How much it will cost a grower or vintner to obtain Napa Green certification of sustainability practices depends on the program and certifier.
“The direct costs are minimal,” said Nate Weis, director of winemaking for Silver Oak and Twomey, which have production facilities and vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. “But the indirect costs, depending on what is already implemented, can be significant.”
The Duncan family is behind the iconic Silver Oak and Twomey wine brands. The organization has pursued third-party sustainability certification of its holdings through several groups, both known in the wine and construction businesses as well as not yet front of mind for many.
More than a dozen and a half Duncan family sites in those three counties were certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance over a number of months. And its Napa Valley facilities also were certified last year under U.S. Green Building Council and Napa Green Winery programs.
After a two-year process, the Silver Oak Cellars main winery in the Oakville area of central Napa Valley last summer was certified at the highest level — platinum — under the council’s Existing Buildings: Operation and Maintenance designation that’s part of the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) rating system. That certification helped with the Napa Green Winery certification, Weis said.
“We had already done quite a bit to get ourselves up to snuff there,” he said.
Silver Oak’s winery in the Jimtown community of Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley is being outfitted to meet platinum-level LEED standards as the facility is readied for occupancy this summer. Elements of the Living Building Challenge certification by the Seattle-based International Living Building Institute also are being implemented.
PATHWAYS TO NAPA GREEN
For the Napa Green Land program for vineyards, the two avenues to certification are the Fish Friendly Farming program (fishfriendlyfarming.org) offered by the Napa-based California Land Stewardship Institute and level 2 of the LandSmart program (landsmart.org/vineyard) via the Napa Resource Conservation District. The LandSmart option was added last June.
Fish Friendly Farming started in Sonoma County in 1999 as a way for vineyard operators in the Russian River watershed to have verified that they were using best practices to protect listed fish. It expanded to Napa County in 2002 and now is used in Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Solano and El Dorado counties.
The fee for the Fish Friendly Farming program is $11 an acre, but grants cover all but $4 per acre of that, according to Napa Valley Vintners.
LandSmart was developed by resource conservation districts (RCDs) in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Grants cover the cost to participate in the LandSmart program.
For vintners pursuing Napa Green Winery certification, the cost of a an integrated resource assessment by Sustainable Napa County project engineer Bill Bennett is roughly $1,000-plus, depending on winery size. Napa Valley Vintners offers some financial help with this, bringing the average out-of-pocket cost to $200–$400 per winery, depending on size, according to the trade association.
Bennett was a plant engineer for the Budweiser-focused brewery in Fairfield for three decades before joining Sustainable Napa County in 2010. The Napa-based Gasser Foundation started the organization in 2007 to promote energy and water conservation in Napa Valley.
NAVIGATING NAPA GREEN
ViewCraft of the Sonoma County community of Graton has been involved with Bay Area and wine industry sustainability programs since the early 1990s, even being involved with the crafting of the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing that became the heart of the CSWA program. Today, the company is helping wine businesses navigate the Napa Green programs. Part of that is help coordinating site visits required by the assessments.
“We calculate water intensity for gallons of water used per gallon wine, energy intensity in kilowatt-hours per case of wine produced and waste diversion, getting recycling and composting numbers from waste-management companies,” said Anna Brittain, MESM, head of ViewCraft communications.
Getting to the zero-waste goal a number of wineries shoot for can be quite a challenge, said John Garn, ViewCraft founder.
“If you count all the pomace in the solid-waste stream, it would be 70 to 80 percent diversion,” Garn said, referring to the grape skins, seeds, stems and other organic leftovers from crush. “But it takes a lot to get to 90 percent or above.”
CONSUMERS ASKING FOR IT
Beyond goals of being good neighbors and good stewards of the environment, vintners are starting to hear from the marketplace that sustainability matters, and verifiably quantifying “sustainability” matters even more, according to Brittain.
“We’re hearing about some increased distributor interest in this information, especially in Scandinavia” she said. “From what we heard, they want some evidence if it is third-party certified and what that means in resource tracking and greenhouse-gas emission tracking.”
And some ViewCraft client vintners that have done case studies on sustainability in marketing have noted that properly communicating and displaying sustainability certifications and achievements can boost sales, sometimes as high as 20 percent.
But Weis of Silver Oak and Twomey has found sustainability in marketing, even putting certification marks on the label, to be a mixed bag.
“We have chosen not to put those symbols on our label,” Weis said. “In traveling the country, I’ve found some are interested in it in some places, and in some places they’re not. It’s certainly not going to hurt you.”
PROGRESS TOWARD SUSTAINABILITY
Roughly half the vineyard acreage in Sonoma and Napa counties has been certified as sustainable as part of ambitious goals by trade groups to have an independent label of authenticity stamped on its claims in the next few years.
In January 2014, Sonoma County Winegrowers announced a goal of 100 percent certified vineyards by 2019, and the county passed the 60 percent mark early this year. That’s 35,000 of the county’s 58,235 vine acres.
In 2015, the Napa Valley Vintners trade association set the goal for all its 435 members with eligible wineries in the Napa Valley involved in the Napa Green program in five years. About 45 percent of Napa County’s vineyards, or about 20,000 acres, are certified under the Napa Green Land.
The Sonoma County vineyard program uses four programs with third-party auditors: CSWA, Fish Friendly Farming, Lodi Rules and Sustainable in Practice (SIP).
The Napa Green program was developed in the early 2000s by more than 20 stakeholders from the wine industry, environmental groups, government and regulatory agencies. Napa County’s vineyard and winery programs are certified by the National Marine Fisheries Service, county of Napa, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Green Business Program.
The first Napa Green Winery certification was in 2008. There are now more than 55 certified vintners. Recertification is required every three years, based on tracking water and energy use and waste diversion and demonstrating continuous improvement in resource conservation.
Jeff Quackenbush (firstname.lastname@example.org, 707-521-4256) covers construction, commercial real estate and wine.