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Sonoma County vintners join global initiatives to combat climate change

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Mother Nature, long known for her whimsy, now seems like the enemy when high winds kick up in the fall.

With firestorms part of Wine Country’s new normal, grapes can no longer count on ideal growing conditions.

“I think it would be crazy for anyone to say they haven’t experienced climate change in their vineyard,” said Jesse Katz, vintner and winemaker of Aperture Cellars, his new Healdsburg winery. “The most obvious example is the extreme weather we’ve been seeing in the past few years. Drier conditions and prolonged summers have created fire seasons unlike anything in our region’s history. It’s a constant threat that we have to plan for every October, November and December, and our fingers are crossed that the situation doesn’t continue to get much worse.”

Vintners who share Katz’s concern are united in a call to action to protect vulnerable grapes and the agrarian culture that bottles them.

One of the strongest efforts is the recent collaboration of Jackson Family Wines and Familia Torres with IWCA –– International Wineries for Climate Action. Each member of IWCA will target an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 80% by 2045, with a short-term target of 50% by 2030.

Katie Jackson, senior vice president of corporate and social responsibility for Jackson Family Wines, said IWCA currently has a handful of potential applicants who intend to join within the next few months.

To be accepted, she said, these applicants need to be at least 20% powered by onsite renewable energy and complete a minimum baseline third party verified greenhouse gas emissions footprint..

“We hope IWCA will create roadmaps for members to reduce their carbon emissions and make a positive impact on climate change,” Jackson said.

Another wine industry initiative is the Porto Protocol, named after the coastal city in northwest Portugal known for its port production. In short, the Porto Protocol is a pact, and all those who sign it agree to take action to mitigate climate change.

It can apply to all industries, from the auto industry to wastewater treatment technologies.

Genuine crisis

Robin Lail, vintner of Napa Valley’s Lail Vineyards, was recently appointed the U.S. representative of the Porto Protocol.

“We are facing a genuine climate crisis,” Lail said.

“It’s obvious that the enormity of the issue can generate the response ‘What can I do?’ The simple answer to that question is take action, small or large. Collectively, we can make a difference.”

Both IWCA (iwcawine.org) and the Porto Protocol (portoprotocol.com) are intent on mobilizing wineries and offering a place to share ideas and stimulate new ones.

“There’s substantial work being done to reduce water used in vineyards and wineries,” Lail said.

Currently, vintners and growers worldwide, she explained, are initiating experimental vineyards with an eye on increasing temperatures.

Katz said precision in planting has never been more important.

“We’ve been able to get an incredibly detailed look into the soil types and climatic factors in each of our vineyard sites, down to the single rows or sub-blocks,” he said.

“This allows us to see which sites are most vulnerable to rising temperatures and what varietals have the most potential for success each growing season.”

Nick Goldschmidt, vintner and winemaker of his namesake winery in Healdsburg, is also keeping a watchful eye on his vineyards.

The vintner produces wines in six countries under various labels, and he gave a talk on climate change this year for American Society for Enology and Viticulture, offering a global perspective.

“We are seeing frosts coming at all times of the year in Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Canada,” he said.

“In Sonoma County we tend to be getting hotter and wetter. We have floods more frequently and, obviously, fires more often.”

The vintner’s personal mission is to take sustainable farming to other regions, importing the practices of no herbicides and less tractor movement.

“Anyone that takes up the cause for climate change is important,” Goldschmidt said.

Hope others commit

Katz said he’s on board with any organization that’s dedicated to progressive ideas regarding climate change, and he hopes others also will commit to being more environmentally conscious.

“Anything that can be done to slow down climate change will aid in some of the factors that have created these horrific fires,” Katz said

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

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