t defined, which simply isn’t true. This definition shows that we’re all on the same page about the general meaning of sustainability, recognizing that it may differ based on local conditions and other factors.”
These groups also agreed to the following sustainable winegrowing and winemaking principles:
- Holistic Approach: Acknowledges connection between vineyards, wineries, surrounding ecosystems and communities.
- Triple Bottom Line: Satisfies the triple bottom line of environmental stewardship, social equity and economic viability.
- Continuous Improvement: Involves a process of ongoing evaluation, improvement and re-evaluation, with best practices evolving with updated research, new technologies and adoption of improved practices.
- Comprehensive, Science-Based Practices: Uses a broad set of measurable science-based practices that vary based on local conditions as well as vineyard and/or winery scale and objectives.
Trade and Consumer Research
The partner organizations worked with Lulie Halstead, CEO of Wine Intelligence, and Christian Miller, proprietor of Full Glass Research, to conduct consumer and trade research in 2019 and 2020.
Wine Intelligence research on consumer perceptions of sustainable winegrowing (particularly by Millennials and Gen Z) indicated a high interest in purchasing sustainably produced wine in the future, a favorable perception of sustainable certification programs and certification logos and a willingness to pay more for wine that has been sustainably produced. Full Glass Research found that large majorities of trade respondents felt familiar with key concepts of sustainable wine production; recommend sustainably produced, organic and biodynamic wines to their customers; and support clear and reliable certifications that can be communicated to the trade and consumers.
Findings were shared at two U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summits (see below), as well as a June 2020 webinar.
Education and Information-Sharing through U.S. Sustainability Summits
In 2019 and 2021, the partners hosted two U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summits to exchange ideas and best practices and to engage the broader wine industry in advancing sustainability across the country. Over 565 attendees attended, including winegrowing associations, vineyard and wineries leaders, as well as other key stakeholders from across the U.S. and 20 countries.
The inaugural Summit was held in Sonoma and featured panels exploring “the value of sustainability” from the perspective of vineyards and wineries, other industries and trade, as well as lessons learned from various U.S. state sustainability programs. Keynote speakers were California Department of Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross and Lulie Halstead of Wine Intelligence. (See 2019 U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summit highlights.)
During the second U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summit, attendees heard from sustainable winegrowers in the field and learned how they are adapting practices in the face of climate change. They also gained insight into expanding this movement to their own wine regions, vineyards and/or wineries, and how to communicate practices in ways that resonate with consumers and trade. In addition to a host of winegrowers from all four states, notable speakers included keynote speaker Ray Isle of Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure, Esther Mobley of the San Francisco Chronicle, Elaine Chukan Brown of JancisRobinson.com and Diversity in Wine Leadership Forum, and Mark Barden of eatbigfish. (See 2021 U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summit highlights and recordings of sessions.)
Sustainable Winegrowing Promotion and Communication
Another key aspect of the partnership has been promoting sustainability in ways that resonate with consumers and trade while credibly communicating the U.S. wine industry’s commitment to a global audience. Beyond the website and brochure referenced above, the organizations held a tasting for trade and media as part of the 2021 U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summit, moderated by Evan Goldstein, MS, of Master the World, and featuring wines and vintners from all four states.
The partnering organizations also created new promotional materials and activities for their own states. For instance, as part of the project, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance launched a new website, californiasustainablewine.com, that includes a searchable database of Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing wineries, wines and vineyards. New York and Washington began developing statewide certification programs, building on their experience with educational sustainability programs and a regional certification program (Long Island in NY). In addition, Oregon Wine Board and LIVE created new promotional materials and a trade-focused training series and podcast about sustainable winegrowing.
These efforts support the education of trade and consumers to better understand sustainable winegrowing. Trade and consumers can now find sustainably produced wines by looking for certification logos and text on wine labels, reviewing lists on certification program websites, looking for information on winery websites and asking questions when visiting wineries or meeting with winemakers. By supporting these wineries and wine industry sustainability programs, efforts are furthered to protect the environment, nurture safe and healthy workplaces and sustain family farms.
As the initial phase of the multi-year project concludes, the partners are sharing results and resources and look forward to future collaboration. Partner organizations include the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, California Association of Winegrape Growers, Wine Institute, LIVE, Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, Oregon Wine Board, New York Wines, Washington State Wine and Washington Winegrowers.