02.08.2010  
 

California Wineries Get Certified

North and Central Coast operations opt for various sustainable programs

 
by Jane Firstenfeld
 
Ancient Peaks
 
The southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles appellation, Ancient Peaks Winery's Margarita Vineyard handles vineyard pests by inviting native predators to bat, bluebird and owl boxes and perches for predatory birds. Photo credit: Chris Leschinsky
San Rafael, Calif. -- California’s vineyards and wineries can choose from a wealth of options to accredit their green credentials, and in recent weeks, five entities announced certification from three different agencies.

Ancient Peaks Winery in Paso Robles earned for its 966-acre estate Margarita Vineyard at the southern extreme of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The historic vineyard, originally planted to vines by Franciscan missionaries in 1774, uses sustainable practices including deficit irrigation, natural cover crops, wildlife corridors, rotational groundwater use and compost tea to replace synthetic fertilizers.

In order to qualify for the credential developed by the Central Coast Vineyard Team, “Growers must farm in a way that protects both natural and human resources.” They must achieve and document 40 requirements and earn 75% of the available points through implementation of management enhancements; an independent inspector audits practices through onsite inspections. “This certification recognizes what we are doing to ensure natural quality in our wines, and it reflects our passion for being good stewards of the land,” stated Doug Filipponi, co-owner/vineyard manager of the 10,000-case per year winery.

DeLoach vineyard
 
Biodynamic growers see their farm as self-sustaining systems; a sheep does his work on DeLoach's Demeter-certified vineyard.
 
DeLoach vineyard is Demeter certified
The 17-acre estate vineyard and garden at DeLoach Vineyards, Russian River Valley, became one of only 64 wineries or vineyards worldwide to achieve Biodynamic certification. When France’s Boisset family purchased the property in 2003, “I knew that in order to make wine that fully expressed the great Russian River Valley terroir, we would first need to restore the health of the land,” said Jean-Charles Boisset, president of Boisset Family Estates. The Boissets let the estate vineyards go fallow, then underwent the required three-year transition to organic growing and an additional year of Biodynamic-specific practices, including minimal dependence on external inputs and creation of natural biodiversity through cover crops and annual preparations. Biodynamic practices demonstrate growers’ commitment to “farming in parallel with the Earth’s natural cycles and from within the context of the principles of a unique living organism,” according to a company statement.

In 1994, the Boissets had converted the family’s premier cru vineyards in Burgundy to organic and Biodynamic farming, a relative rarity at that time in France. Although the DeLoach estate vineyard has been farmed in line with Biodynamic principles for several years, the family delayed certification by Demeter USA to coincide with its inaugural winegrape crop in 2010. Although DeLoach produces some 200,000 cases annually, it’s not yet known how much wine will emanate from the newly certified estate acreage.<
J Lohr
 
Among the sustainable practices at J. Lohr’s Paso Robles operation is this 3-acre, 756kW solar tracking system.
 
Big producers choose CCSW
The new third-party certification program of the already established California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance has signed on some heavy hitters in the California industry. The program is called Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW).

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, which has two wineries that produce 1 million cases per year from more than 3,000 estate vineyard acres in the Central Coast’s Paso Robles and Arroyo Seco, received CCSW certification for all of its winery/vineyard operations except the 33-acre Carol’s Vineyard in Napa Valley. To be eligible for this certification, participants must meet a set of 58 prerequisites that are among 227 best management practices in the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Self-Assessment Workbook; results are verified by a third-party auditor.

Steve Lohr, executive vice president/chief operating officer, called the certification “another important step in our commitment to environmentally conscious practices and a validation of our hard work.…It is also important on a broader scale.…We are happy to be helping to expand the wine industry’s widespread sustainability movement.”

Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga also received CCSW certification. The 400,000-case per year winery owned by Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, farms 741 estate acres in the northern Napa Valley, and was also certified this year as a Napa Valley Green Certified Winery.

In Sonoma Valley, Kunde Family Estate also won CCSW credentials. The 100,000 case per year winery grows grapes on 750 acres of its 1,850-acre estate. Fourth-generation winegrower Jeff Kunde said, “We believe that third-party certification and public education are equally important in winning the trust of wine drinkers.”
Kunde eco walk dog
 
Winegrower Jeff Kunde leads the pack during one of the popular eco-education dog walks at Kunde Family Estate in Sonoma Valley.
Since 2006, Kunde has welcomed visitors to eco-education programs, including dog hikes led by Jeff Kunde and docent-led hikes and taste tours. The four-hour dog tours sell out quickly; walkers enjoy box lunches and wine atop Boot Hill, and the canines share a water bar and treats. Portions of the profits of the $45/per person hikes support Canine Companions and the Sonoma County Humane Society. Five dog hikes are planned between March 27 and Oct. 9.

CCSW has certified numerous other California vineyard/winery operations since its inauguration. To date, these include Clos LaChance; Concannon; multiple Constellation Wine U.S. operations; Cooper-Garrod Estate; E. & J. Gallo Sonoma; Fetzer/Bonterra; Goldeneye; Honig; Meridian; Monterey Pacific; Roberts Vineyard Services; Rodney Strong; The Hess Collection and Vino Farms.

Save on organic certification
Vineyards (and other agricultural enterprises) in California and other states that are preparing for organic certification may receive reimbursement of up to 75% of their transition costs, as much as $750 per year per applicant. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers expense reimbursement for operations that receive organic certification on or between Oct. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2010. Since organic certification takes a minimum of three years, the California Department of Food and Agriculture is encouraging growers who are almost there to apply for funding now. Growers in other states can learn how to apply at the National Organic Program Certification Cost Share information page.
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