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Monday, November 15, 2010, 3:35 am

Wine: Ground-breaking Fetzer study measures carbon

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    Report says ‘huge stocks’ on land could benefit wine industry

    A new study of carbon sequestration on 1,322 acres of Fetzer Vineyards vineyard and wild land in Mendocino County could make the chemical element a huge resource for the wine industry under California’s evolving greenhouse-gas emissions accounting system.

    Owners of vineyard property should get carbon-capturing credit for leaving parts of the property undeveloped for soil-friendly viticultural techniques such as composting, mulching and cover cropping, according to U.C. Davis researcher Louise Jackson, Ph.D.

    “There are huge stocks of carbon in these landscapes,” she said. “There’s no incentive to avoid land conversion in agriculture.”

    Dr. Jackson, who has completed agriculture carbon-sequestration studies around the state for the California Energy Commission in the past several years, presented the study at the Green Wine Summit in Santa Rosa on Tuesday.

    Her research team studied five Fetzer ranches with 1,322 acres in 30 vineyards and more than 100 blocks as well as surrounding undeveloped woodlands. The property is conservatively estimated to sequester 133 tons of carbon per acre, or 135,337 tons in tree and vine wood above ground and in up to three feet of dirt, per the Kyoto Protocols. Root volume was excluded because of the high difficulty in developing a statistical model of volume and density, Dr. Jackson said.

    By comparison, Fetzer calculated its 2009 carbon footprint from direct and indirect sources, including its supply chain, to 2,102 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to Ann Thrupp, Ph.D., Fetzer’s sustainability chief. The company has taken a host of measures to keep the winery’s footprint down as it increased production to 3 million cases a year, including 300,000 cases of the certified-organic Bonterra brand.

    Dr. Jackson was quick to note that a 10-year study is needed to verify these initial findings, thought to be the first of their kind in North America, and that there were considerable variations between the Fetzer sites studied.

    “We’re not going to save wildlands with carbon credits, but when property owners understand the multiple benefits of doing so they may do so,” she said.

    Emerging implementation of Assembly Bill 32 has largely exempted agriculture, which represents 6 percent of the total state inventory of greenhouse-gas emissions, according to Dr. Jackson.

    Wildlands often are excluded from carbon sequestration research because of the “additionality” requirement, which includes risks of deforestation from a “project,” she noted.

    Vineyards often are excluded because of the “permanence” requirement, given that vine management can replace vineyards over time. Dr. Jackson said the Fetzer study could be a start for developing vineyard sequestration protocols, which the state’s Climate Action Registry is developing.

    ***

    A proposed frost-protection ordinance had its first reading before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and is set for a hearing Dec. 7, but the draft document received opposition from federal fish regulators and local environmental groups.

    The draft ordinance would create a two-tier frost-protection permitting system through the county Agricultural Commissioner’s office systems that use water, such as impact sprinklers, and those that don’t, such as heaters and wind machines. A permit would be required for modifying or installing such systems, and a list of best-management practices would have to be followed.

    Steven Edmondson of the National Marine Fisheries Service office in Santa Rosa wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 19 that the draft ordinance “in many respects mirrored” proposals from the wine industry in Mendocino and Sonoma counties that were presented to the State Water Resources Control Board last November and didn’t have “comprehensive monitoring” and “transparency.”

    The supervisors in June directed staff to draft the ordinance and asked the fisheries service to give advice in August and review a draft in September.

    David Keller of Friends of the Eel River, Petaluma River Council and Sonoma County Conservation Action said a number of stakeholder groups were excluded from the crafting of the ordinance, rather than the inclusive process used for the 2001 vineyard erosion-control ordinance. He wants a tentative Dec. 14 supervisorial vote on the ordinance postponed and an environmental impact report on the draft ordinance similar to what the state water board is preparing for its Russian River frost-protection rules, which are targeted for implementation in 2011.

    The Agricultural Commissioner’s office is coordinating meetings with stakeholder groups to discuss their concerns. Mr. Keller said that unless the draft ordinance is open to significant rewriting ahead of the Dec. 7 hearing, there might not be much to discuss.

    ***

    On Tuesday, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Santa Rosa allowed a petition for involuntary liquidation of Yountville-based Cosentino Winery LLC, filed Oct. 18, to proceed and granted accelerated proceedings based on one creditor’s concern that the winery would shut down and leave perishable wine inventory unattended, according to court documents. A required response to the petition wasn’t filed with the court by the deadline Tuesday.

    A court hearing on the petition was set for Nov. 15 in Santa Rosa, but Cosentino staff members were circulating e-mail announcements on Wednesday that the winery shut down Tuesday.

    The petitioners claimed Cosentino owed them $17.7 million. LCPV VinREIT LLC, a venture of Missouri-based real estate investment trust Entertainment Properties Trust, claimed $16.9 million; Irvine-based California First Leasing Corp., $511,300; and Mustards Grill Inc. of St. Helena, $200,000.

    Namesake winemaker Mitch Cosentino in October launched a new small-scale wine venture in Napa called pureCru with grocer Don Held, commercial property developer and builder Jim Nylen and oncologist Prabhjit Purewal.

    Bill Frazier of Frazier Winery east of Napa filed for Chapter 11 reorganization of the winery business on Sept. 10, a day before the Napa County Sheriff’s department was to seize an estimated $2 million worth of bottled and bulk wine to pay nearly $400,000 owed to Sonoma-based Vintage Capital, according to court documents.

    At the end of October, he asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Rosa for six months to work out a deal with Vintage to sell an estimated $2 million worth of wine; the 46-acre Lupine Hill Vineyard, which supplies the winery; and Mr. Frazier’s house to pay off the debt, according to court documents.

    Winery spokeswoman Kim Frazier Caterino released a statement last week that the 3,000-case-a-year Frazier brand would continue at a smaller scale.

    Judge Alan Jaroslovsky on Nov. 5 gave Mr. Frazier until May 4 to have a reorganization plan confirmed. A creditors meeting in court is set for Dec. 3.

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    Submit items for this column to Jeff Quackenbush at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4256 or fax 707-521-5292.

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