Wines & Vines Home
Welcome Guest

Sustainability Push Conjures Optimism

Recently hired expert to help wine grape growers in Sonoma County get certified

by Andrew Adams
Sonoma County Winegrowers enlisted Robert LaVine to help achieve 100% sustainable certification for vineyards within the county.
San Rafael, Calif.—The Sonoma County Winegrowers group is committing a significant share of its resources to reach its goal of certifying all of the county’s vineyards as sustainable.

On April 28 the group announced it had hired Robert LaVine as its new sustainability manager, adding another full-time position to the Winegrowers’ small staff. Part of LaVine’s new role will be helping growers in the North Coast county to achieve third-party sustainable certification for their vineyards.

At the start of the year the Winegrowers (formerly known as the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission) announced the goal of reaching 100% sustainable certification by 2019. Winegrowers president Karrisa Kruse said the board approved hiring a sustainable manager to help growers reach the goal. Kruse said she’s currently putting the group’s budget together but expects, in addition to LaVine’s salary, sustainability will account for about 20% of the group’s total budget, which in 2013 was around $1.2 million.

Kruse said the group is also using some of its marketing dollars to create consumer advertising that touts Sonoma County’s commitment to sustainable viticulture. She said the ads are intended to educate consumers about how wine and grapegrowing can be sustainable and also, hopefully, prompt them to choose Sonoma County wines made with sustainable grapes.

Establishing a baseline
Kruse said LaVine would be focusing on two primary goals during his first 90 days with the group. She said he’d be establishing a baseline of the current level of sustainable certification in the county. The baseline will help the Winegrowers demonstrate progress toward their goal, whether its one new acre of certified vines or 100.

LaVine’s other immediate goal is to review all the various sustainability certification programs and take elements of each that serve the goal of sustainability in Sonoma County. Kruse said the group envisions a “holistic” approach that encompasses economic viability, environmental sensitivity and social equity.

Before joining the Winegrowers, LaVine was the director of sourcing at Fetzer Vineyards, and before that he was the director of winegrower relations in the Central Coast for Robert Mondavi Winery for two decades. While he was with Mondavi, LaVine sat on the development committee for the Sustainable in Practice (SIP) program.

“We need someone to take this project and get us to the finish line,” said John Balletto, owner of Balletto Vineyards & Winery, about LaVine’s hiring.

Balletto is a member of the Winegrowers’ board and a former chairman. He said he had his own vineyards certified about five years ago through the Lodi Rules program. “It’s worked for our company,” he said. “It’s helped us to not only save money in the long term but also to look at the little things and make sure, for example, there are not any leaky valves.”

With five years to go before the group’s goal of achieving 100% certification, Balletto said he’s confident the group will be successful. “I think right now if you took a poll you’d have 75% of the growers behind it, and another 20% could be convinced. There’s a small part that’s going to take a lot of work to convince,” he said.

Balletto also estimated that about half of Sonoma County’s total acreage is already sustainably farmed. According to the 2012 county crop report, Sonoma County has 58,349 acres of bearing vineyards that produced more than 267,000 tons worth $583 million.

He said the first year of certification does entail a good amount of work, but maintaining certification is much easier. “There is some work to get it set up and get it going, but once it’s set up it’s maybe one third of the work per year to make sure you’re in compliance.”

Possibility of grants for small growers
Kruse said certification can cost around $1,500 to $2,000, and she knows that’s a good chunk of cash for a smaller vineyard company. To help defray some of the costs associated with certification, the Winegrowers are working to set up a grant program.

The group also collaborated with Sonoma State University to apply for grants to fund a research project analyzing cost savings and sustainability. If funded, the project would yield a dozen case studies that Kruse said would demonstrate the potential return on investment from a sustainable certification.

 Vineyard management companies maintain about a third of the county’s vineyards, and Kruse said only one of those (Redwood Empire Vineyard Management) is currently certified. She said Redwood staff is helping the Winegrowers create a model for vineyard management companies to get certified.

One other benefit of attaining certification is that it could help ease the regulatory burden of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. She said it appears the water board will accept 53 water-use assessment practices as sufficient means for a property owner to secure a waiver. By earning certification through the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, a landowner could demonstrate that they’re taking the steps necessary to comply with the water board. Kruse said she thinks those rules could be in place around 2015 or 2016.

As the Sonoma Winegrowers pursue the goal of 100% sustainability, Kruse said the group is receiving interest from other groups and businesses. She said her alma mater, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, invited her to sit on the advisory committee of its Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership. “I think that’s just such a phenomenal opportunity, because we’re just one small wine region, but we’re trying to make a big difference,&r dquo; she said.


Posted on 05.08.2014 - 08:10:21 PST
Congratulations Robert! SCW is very lucky to have you to help lead the charge for 100% sustainability! Cheers, Robert Rainwater

Posted on 05.06.2014 - 08:04:11 PST
Congratulations Robert, I know you will make the sustainably program a successful one for SC growers and SC Winegrape. You did for our department at Fetzer. Brenda Reed

Wines & Vines Home
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
Wine Industry Metrics
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
June 2014 $562 million
$7,549 million
June 2013 $535 million $7,094 million
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
June 2014 $87 million
$1,669 million
June 2013 $74 million $1,510 million
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
June 2014 300
June 2013 224 182
MORE » Released on 07.15.2014

Wines & Vines
Packaging Conference
Learn More »

Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
Search the PWV archive »

Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
Download full report »

  • July 30 - August 1
    Indy International Wine Competition
  • August 1-3
    West of West Festival
  • August 2
    Urban Wine Xperience
  • August 5
    Fresno State Grape Day
  • MORE »

Article: Early 2014 Grape Harvest Begins »
Thanks for mentioning Temecula and the South Coast appellation in your article. It is great...
Reader: Guest
Article: Wineries May Lose Internet Domain Dispute »
All these arguments could be levied by any industry associated with any gTLD, new or...
Reader: Doug Barnett
Article: Wineries May Lose Internet Domain Dispute »
Do brands get hijacked now? Even though .wine does not yet exist, are there false...
Reader: Larry Chandler
Article: Resistant Weeds Threaten Vineyards »
Roundup is not benign. It does not always break down in a day or two...
Reader: Robert Rex
Article: Resistant Weeds Threaten Vineyards »
Mitigating water use in the vineyard in the first place is also an applicable tactic....
Reader: Guest

Directory/Buyer's Guide — Your Wine Industry Marketplace
Advanced Search »
   by Product
 by Company Name or Brand
Browse by Category »
2014 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
Wines & Vines Magazine
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
Latest Job Listings
 Hospitality Winery Gui...
 Napa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Administrative Support
 St. Helena & Oakland, CA
General Administration and
 Bounty Hunter Wine Bar...
 Napa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Strategic Accounts Man...
 Bentonville, AR
Sales and Marketing
 Yakima Valley Associat...
 Wapato, WA
Winemaking and Production
 Retail Compliance Coor...
 St. Helena, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 District Manager Houst...
 Houston, TX
Sales and Marketing
 Culinary Servers And P...
 Santa Rosa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Vineyard Tour And Tast...
 Santa Rosa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Area Manager Indiana A...
 Indianapolis, IN
Sales and Marketing
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:

Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
Copyright © 2001-2014 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.