Best Practices in Sustainability: The Wine Industry

1. Regional Sustainability Programs

In response to increasing concerns from consumers, government regulators, retailers and other stakeholders, national and regional wine industry associations around the globe have developed and promoted various environmental management systems or sustainability systems to their members. The systems typically foster improved environmental health, with some also having a focus on increased social responsibility and economic viability. Notable among these: Australia, Bordeaux, California, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa. Each region is addressing sustainability concerns according to their own unique environmental and social conditions, designed to bring wine suppliers into the sustainability process. For example, in California, a voluntary Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices was released in 2002 to promote environmentally sound, economically feasible and socially equitable practices in vineyards and wineries. The South African wine industry has also developed and introduced a voluntary system, known as the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) Scheme. In addition, South Africa established the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA), a multi?stakeholder initiative that audits members? labor conditions. The New Zealand wine industry adopted an environmental focus with its national industry association, which set a target of 100% of all wineries and grape growers to act in accordance with the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) program by vintage 2012. While these systems vary due to local climatic conditions they are all based on legal requirements, significant stakeholder concern, environmental and social impact, economic feasibility, potential risk to the company and certification of vineyards and wineries for compliance. Each program is based on concepts of self-assessment and continuous improvement. Most have absolute pre-requisites that must be fulfilled in order to be certified under the program, with additional criteria influencing the final score. They typically cover Soil Management, Vineyard Water Management, Pest Management, Ecosystem Management, Bio-diversity and Wildlife Protection, Energy Efficiency, Winery Water Conservation & Quality, Material Handling, Solid Waste Reduction, Environmentally preferred purchasing, Human Resources, Neighbors & Community, Air Quality, Third Party Audits by random sampling. These regional programs do not favor any specific farming system but do favor outcomes from management choices.

  • AUSTRALIA – Entwine, a voluntary environmental assurance program with formal certification according to recognized standards, balances the need to be profitable while environmentally and socially responsible
  • BORDEAUX – 1st Association of Environmental Management System (EMS) for Bordeaux wines, a unique program of cooperation and shared risks among 24 Bordeaux producers that has received ISO 14001 certification. Weakest of the regional programs, but many Bordeaux wineries are certified organic and biodynamic
  • CALIFORNIA – began with voluntary self assessment, all-encompassing workbook and training; now fully certified and independent audits; no bottle seal but increasing focus on communicating and marketing sustainability
  • CHILE – could become the most comprehensive program globally with independent audits, requiring supply chain certification, social responsibility, and CSR/GRI communications; bottle seals
  • NEW ZEALAND – pushed for 100% of industry to be certified Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) by 2012 and reached 99% by allowing organic and biodynamic certification to count; carbon reduction is major focus due to distance to market; certification permits bottle logo
  • SOUTH AFRICA – longtime leader in sustainability, biodiversity and wildlife protection, energy efficiency; has stepped up its commitments with new labor and health requirements for entire supply chain. Bottle seals certifying three programs

2. Vignobles André Lurton – Championing Bordeaux’s Terroir

A pioneer in the movement to protect Bordeaux?s viticulture terroirs, André Lurton is committed to sustainable agriculture and the reduction of his vineyards? carbon footprint. His work includes a 10-point program of:

  • Annual employee training programs
  • Customized monitoring of vineyard sustainability methods and products
  • Waste reduction and management
  • Crop protection through sustainable treatment of crop diseases
  • Balanced fertilization focused on the soil?s organic potential
  • Soil conservation cultivation methods
  • Water management to protect the natural water-table and sources, including in-house training on best practices
  • Biodiversity and preservation of the natural flora and fauna
  • Respect for the natural landscape of the region, and
  • Employee health and safety, including air filtration systems in tractor cabs, protective clothing for workers and the safe, enclosed storage of agrochemical products.

Always striving to be progressive, Lurton’s Pessac-Léognan vineyards have implemented Plan Ecophyto (pesticide reduction) to drastically reduce the use of agrochemical products and totally eliminate the use of herbicides by deadline of 2018. In 2009, they launched an R&D department to develop working partnerships with major research organizations and to increase efficiency and innovation regarding environmentally friendly wine growing practices. In 2010, they became one of the 27 members of the CIVB’s 1st Association of Environmental Management System (EMS) for Bordeaux wines.

3. Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates – Sustainability in Action

Jackson Family Wines (JFW) is the second largest vineyard holder in California and at the forefront of the movement toward sustainability in this industry. From vineyards to cellars and beyond, they have put their money where their collective mouth is, doing much research into the issues and needs in the industry. By 2008 they created sustainability teams, redesigned workspaces and retrofitted the lighting. 2010 saw the recommissioning and retrofitting of heavy equipment and the creation of a third-party certification program. Included throughout has been ongoing employee training. In 2011 their efforts brought awards and much media attention. JFW views sustainability as a shared value between environmental, social and economic concerns of the world around them, with each component part of the whole. For them it is “a better way to make great wine,” and indeed, such changes increase the quality of the end product. They know their consumer and they understand that 40 percent of adults will buy “green” if it is convenient and affordable. In order to decrease their carbon footprint everywhere they operate, JFW has created a four-part platform of sustainability: Land Management; Water Management; Energy Management, and Material Management. As a result, the company saved 30 percent in the first two years of their program of retrofits and recommissions; employed 130 percent of renewable energy certificates, and further conserved energy by consolidating and shutting down seven wineries. The result was an EPA Green Power Leadership Award in 2011. That same year the company?s air and energy projects included a new means of capturing and sequestering emissions from fermentation as well as one of the largest private solar cogeneration installations in the U.S. As for water conservation, JFW conducted a study of their water use and then implemented two pilot programs. They first focused on water recycling and the second on a “smart” irrigation system of automated valve turn on-off, or pulse, letting the water slowly get to the roots and reducing overall water usage in vineyards. This pilot project alone cut their water usage an estimated 20 percent. Full implementation is the next step. As the second largest vineyard holder in California, JFW takes seriously their land management responsibility; they consider themselves their own supply chain for grapes and as such maintain open space for wildlife and have planted more than 5 thousand trees. Additionally, they work on stream restoration projects, fully aware of how this carries over to the winery in areas such as water use.

4. Yalumba Wine Company: Adopting the Life Cycle Paradigm

Yalumba is Australia?s oldest family-owned winery. Yalumba is a global industry leader in innovation with its sustainability program that has developed over 30 years, and runs through the entire business from soil to grapes, winery to production, corporate citizen to the consumer. It involves continuous improvement in energy conservation, efficient energy consumption, fuel substitution and clean technology. Yalumba anticipates leaving nothing to chance when it comes to protecting the essential elements that make up wine –  air, water, soil and energy. Highlights of Yalumba’s commitments include:

  • Vitis, a viticulture best practice program that focuses on soil, irrigation, biodiversity, and energy management and minimal inputs like pest management during grape growing and calls for land to be set aside for renewal.
  • Over 135 acres of land set-aside for conservation, wildlife sanctuary and to offset carbon emissions
  • The Bacchus program for wine production that minimizes greenhouse gasses while engaging employees to protect the environment through minimal use of resources and recycling;
  • It has an energy-efficient winery, with wastewater management program.
  • Procedures have been established to avoid excessive noise from plant and equipment
  • Its product stewardship program focuses on reducing solid waste, where over 98 percent of Yalumba’s packaging comes either from recycled materials or is, itself, recyclable.
  • The cartons used to supply corks/screw-caps to the bottling lines are sold to carton re-use firms that use them for packing furniture and household effect moving.
  • All Plastic wrapping of bottles is baled and recycled.
  • Non-returnable pallets are collected and reused or mulched for garden mulch,
  • All spent filter media is sent for recycling of the materials.

Yalumba has embraced the LIFE CYCLE PARADIGM, which is an integrated approach to studying the environmental aspects of brands, products and services, and to reduce the environmental burdens related to them during the whole product life cycle. Life cycle analysis (LCA), often called “cradle-to-grave” analysis, is the most comprehensive of the analytical tools available for quantifying the environmental impacts related to the production, processing, packaging, distribution, use and disposal of a product. The focus of LCA is on the intensity of resource use (e.g. energy, water) and the environmental impact of outputs (e.g. by-products, waste and emissions) at each stage of the value chain, the aim being to identify opportunities for improving resource use, reducing environmental impacts and targeting parts of the life cycle where the greatest improvements can be made. Thus to achieve sustainable competitive advantage Yalumba could not go it alone – it has to engage with and manage its stakeholders, particularly those who supply goods and services to generate value in the form of authentic quality wine brands. The life cycle paradigm shifts the focus from the focal organization to the entire supply network.

Sandra's Blog