Mendocino’s Bonterra Organic Vineyards goes carbon-neutral

Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist, would be impressed with Bonterra Organic Vineyards’ recent achievement. The Mendocino County label in Fetzer Vineyards’ portfolio has earned a Climate Neutral Certification, the first organically farmed wine of only a half a dozen wine brands in the world to do so.

The certification, for 2020, means the brand was carbon-neutral for that year. The brand offset its carbon emissions — from buying materials to wine production and shipping — through purchasing carbon credits, supporting carbon-reduction projects in Brazil, China and Myanmar and planning for future reductions at Bonterra, according to Jess Baum, Fetzer’s director of regenerative development and sustainability.

While many wineries across the globe are setting goals to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and 2050, Bonterra already accomplished that for 2020 and is currently in the process of obtaining the yearly certification for 2021.

The Climate Neutral certificates come from the nonprofit organization Climate Neutral, founded in 2019 by the CEOs of two carbon-neutral businesses, Peter Dering of backpack and travel gear company Peak Design and Jonathan Cedar of BioLite, which makes off-grid energy products.

Like what the LEED label has done for architecture and the Fair Trade label has done for coffee, Climate Neutral seeks to get companies to think about their impact. Already the nonprofit has more than 300 companies certified, such as REI and Numi Tea.

So far, only five wine brands in the world have achieved this certification, and four are in Northern California: Mendocino’s Fetzer, Napa Valley’s Benevolent Neglect Wines and Belong Wine Co. and Redwood City’s La Honda Winery.

“This is still a relatively new certification, which is why wine industry penetration is relatively low, although the concept of carbon neutrality is not new,” Baum said.

Climate Neutral is encouraging companies to achieve carbon neutrality today, Baum said.

“The certification is a powerful metric for consumers who can easily be overwhelmed with jargon behind many sustainability certifications and claims,” she said. Even so, she added, “The certification isn’t perfect.”

For example, currently there’s no carbon credit available for organic grape growing, so Bonterra’s carbon footprint is likely overstated, she said. “Nonetheless, we’re moving ahead with Climate Neutral because we cannot afford to wait for perfect solutions to address the climate crisis.”

Becoming Climate Neutral-certified is a threefold process, Baum said. In addition to measuring carbon emissions, the brand is offsetting them by purchasing carbon credits and planning for future reductions. There are three projects Bonterra is supporting with its offsets: mangrove restoration in Myanmar, a forest project in Brazil and logging modification in China.

Even so, carbon credits have critics, including environmentalists who say they don’t address carbon reduction at the source and that some companies are profiting from the transactions without following through in reducing carbon emissions.

Bonterra, Baum said, relies on Verra Carbon Standard, a third-party nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., to verify the carbon credits.

“Transparency is so important when it comes to making a real impact,” Baum said, “which is why we publicly disclose our emissions, offsets and reduction plans through this certification.”

On average, a 750-ml bottle of Bonterra creates 3.4 pounds of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions from the entire process, beginning with purchasing to the final stage of shipping to customers, the brand disclosed. In 2020, 37.2% of the brand’s emissions were related to packaging and materials, 25.2% to shipping, 16.5% to production, 16.1% to farming and grapes and 5% to employee commuting and travel. Bonterra offset 110% of its footprint through its carbon credits, spending almost $75,000 to do so, Baum said.

Some scientists have said even carbon neutrality won’t solve climate change. Baum agreed.

“We certainly aren’t naive in thinking this one thing we’re doing at our brand is the only answer,” she said. “Collective action and systemic change are vital to make an impact in the climate crisis. It’s why we also lend our voice to policy initiatives that elevate climate-smart business.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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