California is a leader in sustainable grape growing, developing the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing in 2002. Sustainable production must be environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically viable. Over 390 grape growers in Sonoma County who farm over 57 percent of the vineyard acres in the county have assessed the sustainability of their farming operations and submitted their assessments for inclusion in the statewide Sustainability Report.
Growers assess the sustainability of their operations in 14 areas of activity encompassing all aspects of grape growing, e.g. ecosystem management, energy efficiency, air quality, material handling and solid waste reduction, human resources, and neighbor and community relations. Each grower will balance the “sustainability equation” based upon his/her values and farming philosophy. For example a grower who owns a hillside vineyard near a salmon-bearing stream may feel minimizing sediment movement into the stream is essential. That grower may plant a permanent cover crop on the vineyard and control weeds in the vine row with an herbicide in order to minimize soil disturbance.
Another grower may choose to farm organically. That grower cannot use an herbicide, so must control weeds mechanically perhaps by disking between rows and using a hoe plow or other tool in the vine row. Each decision has trade offs, but both growers make choices to improve the sustainability of their farming practices for future generations.
The Code of Sustainable Winegrowing is a useful tool to help growers farm sustainably. Sonoma County growers have a long history of environmentally sound farming. An often heard quote is “I want to leave my farm in better condition than it was when I bought it.” And multigenerational farming families in Sonoma County have been doing just that for over 150 years.
Sustainable production is a journey – every year new improvements can be made. And each year targeted education programs are offered to grape growers to address those elements in the Sustainability Report where there are opportunities for improvement. The quality of our grapes and wines are improved, while preserving our environment, supporting our employees, and building understanding with our neighbors and community.
The Commission provides ongoing targeted education to support the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing program. Grower meetings on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Organic Production are offered throughout the growing season. These informal monthly meetings are focused on traditional and organic grape growing education, and grower-to-grower exchange of ideas and practical information including using biological controls in the vineyard, i.e. owl boxes, monitoring for the Glassy Winged Sharpshooters (GWSS), updates on the Vine Mealybug and making available vineyard resources. Vineyard Technical Meetings are also valuable forums for keeping abreast industry changes.