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California Wine Industry to Get Green Performance Metrics

<p>The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) has introduced a set of new performance metrics to help wineries and grape growers measure and communicate their environmental impacts.</p>

What's the carbon footprint of California's wine industry?

A new initiative aims to find out, along with the industry averages for water, energy and nitrogen use of the state's mammoth wine industry, which is responsible for 90 percent of U.S. wine production.

The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) has introduced a set of new performance metrics to help wineries and grape growers measure and communicate their environmental impacts. Pilot testing of the metrics will begin in the spring, and ultimately, the data will help the CSWA establish industry baselines and set future reduction targets.

"First and foremost, we hope they become a useful tool to help wineries and vineyards focus their efforts on continuous improvement," said CSWA Executive Director Allison Jordan. "Our mantra has been, "You can't manage what you don't measure."

In a phone interview last week, Jordan described how the performance metrics are a natural progression for an industry predisposed to sustainability. It is largely family-owned and multi-generational, Jordan said, and understands its connection to the soil.

Three or four years ago, many wineries began feeling the supply chain pressure from restaurants and retailers asking about their environmental impacts. Now the state's wine industry will have a universal tool to size up their operations and tell their stories. Water, energy, greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen use are the first metrics, but eventually other metrics may include pest management and social elements.

The metrics will be integrated into the Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP), which was originally launched in 2002 by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers. Under the program, grape growers and wineries can already gauge their operations using the Code of Sustainable Practices Self‐Assessment Workbook. The self-assessment has a very high adoption rate, Jordan said, with growers and vintners using the tool representing three-quarters of wine acreage in the state.

"We're fortunate to have a decade of experience in capturing self-evaluation data on practices," Jordan said in a follow-up email. "As the next step in the evolution of the program, we think it's important to link practices to performance outcomes. We hope that, with a robust set of data on both practices and performances, we can start to better understand which specific practices have the most impact on improving energy and water efficiency, on reducing greenhouse gas intensity, for instance."

She expects about 20 wineries and grape growers of varying sizes to pilot test the metrics over a nine to 12-month period to hep the group understand the most challenging aspects of collecting the data.

Ultimately, Jordan believes there's a financial opportunity for the industry to adopt the metrics; the group has much anecdotal evidence showing that wineries and vineyards using metrics have benefited through improved practices and employee education.

Simi Winery in Healdsburg, for example, has managed to significantly improve its water footprint since it began tracking water-related metrics in 2007, according to the CSWA's most recent newsletter. Since then, water use has declined 42 percent and it now uses 3 liters of water to produce one liter of wine -- down from 5.2 liters in 2007.

To drive adoption of the metrics, the CSWA will roll out workshops, use peer-to-peer encouragement and partner with regional wine and winegrape associations.

"We really need to be able to demonstrate the business case of using metrics by pointing to wineries and vineyards that have used them to save money or achieve an environmental or societal goal," Jordan said. "We are lucky to have a great framework established in the sustainable wine growing program, and we can build on our existing strengths." 

Vineyard image via Shutterstock.

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