Sustainable Wine: Self-Assessment and Certification

by Tamara Scully
Have you even wondered just how well your vineyard or winery is doing in implementing sustainable practices? Where do you start? Why do you want to do this? How can this help your business to grow? Those questions and more were answered during the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s recent webinar sessions.
The CSWA is a joint effort between the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers, and began in 2001, Jodi Wilson, Program Manager for the CSWA, and webinar presenter, said. The CSWA is a non-profit organization with the mission of advancing and promoting the benefits of sustainable winegrowing practices, and is an industry-driven initiative to help vineyards and wineries implement sustainable business practices.
Self-Assessment Tools
A self-assessment tool is available to any California winegrower or vintner who wishes to learn about best practices and sustainability initiatives. Often, it is a struggle for producers to determine what is sustainable about their practices, where they can improve, how to improve, and how to communicate with customers about the processes involved in sustainable winegrowing. The self-assessment test is a first step to do so.
“It’s hard to put such a complex subject into such simple terms,” Wilson said. “Sustainability really does touch every aspect of your operation.”
The comprehensive focus of the CSWA includes the environmental, social and economic factors of sustainability. Fifteen parameters, including energy conservation, soil management, water usage, environmental purchasing, wine quality, recycling, viticulture and ecosystem impact are measured.
The self-assessment, which is an online tool, measures 138 vineyard practices and 103 winery practices, separating each practice into four possible score categories. Category one conforms with current regulations, while categories two through four each represent an additional level of sustainable practice “above and beyond” what is required.
“The idea is not always to be a category four. It might not make sense for your operation,” Wilson cautioned.
A tip is to begin by reading the level two requirements for each response, Wilson said. From there, decide if you meet the conditions, exceed them, or are not quite there yet. If you are between levels, select the lower level, as you have not yet met 100 percent of the requirements for the next level.
“There are going to be a lot of things you will find out you are already doing,’ she said.
Certification
For those California participants wishing to become certified with the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Program, the self-assessment tool is the first step towards certification. The self-assessment will be verified by a trained auditor, who inspects the business with a site visit. The self-assessment tool allows for notes to the auditor, pertinent documents to be uploaded, provides resources to help design an action plan for improvement, and assists with a time frame for the implementation of action plans. Utilizing the tool helps prepare for the audit, which varies in cost depending on complexity and individual auditor rates.
Whether certification is desired or not, “the self-assessment helps you set a baseline,” Wilson said. “Continuous improvement” is the goal. For those certified, improvement is mandatory, year-to-year. The self-assessment must be completed each year, and ongoing audits will be performed.
Pre-requisite criteria for CCSW certification includes 50 vineyard and 32 winery practices which must be scored at a level two or higher on the self-assessment, and confirmed by the auditor. Those who do not meet the level two criteria for these key categories are encouraged to implement changes as soon as possible, and apply for certification once they are in compliance. Deadlines for certification occur four times per year
Just over 65 percent of the case production of California wines, as well as a bit more than 17 percent of the wine-growing acreage is now CCSW-Certified, Wilson said. Those statistics represent 87 wineries, and 444 vineyards, and include “large organizations as well as very small” operations.
Metrics
In place since 2002, the self-assessment tool has been completed by over 1,800 California vineyards and wineries along with many key organizations involved in California’s wine industry. Performance metrics for the industry have been created from anonymous user-generated data.
“We’ve been tracking our practices over 10 years,” Wilson said.
The four categories of metrics currently being measured are: water; energy; greenhouse gases; and applied nitrogen. The metrics tool can also be used by each self-assessment participant, to “keep track of your own resource use” from year-to-year, or to compare themselves with others of similar size.
“You’re linking practices and performance. The idea is that you have tools to reduce usage if you want to.”
Promoting Sustainability
There are “many different motives” for desiring to increase sustainable practices, Wilson said.
Among consumers and buyers for the retail wine trade, sustainability awareness is important. According to one survey completed for the Wine Institute in 2012, 34 percent of wine consumers said that environmental concerns played a role in their selection. In the trade arena, Wilson reported data from other surveys, showing that 37 percent of retail wine buyers make selections based on sustainability either “frequently” or “very frequently.”
Information about sustainable practices can be communicated via labels, secondary signs, packaging, marketing materials – including written or internet-based information, and directly to consumers visiting tasting rooms or participating in other agritourism activities.
Another tool for those wishing to learn more about sustainability is the one hour online California Sustainable Winegrowing Ambassador Course. http://ambassador.discovercaliforniawines.com/overview#
The course is a “fun way to get familiar with sustainable winegrowing,” Wilson said.
No matter where sustainability falls on the scale of importance in formulating your business practices, assessing where you stand now, and seeing what practices you can legitimately promote as sustainable, is an important step to take. From there, the self-assessment tools and resources available through the CSWA offer a path to increasing sustainability in every category, for those who wish to do so.
The self-assessment tool is an easy-to-use and comprehensive tool for those involved in the California winegrowing industry. Those in the industry, but outside of California, can access a wide variety of additional resources at the CSWA website, www.sustainablewinegrowing.org, including a PDF of the self-assessment tool workbook.

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