Sonoma County Winegrowers get California’s highest environmental honor

The Sonoma County Winegrowers trade group has been awarded the state’s highest environmental honor for its work to make all of the county’s vineyards sustainable.

The group, which represents more than 1,800 grape growers and is more formally known as the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, was among 12 recipients of the annual Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award.

“It’s the ultimate vetting of this program,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the trade group. “It says you are an environmental leader in general for the state of California.”

Administered by the California Environmental Protection Agency, along with input from other state agencies, this year’s awards were presented Tuesday night in Sacramento.

It recognizes those who use sustainable business practices to save energy, reduce waste or prevent pollution while helping their local economy.

“It is a fitting tribute to the dedicated and collaborative efforts of grape growers throughout the county,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture, in a statement.

Two years ago, the group set a goal to have 100 percent of Sonoma County’s vineyards be certified sustainable by 2019.

The group said last week that 64 percent of the county’s 58,280 vineyard acres has had a sustainability assessment. In 2015, the figure was 43 percent.

Forty-eight percent of the county’s vineyards have been certified as sustainable by a third-party auditor, according to the latest survey. Only one-third had such certification in 2015.

Sustainability primarily covers environmental concerns but also incorporates other business practices, such as how farmers interact with their neighbors and the community, and how they treat their workers. The ultimate goal is to carry on the business for future generations.

Some local vintners, such as Jackson Family Wines of Santa Rosa and Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland, have been leading proponents of the move, especially as the industry has come under increased scrutiny for its water use during the drought.

Local growers are working under a rulebook created by the Wine Institute, the California Association of Winegrape Growers and California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Under the process, growers must complete a self-assessment of each vineyard that includes 138 best practices that are rated on a scale of 1 to 4. The plan has to be verified by a third party.

“Our grape growers have been farming in Sonoma County for generations and we’re committed to always being positive contributors to our local community by continuously improving our practices and leading by example,” said Kevin Barr, chairman of the board and owner of Redwood Empire Vineyard Management Co., in a statement.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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