How Four Green Medal Award Winning Wineries and Vineyards Are Ramping Up Sustainability Efforts
November 16, 2020
Clif Family - Pisoni Family - J. Lohr - and Bonterra
Now in their sixth year, the California Green Medal Awards recognize the leadership of wineries and vineyards that are committed to sustainability.
Recipients of the 2020 awards didn’t make it to State Capital in Sacramento for the traditional ceremony with the California Department of Food and Agriculture because of the Covid-19 situation, but the video recognizing California 2020 Green Medal Award winning wineries and vineyards is available here and embedded below.
This year’s awards come at a time that extreme weather events, including wildfires, are bringing increased attention to the need for a broader dialogue on climate change and sustainability.
All four wineries and vineyards recognized in 2020 were affected, one way or another, by severe weather events. 2020 was a challenging vintage.
At Clif Family in Napa Valley, October’s Glass Fire burned orchards, vineyards, and gardens, but spared the structures. One of the wineries where Clif custom crushes on the Silverado Trail in Calistoga was extensively damaged.
Pisoni Family Vineyards farms high-end grapes at three properties in the San Lucia Highlands. At one point, Mark Pisoni was working with Cal Fire and his team deploying bulldozers and backhoes and shovels, worried the River Fire could burn down the ranch.
“Anybody who’s a doubter (about climate change) - all they have to do is spend a little time here in California,” J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines chief executive Steve Lohr said.
All of these wineries focus on energy efficiency, water use efficiency, soil and nutrient management, pest management, biodiversity and wildlife conservation. They participate in sustainable certification programs such as the Certified California Sustinable Winegrowing program. For each, sustainability involoves an ongoing process of evaluation and improvement.
Four Approaches to Sustainability
How many gallons of water make a gallon of wine?
At its Paso Robles winery, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines reduced the amount of water needed to make one gallon of wine from 3.5 to 1.3 gallons. Not that many wineries measure how much water they use per gallon of wine they make, let alone know they’ve cut it in less than half.
J. Lohr is a leader in backing research and innovation that’s shared with the industry, contributing to University programs, supporting the American Vineyard Foundation, National Grape & Wine Initiative, and more. Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel was last year's ASEV President.
A 16-member sustainability committee guides company efforts.
Groundwater is a major concern in the Paso Robles area. J. Lohr was instrumental in several water efficiency initiatives: an early adopter of Tule Technologies’ irrigation sensors; early to use Lyve System bioreactor technology to recycle wastewater. J Lohr is leading an effort to pipe recycled water from the City of Paso Robles, blending it with fresh water to irrigate vineyards.
The winery’s 756 KW solar system in Paso Robles came on-line in 2008, where it supplies 65 percent of electric needs. At the new Greenfield winery, a 920 KW system meets nearly all energy needs.
J Lohr has supported some 600 charitable organizations, including a partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation giving free mammograms to women in need across the country, to name one.
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines received the Leader Award, “given to the vineyard or winery that excels in the three “E’s” of sustainability—Environmentally sound, socially Equitable and Economically viable practices.”
“We need everybody to play their part, using less energy, and having fewer emissions,” Steve Lohr told WBM.
Community Service Days
From the vineyard to the tasting room, sustainability is a key part of overall planning, and is “integrated into everything that we do at Clif family,” general manager Linzi Gay said. The sister company to Clif Bar & Company emphasizes sustainable food and farming across all of its properties.
Clif farms 90 certified organic acres of grapes and is part of the Napa Green program.
Clif recently transitioned its entire line of artisan food products to organic, most recently a soon to be released line of chocolates. Last year, the winery partnered with Clif Bar to launch a solar grown honey program.
The winery closes for business for one day each year for company community service. In 2019, the staff served 950 hours, doubling the number of community service hours served in 2018. Because of physical distancing requirements in 2020, it’s harder to get out to volunteer but community service is a continued commitment in 2021 and beyond, as is supporting local nonprofits and donating to programs helping the community.
“We're always setting new goals. When we achieve those, we look at what we can do next,” Gay said. “That's the commitment we all need to have.”
Clif Family received the Community Award, given to “a Good Neighbor & Employer using innovative practices enhancing relations with employees, neighbors and/or communities.
Farming for Biodiversity
At Pisoni Family Vineyards, sustainability is about best farming practices drawn from conventional, natural, organic, and biodynamic approaches. It’s a small operation that invests in overall ecosystem management.
In 2017 Pisoni developed an insectary garden at its estate vineyard. 1.5 acres were taken out of production and dedicated to enhancing biodiversity and to pest management. Native plants bloom year-round to ensure habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators and there's a small orchard with 40 different fruiting trees, along with an apiary.
Mark Pisoni is registered on the Monterey County beekeeper list and keeping honey bees is a favorite hobby. He spends a lot of time picking up bees from houses in the community that don't want them, bringing them to his ranch.
Employees each receive monthly produce bags with fruits and vegetables and a bottle of wine or a jar of honey. Everything comes from Pisoni’s vineyards and vegetable ranches.
The company supports the fight against breast cancer with Lucy rosé, which has raised more than $100k since inception. Pisoni has hosted students from the Farms Leadership Program, Auburn University and the program Olinga in hopes of inspiring future agriculturalists.
Mark Pisoni is a big fan of the SIP certified sustainable program.
“Growers need to pay more attention to their ranches, Mark Pisoni said. “I feel pretty confident that what we're doing is good long term for our planet.”
Pisoni Family Vineyards received the Business Award, “given to the vineyard or winery that best demonstrates Smart Business through efficiencies, cost savings and innovation from implementing sustainable practices.”
Declaring a Climate Emergency
“We recognize we can no longer continue with business as usual in a climate that's anything but usual,” Jessica Baum, the Director of Sustainability and Regenerative Development for Fetzer Vineyards and Bonterra said. “We have to do everything we can to move the needle as quickly as we can.’
Climate change isn’t just threatening biodiversity, soil health or places that are far away, she said. “It’s actively threatening our business as we see with wildfires in our backyard. It's up to businesses to say, ‘this is not business as usual.’”
Last month, Bonterra's sister winery declared a climate emergency.
That the words “regenerative development and sustainability” are in Baum’s job title makes a statement about going beyond the status quo to regenerate and rejuvenate, that sustainability is no longer enough.
Bonterra, the leading brand made with organic grapes, represents more than 900 acres and farms regeneratively to ensure soil gets more, not less healthy over time, with a more biodiverse microbiome. The soils program has been a major emphasis. The winery is working to create systems and programs to verify the winery is drawing down carbon through regenerative practices.
Bonterra recently converted more estate vineyards to biodynamic certification and now farms 400 acres biodynamically. In terms of vineyards planted in the U.S., that's second only to King Estate in Oregon, where 1,033 acres are biodynamically farmed.
Bonterra received the Environment Award, “given to the vineyard or winery that best demonstrates Environmental Stewardship through maximized environmental benefits from implementing sustainable practices."
Previous Green Medal Award Winners
2019: Silver Oak Cellars - Scheid Family Wines - Smith Family Wines - Domaine Carneros
2018: Bogle Vineyards - St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery - KG Vineyard Management - Cakebread Cellars
2017: Francis Ford Coppola Winery - Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery - St. Francis Winery & Vineyards - Monterey Pacific, Inc.
2016: Jackson Family Wines - Halter Ranch Vineyard - Tablas Creek Vineyard - McManis Family Vineyards
2015: Fetzer Vineyards - Benziger Family Winery - Nord Vineyard Services - Trinchero Family Estates