Napa’s Fish Friendly Farming bolsters vineyard certification to get Sonoma County OK

Napa’s Fish Friendly Farming now is an accepted third-party certification option under the region’s globally recognized Sonoma County Sustainable program.

The Napa-based Fish Friendly Farming program certifies vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Solano, Amador, Placer and El Dorado counties. It joins California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Lodi Rules and Sustainability in Practice, or SIP, as third-party sustainable viticulture and winemaking certification programs accepted by Sonoma County Winegrowers, the agricultural marketing group announced.

“This is another example of our ongoing commitment to build the strongest sustainability program possible, while also giving our growers another certification option that still maintains the strict standards we require to become Sonoma County Sustainable,” said Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers (

Sonoma County Winegrowers in January 2014 pledged to make the county the nation’s first fully certified sustainable wine region by 2019. So far, nearly two-thirds of Sonoma County’s 58,280 vineyard acres have been self-assessed for program compliance, and almost half the acres are third-party certified.

The addition of Fish Friendly Farming is the result of a year and half of collaboration between the two organizations to boost the Napa sustainability program to meet the requirements of Sonoma County’s sustainability program.

Sonoma County’s sustainability program takes a triple bottom-line approach that focuses on people, planet, profit as well as an annual audit and third-party certification. To meet this criteria, Fish Friendly Farming has expanded its strong environmental focus with new best practices addressing the social equity and business aspects of sustainability. The program also now requires an annual audit.

Those certified under Fish Friendly Farming in Sonoma County and elsewhere must comply with these new additions to keep the certification.

“It was critically important to Fish Friendly Farming that we be a key component in the Sonoma County Winegrowers’ sustainable offerings,” said Laurel Marcus, executive director of Fish Friendly Farming ( “We have enhanced an already excellent program which will continue to benefit the environment and help salmon and steelhead populations recover in Sonoma County and throughout the West.”

The program added an element to document labor practices and community relations, a business-practices element and an element called "green initiatives" that covers air quality, recycling and energy use, she said.

Fish Friendly Farming certification began in 1997 to help winegrape growers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties comply with federal and state environmental laws and regulations. It incorporates Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and California laws on water rights, fish and wildlife habitat, and pesticides. The program was not designed as a sustainability program.

Under Fish Friendly Farming in Sonoma County 32,253 acres are enrolled, 13,505 of which are vineyards, and 23,188 acres certified, including 10,133 vineyard acres, according to Marcus. That program has more than 140,000 acres enrolled all together.

Fish Friendly Farming looks at the entire property, not just vineyards, because environmental law affects all of it, Marcus said. So it has analyzed best-management practices on 196 miles of dirt roads, 18.4 miles of river corridors and 67.5 miles of creeks in the Annapolis, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa areas.

Fish Friendly Farming is installing continuous recording soil-moisture sensors and data loggers in vineyards in the Russian and Navarro River watersheds as a water-conservation practice. About 100 sites will receive this technology, then program officials will work with property operators to interpret the data and reduce water use.

The program also just completed a restoration plan for 5.3 miles of the upper Napa River, starting in Calistoga and extending to near St. Helena, Marcus said. Growers there will be working with program officials on a number of actions to support improved water quality and recovery for threatened steelhead trout and Chinook salmon.

Sonoma County Sustainable has received California’s highest environmental honor, the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, and was named a “Game Changer” by NorthbayBiz magazine.

This is what Sonoma County Sustainable has achieved so far:

• 37,392 vineyard acres, or 64 percent, self-assessed for meeting sustainablility standards under the program.

• 27,761 vineyard acres, or 48 percent, have been certified by a third party.

• Nearly 500 Sonoma County Sustainable signs have been distributed for display in vineyards.

• 1,280-plus Sonoma County grapegrowers participated in sustainability workshops, meetings and related events last year.

• Growers recycled more than 162,340 pounds of vineyard material in 2015.

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