When Rodney Strong Wine Estates announced last month that it had gone "carbon neutral," it became only the second winery in the nation and one of a handful in the world to lay claim to such green ground.
But consumers may one day see the wine aisle brimming with bottles making similar carbon claims as wineries strive to show shoppers their products aren't contributing to the destruction of the planet.
"It's going to be increasingly important for consumers to know that the wines they choose are participating in the green revolution that our planet is going to have to go through to survive," said Robert Nicholson, principal of Healdsburg wine consulting firm International Wine Associates.
The California wine industry, long at the forefront of the sustainable agriculture movement, is struggling to answer a host of new questions about its impact on the environment. Today wineries are as apt to be asked about their carbon footprints as they are about the scores their wines have garnered from critics.
As consumers become more concerned about global warming, retailers like Walmart are demanding more information from suppliers about the environmental impact of their products. Producers of everything from paper towels to pinot noir are facing a future where they must spend time and money trying to calculate their products' carbon emissions.
How quickly the wine industry reacts is anyone's guess. There are some signs the carbon neutrality trend may be gathering steam. Nearly 30 wineries in Oregon, for example, pledged to go carbon neutral last year. At least five are expected to announce achieving carbon neutrality by spring, according to Michael Kelly Brown, sales manager for Sokol Blosser winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley.
Other signs point to slower adoption. Paul Dolan's Parducci Winery in Ukiah declared itself the nation's first carbon neutral winery in early 2007. But over the next two and half years, while many wineries rolled out various green initiatives, none of the more than 6,000 U.S. wineries followed suit.
Rodney Strong owner Tom Klein believes the evidence of climate change is so compelling, and its possible impact on his industry and the world is so terrifying, that he needed to take the next step.
"I think the stakes are pretty high," Klein said. "I've got two children, 13 and 15, and I'd like them to have a planet to live on."
The winery's experience with going carbon neutral illustrates some of the challenges many other industries could face as they search for ways to reduce their environmental impact while still running a profitable business.
The Healdsburg winery could easily have rested on its existing environmental laurels for years to come. In the 1990s, it was one of the first wineries to adopt new industry guidelines for sustainable farming practices, such as using cover crops to reduce erosion, limiting the use of pesticides and encouraging wildlife to flourish in the vineyards.
In 2003, the winery spent millions to install a 766-kilowatt solar array on the roof of its barrel room. At the time it was the largest winery solar array in the world.
Along with that effort, the winery looked for ways to reduce energy consumption throughout the operation, from limiting water use to installing energy efficient pumps and lighting.
"We've done all the sort of obvious things you can do," Klein said.