All About the Sonoma County Sustainable Signs
All About the Sonoma County Sustainable Signs
Throughout Sonoma County we see green and white signs that say 'Sonoma County Sustainable' posted next to vineyards. What do they mean?
In January 2014, Sonoma County Winegrowers announced a commitment to make Sonoma County the first 100 percent sustainable winegrowing region in the nation by 2019. This five-year program reached out to farmers and wineries, to help them attain sustainability goals. A green and white sign posted at a particular vineyard or winery means that the owners have made the sustainability commitment.
Will sustainability be the law of the land in Sonoma County?
Not exactly. The Sonoma County Winegrape Commission (aka Sonoma County Winegrowers) is a trade association that has oversight by California Department of Food and Agriculture, but the sustainability initiative depends on the willingness of stakeholders in the business of growing grapes and making wine to make it happen.
So how's that going?
Very well. According to the Sustainability Report Card issued jointly by Sonoma County Winegrowers and Sonoma County Vintners in January 2020, 99 percent of the county's vineyard acres have earned sustainability certification. Only 6% of Sonoma County's 1 million acres are planted to grapes; elsewhere the county is 9% urban, 36% pasture, and 49% forest. The report also notes that 85% of Sonoma County vineyards are family owned and operated; 80% are 100 acres or less; and 40% of Sonoma County vineyards are 20 acre or less. Our dedicated commitment to true sustainability is one of the reasons that Wine Enthusiast named Sonoma County as the 2019 Wine Region of the Year.
In an exclusive partnership with the California Land Stewardship Institute — the same organization behind Fish Friendly Farming — Sonoma County Winegrowers is launching a Climate Adaptation Certification Program. The first of its kind available in the world for agriculture, the program is completely voluntary for growers, offering an additional step in the sustainability evolution for those who wish to pursue it. A year-long pilot with approximately 20 grape growers around the county will help refine the program models to better understand best practices for lowering gas emissions and sequestering carbon. This will result in gathering measurable data for climate-friendly farming practices. The program will focus on proven scientific concepts that growers can implement without compromising their farming practices. It will limit nitrous oxide emissions and focus on carbon sequestration to improve the health of the soil and the farm.
Does sustainability matter to people who drink wine?
Wine market research commissioned by Sonoma County Winegrowers reports that 44 percent of respondents said "they would be more likely to purchase or support Sonoma County because of these sustainability efforts." Consumers around the world are increasingly concerned with the sustainability of the products they buy.
There is a healthy debate between proponents of sustainable and organic certification, but they share many of the same practices and goals. For instance, the use of organically produced compost and pest species management that doesn't involve chemicals are emphasized in both models.
Many would agree that organic certification is more focused on use of non-synthetic materials on plants and soil, generally, while sustainable certification includes issues like energy use, waste management and water conservation, and human resources.
The Sonoma County certification program does include a prohibition of certain "red listed" pesticides and other materials, and a "yellow list" of discouraged but allowed materials.
The official statement from the Winegrowers explains: "Sonoma County Winegrowers take a triple-bottom line approach to sustainable practices that measures a grape grower's commitment to being socially responsible in how they treat their employees, neighbors, and community, environmentally conscientious with their farming and winery practices, and economically viable as a business."
Where can I see grape growing sustainability in action?
There's a self-guided vineyard tour program organized by the Sonoma County Winegrowers called Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures. Currently, eight wineries in six Sonoma County viticultural areas are hosting Vineyard Adventures.
The tours are free, and are easy walks or light hiking of a mile or less on flat terrain or gentle hills. Sights include a fish and wildlife habitat restoration project along Dry Creek at Amista Vineyards, water-saving frost protection at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, and lavender fields at Matanzas Creek Winery.
Learn more about the free vineyard walking tours.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight