Sustainability from grape to glass

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California Wine Month

Opportunities to taste the best wines from the Golden State are overflowing during this summer’s California Wine Month. This sixth edition of the annual promotion goes the extra mile in educating consumers about California’s global leadership in adopting environmentally and socially responsible winemaking practices.

Christopher Beros, Greater China and Southeast Asia director of the Wine Institute, says, “California’s efforts related to sustainability are unsurpassed. We want to communicate these efforts and our focus on leaving our world sustained for future generations. We believe these positive principles are also important to consumers so they are aware when making their wine choices and can join us on this journey.”

As the world’s fourth-largest producer and accounting for over eighty per cent of the US’s production of wine, California has been leading the way towards sustainability in viticulture and winemaking, with eighty per cent of their wines produced in certified sustainable wineries.

Honore Comfort

“It is important to us that the world know about and understand the commitment that California wine growers and winemakers have been making for decades,” says Honore Comfort, Vice President of International Marketing for California wines. “We are working towards a collective goal, to leave planet Earth better than we found it”.

The Golden State Holistic Approach

The Golden State is committed to going green with a rigorous certification program that takes a holistic approach to sustainability from grape to glass. This effort includes producing high-quality grapes and wines, protecting the environment, being a good neighbour and employer and maintaining a thriving long-term business. Tangible outcomes include reducing packaging, such as slimming glass bottles to reduce the weight for shipping, and innovative technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Rutherford Wine Company

Daniel Assef, International Sales Manager at Rutherford Wine Company, notes that the certification is an extensive multiyear process and that the effort is well worth it. He adds that the family-owned winery cares about being good stewards of the land and wants to pass it on to the next generation. The drive towards responsible farming and winemaking is coming not only from the sellers but also from the buyers. “In certain markets in the world, consumers demand it.”

Honore Comfort, a fourth-generation Californian with family roots in farming, has worked in the wine industry for over twenty years. She says that being ecologically minded is “a part of our DNA and our spirit comes from being Californians with our deep commitment to preserving and protecting our environment. Part of that, I believe, is because we see and understand the unique natural resources and natural beauty that California has been gifted with, and we take that very seriously. We recognise that our natural resources, our climate and our soils are essential to having the ability to make the beautiful wines that we do.”

California vintners’ dedication to sustainable practices is fundamental to managing their businesses and how California wines are presented and marketed worldwide.

Ektimo Vineyards

April Xie, Owner and General Manager of Ektimo Vineyards, a relatively new winery set up just over a decade ago in the Russian River Valley, considered sustainable practices right from the start of her operations. She said, “Since day one, when I planted the vineyard, I already knew what needed to be done to be sustainable, and we have kept on doing that.”

Xie presented her wines for the first time in Hong Kong at the recent Vinexpo and added, “Our sustainability designation is a positive advertisement for our wines.”

Wente Family Estates

At Wente Family Estates, sustainability has long been part of the mindset for this family-owned winery that has been operating continuously since 1883. Michael Parr, Vice President of International Sales, notes, “We don’t just follow the rules; we actually helped write them.”

Phil Wente, the fourth-generation viticulturist of the estate, believed that you can’t just keep taking from vineyards. Like a bank account, you can’t just make withdrawals. You also have to make deposits. He created a list of thirty rules called Farming for the Future, which became the basis for California’s sustainability code.

Monarch Tractors

Wente Estate’s constant adaptation to new and better sustainable practices includes the rapid adoption of innovative farming technologies, such as the use of electric vehicles. Theirs was the world’s first winery to implement electric self-driving Monarch tractors in their vineyards. They till the soil, prune, cut the leaves back, transport things around and do everything a standard tractor would do, but with less carbon emissions; it’s a very clean and pure way to farm.

Parr added that being “sustainable is more of a feeling, and sense of pride, knowing that the love and the passion that goes into creating wine, coincides with their mission to do what is right, and to make sure that what you’re drinking today can be enjoyed in future generations.”

The Golden State’s deep commitment to preserving and protecting the environment

Sustainability Strategy

Doing the right thing for California vintners means doing right by their employees, their community, the grapes, the wines, and adhering to progressive improvements throughout their whole operations. Sustainability is their strategy for playing the long game. It is a holistic approach that focuses on preserving and protecting the land and natural resources, what is done in the vineyard, how wines are made, how people are managed, and the business itself. To invest in programs that protect the communities, the land, and the vineyards, businesses need to be viable long-term because it takes investment to enable the vision.

Healthier and Happier

Comfort calls this the virtuous circle – a continuous cycle of benefits.

“The healthier, happier, and more committed your workforce is, the more they will invest in ensuring the quality of your viticulture, leading to higher quality grapes and higher quality wines that sell for more. This makes the business healthier so that, in turn, vintners can invest more back into the staff and their business.”

She is passionate about raising awareness of the state’s long-standing virtues. “It is such a deep and fundamental part of how we approach our land and farming – many of us just do it instinctively.” 

California Winemakers

Sharing California’s sustainability story has been integrated into California Wine Month so that consumers, wine lovers and purchasers in Hong Kong will understand the care, efforts and investments that California winemakers and wine growers are putting into their wines. For consumers, that ultimately comes back to the wine in their glass and their bottle.

Comfort emphasises that “because people’s choices matter, by supporting California wines with our consumer dollars, we are helping to ensure the longevity of those practices”.

Sustainability

California Wine Month is celebrating the three ‘E’s of Sustainability: Environmentally sound, socially Equitable and Economically viable practices throughout Hong Kong with sustainability workshops, restaurant promotions, education seminars and retail promotions.

For more details visit California Wine Month.

Text by Cammy Yiu / Photos California Wine Institute