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Going Green

The times they are a changing…along the Wine Road with the significant reduction in their environmental impact. The waste accumulated preparing for and during its three annual events—Winter Wineland, Barrel Tasting, and A Wine and Food Affair—amounted to over 100k plastic bottles and 80k printed invitations, but since 2008 it has been reduced to zero!

Starting on November 1, 2008 with Wine and Food Affair, the organization implemented the following waste reduction program in an effort to minimize the use of plastic and paper. First, it reduced plastics consumption by providing Calistoga drinking water from refillable, large format water containers where guests can dispense water directly into their reusable wine glass included in the ticket price. “We’re looking at our surroundings and trying to see ways that we can make sure our environmental impact is positive. Our members are longtime stewards of this land and we feel our events should reflect their ideologies and our shared belief in conservation,” says Beth Costa, Executive Director, Wine Road Northern Sonoma County. These water containers are reusable and will be returned to Calistoga at the close of the event, reducing its refuse by over 100k plastic water bottles per year.

To reduce paper consumption, Wine Road no longer prints and mails special event invitations to its database which has significantly reduce the amount of paper consumed in sending out print invitations. Instead, it uses its web site and various online avenues to contact its guest’s, soliciting attendees and responses through e-invitations. It also no longer prints and mails tickets to its events throughout the year; guests can simply order their tickets online and print an electronic ticket. Detailed event programs will be available at in a PDF format, which can be printed out in advance or guests can pick up a copy upon arrival. To save even more, customers can use their smart phones to view programs instead of printing any information.

To continue along this path of conservation, the Wine Road no longer distributes balloons to wineries during events. This had been the main way to attract guests during events, but it amounted to handing out 10,000 balloons a year and copious amounts of helium to blow them up. Now guests can watch for reusable signs during event weekends.

Out along the Wine Road our member wineries continue this path of conservation and eco-friendly practices. Being green is no longer the sole domain of tree-huggers, activists and Kermit the Frog. Sustainability is on the national radar, its practices quickly becoming part of long-term business strategies. Nowhere is that more apparent than the Wine Road. Representing more than 190 northern Sonoma County wineries from the Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander Valley AVAs—Wine Road members are enthusiastically embracing greener principles, from biodynamics and organics to dry farming and solar energy. Green is the Wine Road’s new red.

While dry farming practices are almost a given in France, irrigation is forbidden for making anything except table wine, the practice is surprisingly much less common in California, where water can be scarce. Dry farming, which relies entirely on rainfall, not only conserves water, making a vineyard’s growing practice more sustainable, but is said to produce more concentrated grapes, intensifying the flavors, structure and body of the resulting wines. Peterson Winery, Selby Winery, Hook & Ladder, Ridge and Suncé are among the Wine Road wineries that dry farm some or all of their vineyards.

The solar panels at Alexander Valley Vineyards (operational since early 2006), provide the winery, tasting room and offices with nearly half their yearly energy needs, even pushing power back into the grid on weekends. Rodney Strong, David Coffaro Wines and Ridge also take advantage of solar technology to power some or all of their wineries—reducing dependence on fossil fuels, decreasing pollution and saving money—now that makes sense and cents.

Wineries like Truett Hurst, Selby and Suncé practice sustainability through organic farming techniques, starting with non-chemical fertilizers and pest-management practices. Taking organics one step further, wineries such as DeLoach and Ridge grow biodynamically—an integrated cultivation approach that treats the entire vineyard as a living system, with organic guidelines for fertilization and insect/predator management as well as rules for planting, harvesting and production. Moreover, nearly half of the 50-plus wineries awarded Sonoma County Green Business certification are members of the Wine Road. This designation is given to businesses that meet requirements including conservation of resources, pollution prevention and waste reduction. In addition, Clos du Bois, Kendall-Jackson, J Wine Company and Jordan Winery have achieved a second level of certification by the Bay Area Green Business Program, which employs even more stringent guidelines.

What does all of this mean? Business savvy Wine Road wineries exhibit dedication to the environment, producing some of the finest wines in the world. So sit back, pop the cork on a more sustainable wine business and see for yourself that it’s easy being green.