The California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook is a fairly comprehensive, self-analyzing approach, for vineyards to measure their “level of sustainability and to learn about ways they can improve their practices.” To receive the full certification, wineries would have to submit to a 3rd party inspection. Although there are specific chapters designated for both vineyard water management and energy efficiency, these two concepts are woven through the rest of the workbook.
For instance, when dealing with soil management, there is a question of root stock choice that would either encourage or discourage vine vigor, and how the amount of annual precipitation would play into that decision. The institution does call their workbook a “living document.” Not all the questions pertain to every vineyard and winery site. California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook
The Michael David Winery (that gives us the iconic Petite Petit wines, Freakshow, and Seven Deadly Zins we have all seen in the grocery stores, and the couple bottles of Lust that are still at City Vino) was on the cutting edge of creating the Lodi Rules back in 1991. The idea was to put aside egos to come together, in the spirit of community, where they would hold each other to a higher standard of farming.
The Michael David Winery, as part of its overall strategy, leverages technology; in particular they use aerial imaging from a fixed-wing airplane to gain a holistic view of their operations, produce healthier crops, and achieve consistent LODI RULES compliance. Aerial images reveal plant health, nutrient availability, insect infestation, water, and disease pressures. In this way, the winery can specifically target plants that need extra water only when necessary.
The Michael David Winery also has a commitment for sustainable energy. On August 4th, 2016 they announced their completion of Phase 1 of their solar electric system. Off of Highway 12 in Lodi are 350 panels for a 108kW system that will offset 15-20 percent of the winery’s electrical usage. Also, they announce a further 290 panels, which will supply electricity for the main center and ag shop, which will account for 90-100 percent of that facility’s usage.
In the Elgin Valley of South Africa, Paul Cluver Wines experienced a water deficit between 2015 and 2017, yet an increase in yield. Cluver’s comment, “It’s a question of how you manage what you’ve got. You should be more productive with less, and that’s entirely possible.” In How South Africa’s Wine Industry Plans to Survive the Water Crisis | SevenFifty Daily Cluver understood alien vegetation, such as eucalyptus and pine trees would be in competition for water with vines. By mulching, irrigating at night and using netting to collect condensation, Cluver was more than able to satisfy the water needs of his vineyard.
Frank Potts, in Langhorn’s Crossing Australia, had an interesting approach for water control. He purchased a fertile floodplain in 1850. Having an engineering mind, he crafted a system of water pumps, flood gates, vats, and a lever press to control the Bremer River’s annual floods. In this way the floods brought the river’s minerals and nutrients to the plants. The abundance of water, at times, would cause an excess of canopy, which then had to be controlled.
Villa Maria, in Auckland, New Zealand, has a two-pronged approach for water sustainability. For vine health above ground, the team employs “organic farming methods, cultivating worms, bees, and flowers to promote biodiversity.” Sub-surface makes the difference. Drip irrigation is positioned in the soil closer to the roots. In this way there is less water loss due to evaporation and ensures the water goes to the vine and not to undesirable plants.
Virginia is too wet and humid for vineyards to pursue fully organic and biodynamic certifications. Virginia does have a Virginia Green Certification with sustainable initiatives, which include recycling, reduced water usage, reduced electricity produced by natural gas, and environmental achievements tied to cost savings. Scott Elliff, owner of DuCard Vineyards, was awarded the Greenest Virginia Vineyard in 2015. In regard to energy, solar panels are used to generate green power for heating, cooling, and lighting in both the tasting room and all winery functions. In regard to wastewater, Elliff uses an artificial wetland system that uses plants to filter the water of sugars and other matter. When asked why he decided to pursue a green winery designation, he responded, it “just makes good sense. It’s certainly worth it, if we can say we’re doing the best we can for the planet and operating all facets of our business sustainably.” And customers are appreciative.
The most robust, full-cycle plan that I have found are wineries like O’Neil Vintners & Distillers, who have employed BioFiltro’s patented Biodynamic Aerobic System. In 2017, Jeff O’Neil made a conscious decision to formalize Sustainable Initiative in 2017. Regarding water, they employ BIoFiltro’s patented Biodynamic Aerobic System. Wastewater is initially pumped through smaller and smaller filters to remove the inorganic solids. Then it is spayed on a layered container. The top is filled with earthworms that eat the polluted solid. The casting, as a result of the worm’s digesting, contain bacteria that eliminate contaminants dissolved in the water. Gravity pulls the water down through the middle layer of sawdust and through the bottom layer of gravel. Next a few drops of chlorine to finish the disinfection process and the result is clean water ready to be used to irrigate the farms. It’s a carbon-neutral environmental solution that is constantly renewable. The two byproducts are an abundance of earthworms as an inexpensive form of proteins, and the best organic fertilizer for high quality food.
In Sicily, Italy, the Consorzio di Tutela Vini DOC Sicilia created the SOStain Sicilia Foundation as a means of measuring and actively reducing the impact of enological practices, while helping to ensure diversity, it will be on full display for generations to come. The approach that SOStain takes toward sustainability is that there is finite amount of food, water, and air. What are the strategies that can be employed to ensure incredible diversity for generations to come? With regard to energy efficiency, Tasca d’Almerita Estates as made a commitment to use renewable energy for 40 percent of their total energy needs. They are limited, due to their agriculture machinery. Manufactures have not yet introduced alternative engines on a large scale.
With regard to water sustainability in the vineyard, Tasca d’Almerito drew up an irrigation plan. They mapped out all the soil types across the vineyard and found some places to be fertile, some mostly clay, some limestone, and some sand and silt. Then, given the natural climate and annual rain parameters, chose rootstock and varietals that would succinctly fit within that soil type. They found that during the vegetation phase, grass planted between the vines causes an excess of humidity, which would result in harmful molds. Instead, they plant Italian Rye Grasses, which doesn’t compete for water. During the winter it comes alive and dies off during the hot dry season. Secondarily, the rye improves the development of the vine roots and promotes absorption of microelements.
One last sustainable example: This time the ultimate in energy savings for wineries wishing to export across the oceans. In May 2022, Grain de Sail, an 80 foot steel hulled schooner arrived in the Brooklyn Marina with a French flag flying against its white sales and its hull packed with 18,000 bottles of organic and biodynamic wines. It is a 25-day journey for the world’s only commercial exporter of wine by sail freight. The question is though, is it budget-friendly? If the only cargo was wine, then perhaps not. But the sailboat then travels to the Dominican Republic to load up on cocoa and coffee for the return journey. Grain de Sail reported €10 million in revenue in 2022 and continues to grow. They are in the process of adding a second, much larger vessel, which will more than double their operations and be able to capture economies of scale.