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Wineries Spread Sustainability Message

Wine Institute event spotlights perspectives from wineries, buyers and consumers

by Kate Lavin
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In an effort to promote sustainable efforts at the winery, Brad and Randy Lange (far left and far right, respectively) of LangeTwins Winery & Vineyards invited members of the media to learn about energy efficiency measures at the winery and watch as PG&E representatives Patsy Dugger and Janice Berman (center) presented them with a giant incentives check for more than $968,000.
San Francisco, Calif.—Print the CCOF logo on your back label. Drive trade members to your website. Pass out marketing information and brochures. Representatives from sustainability-minded wineries discussed various ways that wineries promote their green initiatives March 26 at the San Francisco City Club. The event, organized by the Wine Institute, encouraged California wineries to consider whether they are doing the best job of sharing information about their sustainability practices with decision-makers and consumers.

Marissa Lange of LangeTwins Winery and Vineyards in Acampo, Calif., said the winery prints the logo from its third-party sustainability program at the bottom of emails, on the back of tasting menus and anywhere else consumers and members of the trade will see it. (LangeTwins uses the Lodi Rules Sustainable Winegrowing program to measure progress.) Lange said her family’s business plans to expand its acreage every year, and new vineyard acreage will adhere to the Lodi Rules program.

Cynthia Lohr, vice president of marketing for J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, said that in the early 2000s she and her family faced a dilemma: “How do we tell the stories that matter without being overwhelming? Because we have a lot of stories to choose from.”

Ultimately they decided to make a public pledge based around their concept of why sustainability is good for vineyards and communities. Since making its public pledge, J. Lohr has invested in academic research and regional partnerships. As part of the commitment, Lohr said, the winery is dedicated to constantly improving.

Lohr said it is difficult to strike a balance between empowering sales people to tell a winery’s sustainability story and overwhelming trade members with too much information (and paper). Social media presents one alternative, she said. “Embracing social media is something we’ve been working really hard to move the needle on. The marketing department is always thinking, ‘How can we bring these stories to life? We need to embrace the visuals as well.’”

Alternative messaging
LangeTwins has employed iPads in the tasting room to tell the winery’s sustainability story in a way that is interactive. The iPads play a continuous slideshow that describes the winery’s duck box and owl box programs as well as its riparian habitat restoration program.

When a sustainability message is deemed too technical for consumers, Lange advised that wineries turn to trade publications to share their stories. (See "Greenbacks for Green Building" to learn about how LangeTwins leveraged sustainable building practices to save money.)

Michael Honig, president of Honig Vineyard & Winery, said it is important not to distance people from your commitment to sustainability by making it a political statement. Honig, who chaired the first California initiative to develop a Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices, said, “I think people really turn out when you talk about polar bears and whether you think they should drive (Cadillac) Escalades or not.”

Out of the mouths of buyers
The fortuitously named Emily Wines, director of wines for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, shared that her company has a mandate that 30% of the wine list be organic or sustainable. The eco-friendly wines are mixed in with the other wines on the wine list but designated with a leaf. Wines explains that quality drives all the decisions in wine selections, but incorporating sustainable brands echoes the Kimpton brand values, which also extend into choice of cleaning products and paper use.

She added that the idea of adopting a wine list where 100% of the wines are from organic or sustainable producers is a long way off. “There are a lot of regions in the world that don’t really have a program for certified sustainable,” she said.

So what is the best way to share information about your winery’s sustainability efforts? “Not paper materials,” Wines stressed. Peter Granoff from the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant chimed in: “Get it on the label.”

Granoff added, however, that some wineries included information about their organic growing practices on the label, only to take it off due to consumer perception about organically made wines. “Organic wine vs. organically grown wine is a huge source of confusion for consumers,” Granoff said.

When asked why sustainable wines cannot attract the same price premium as other organic food products, Matthew Colling of American Wines & Spirits said, “Pricing is pricing; it’s based on margins. If a wine has to be a certain price, you price the bottle accordingly.”

Granoff added, “Certainly in my own mind it’s worth more, but it’s your business problem, not my customer’s business problem.”

Survey results
Allison Jordan, executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, presented findings from two studies related to consumer impressions of sustainability. With funding from a crop block grant, the Wine Institute was able to work with the National Marketing Institute to in clude questions in a survey submitted to 4,000 adults, 31% of whom identified themselves as regular wine drinkers.

The survey revealed that mainstream consumers are interested in sustainability issues, Jordan said. On top of that, there is a “natural synergy between those that have purchased wine in the past three months and those who are interested in green topics.”

Forty-three percent of those in the consumer demographic most interested in lifestyle and sustainability issues (LOHAS) reported purchasing wine in the past three months, making them more likely to purchase wine than any other segment. About half of those wine consumers said they consider the environment when purchasing wine.

Practices that eco-conscious wine consumers look for (in order) include environmentally friendly growing, winemaking, packaging and social responsibility.

A separate survey of retailers, restaurants and hotels found that 48% of respondents said environmental attributes are “sometimes” a factor in deciding which wines to offer customers. When asked why, the No. 1 reason respondents answered was, “My customers asked for it.”

Respondents said they identified wines made in sustainable ways through (in order) marketing materials or testimony from the winery, third-party certification and label information. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they think sustainable certification is helpful, though restaurant respondents were least likely to answer this way. Eighty-one percent of respondents said including certification information on the bottle was helpful, but fewer retailers answered this way.

Printing information on the back label is the most helpful way of disseminating sustainability information, respondents said, with digital marketing being the second most helpful.

In the supermarket organic products are sometimes positioned in their own area, but studies have shown this practices slows sales when applied to wines.

Finally, when asked to rank winegrowing regions in terms of perceptions of sustainability, California came in at No. 3, behind Oregon and France. Twenty-three percent called the state’s wines “very sustainable,” while 59% ranked them “somewhat sustainable.”

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