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Northwest Wineries' Sustainable Steps

Chateau Ste. Michelle certifies vast vineyard acreage; Oregon wineries go carbon neutral

by Peter Mitham
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Washington's largest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, recently achieved Salmon Safe and Low-Input Viticulture and Enology certification for 1,368 acres of vineyards, representing one-third of its vineyard acreage in the state.
Portland, Ore. -- Reducing carbon emissions, improving vineyard practices, reviewing water use—these are just some of the achievements and ambitions of Northwest wineries in 2010.

While financial health is one element of the so-called triple-bottom line embraced by sustainable development advocates, some wineries are not skipping the environmental and social considerations in the midst of ongoing economic challenges.

One of the biggest moves came this week, with Chateau Ste. Michelle’s announcement that its prize Cold Creek and Canoe Ridge vineyards had obtained certification through the Salmon-Safe Inc. and Low-Input Viticulture and Enology Inc. certification programs. Together, the two vineyards represent 1,368 acres of Columbia Valley vineyards—more than one-third of the winery’s acreage in the state.

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Dan Kent, managing director of sustainability certifier Salmon Safe Inc., hopes Chateau Ste. Michelle's certification of Columbia Valley vineyards will pave the way for others in the region.
“Those sites are much larger than our typical Willamette Valley vineyard site, which tends to be 50 acres or so,” Dan Kent, managing director of Portland-based Salmon-Safe Inc., told Wines & Vines. While the organization is no stranger to Washington state, it’s primarily been active in the Walla Walla Valley. Certification of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s properties is a landmark move that Kent hopes will encourage other producers to sign on.

“We’ve really reached critical mass in Oregon. We now have somewhere between a third and a half of the vineyard acreage in the Willamette Valley,” Ken said. “In Washington state we’re really just seeing the momentum grow, and we see Chateau Ste. Michelle’s participation as a huge factor in future expansion throughout the interior Columbia.”

All told, Salmon Safe and LIVE have certified about 40 vineyards in Washington. The majority, 25 vineyards, are in the Walla Walla AVA.
“That was really our jumping-off point for the Washington wine industry,” Kent said. “We really hope to see that presence on the landscape throughout the Columbia Valley.”

To date, the industry’s dominant interest has largely been on grape production, rather than winery construction (Salmon Safe also offers a Construction Management Accreditation) or vineyard development, an area where accreditation has been discussed but without concrete steps taken to establish certification.

“(There’s) still an ongoing focus on vineyard management practices that has really been fundamental to sustainability and the quality of the wine,” Kent said of the situation among Oregon and Washington grapegrowers. “Carbon-neutral initiative and other sustainability programs are continuing to gain traction, but still the focus is the vineyard.”

That hasn’t stopped wineries from seeking to reduce carbon emissions, byproducts of burning fossil fuels that have been associated with climate change. The Oregon Environmental Council, in partnership with the Oregon Wine Board announced at the end of April that 14 Oregon wineries had completed the three-year Carbon Neutral Challenge, achieving a significant step towards net-zero carbon emissions. Completing wineries included Abacela, Sokol Blosser Winery and Winderlea Wine Co.

A total of 29 wineries participated in the program, submitting data to a carbon inventory developed by Portland-based Ecos Consulting Inc., then worked to reduce carbon emissions through changes both to business practices and capital investments.

Carbon offsets, credits representing the elimination or absorption of carbon emissions through various measures such as methane digesters, were purchased from verified sources to further reduce carbon emissions at the wineries. Ideally, the goal of offsets is to allow wineries to claim net-zero carbon emissions, but this was not allowed under the program without formal verification.

On the water front, wineries in Washington can look forward to a draft water plan for the Yakima Basin by this fall. Benton, Kittitas and Yakima counties earlier this year pledged participation in the initiative, spearheaded by the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The draft plan should be ready this fall, and potentially it will affect how water is managed and made available to growers in relatively arid Eastern Washington.
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