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Sonoma strives to become first 100 percent sustainable wine region

California's Sonoma County long has been known for wineries that lead on sustainability. Now, winemakers are joining together to create the first 100 percent sustainable wine region in the world.

Shooting for 100 percent is a big goal, but Sonoma County Winegrowers — which represents 1,800 businesses — says it'll get there in five years, by 2019.

"Our county's grape growers and winemakers have long been at the forefront of creating and utilizing sustainable practices in the vineyard, in the winery and in running their businesses, so this is the next natural step in their continued evolution," said Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers.

The sustainable wine plan

The association hopes to accomplish its goal in two phases:

1. Convey best practice management by directly helping vineyards access where they are now on land use, canopy management, energy efficiency, water quality, carbon emissions, healthcare and employee training. It plans to assess 15,000 acres a year until it covers all 59,218 vineyard acres — 6 percent of the county's total acreage.

2. Work directly with vineyard owners to achieve certification from a third party, such as the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance Code of Sustainability. Wineries will receive regular progress updates and an annual report card, and will be able to track progress in real-time at the Winegrowers website.

"I commend the growers and wineries of Sonoma County for pursuing this bold initiative. It speaks volumes about their love of the land and their commitment to environmental stewardship, their community and their consumers," said Karen Ross, secretary of California's Department of Food and Agriculture.

Comprised primarily of multi-generational family businesses, most of the county's wineries have fewer than 100 acres. Within Sonoma County are 17 distinct climate zones, which give the various wines their distinctive tastes.

All this, of course, is threatened by climate change, as is evidenced now by the state's searing drought. Going forward, the highest sustainability standards will be necessary to protect the fragile crops.

This story first appeared at Sonoma vineyard photo by Gyuszko-Photo via Shutterstock. 

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