It’s always sunny in Sonoma. By 2019, it should be the nation’s first 100% sustainable wine region, too.
Back in January 2014, Sonoma County Winegrowers pledged 100% Sustainability by 2019 - a bold proposition. But not surprising. With over 85% of Sonoma’s vineyards family-owned, many spanning more than three generations, grape farmers seek to maintain a legacy for their families.
Leading the Way in Sustainability
Pushing for complete sustainability has not been easy. The three-part program involves education on over 200 best-management practices - including land and water management, healthcare for workers, and being a good neighbor. Phase Two involves assessing data from participating wineries and implementing certifications, all with an eye towards constant improvement, a benchmark of sustainability. Third-party verification and certification will ensure transparency, another sustainability tenet. To date, over 55% of Sonoma’s wine growers have signed on to the sustainability program.
Sonoma wine growers are willing to invest in sustainability. What about consumers?
Quality of Life vs. Cost
With consumer spending and sustainability demands on the rise, Sonoma seeks to reap benefits from both.
Recently, Whole Foods global wine buyer Doug Bell addressed the Sonoma Wine Growers Association, praising them for their 100% Sustainability Pledge. Whole Foods (its motto reads “Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet,”) understands the profitability of sustainability.
According to Bell, consumers, especially millennials, espouse the ‘foodie’ lifestyle. They care about where their food comes from, what’s in it, how it’s raised, who raised it, how the workers who produced it are treated, as well as any impact upon the environment. This translates into customers willing to pay more for goods from sustainable producers.
This common ethos between consumer and producer can create long-term relationships, some spanning decades. Green String Farm in Pentaluma, for example, has provided produce to Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley for over thirty years.
“50% for Humans, 50% for Nature”
Green String Farm practices ‘natural process agriculture,' eschewing chemicals and pesticides for cover crops, compost, crushed volcanic rock and oyster shells to nourish the earth and crops. Founder Bob Cannard describes this method as “50% for humans, 50% for nature.” In addition to supplying Sonoma area restaurants, Green String Farm features a community farm stand selling sustainable produce to the community.
Fred Cline, founder of Cline Cellars, adopted natural process agriculture on his vineyards in 2000, the same year he partnered with Cannard to start the Green String Institute. The institute educates and certifies producers in sustainable agriculture practiced on Green String Farm.
The Girl and the Fig
A vanguard in Sonoma’s food and wine scene, The Girl and The Fig showcases regional, seasonal, sustainable wine country eating.
Owner Sondra Bernstein explains: ”We're devoted to the ingredients and wines from in and around Sonoma Valley...Every dish is a celebration of the local abundance.” She continues, “Our focus is always on sourcing as much and as locally as we can, and featuring organic, sustainable, artisanal purveyors throughout all of our menus.”
A recent sampling at ‘The Girl, The Wine, and The Wolf’ pop-up Winemaker Dinner at Suite D with Rhone vigneron Anne-Charlotte Melia of Chateau de la Font du Loup illustrated this perfectly, and included a luscious cheese course spotlighting local artisan Laura Chenel’s marinated cabecou goat cheese, bella dried jack, and St. George cheddar.
But The Girl and The Fig serves up more than just pretty food. In 2010, Bernstein and managing partner and chef John Toulze teamed up with Imagery Estate Winery. Dubbed ‘The Farm Project,’ the venture included care of the estate’s organic orchards and a plot of land. Over time, the farm has evolved into a learning lab on sustainability, including the science behind waste reduction and composting, not to mention the art of growing and eating seasonally. Bernstein boasts that since introducing composting in 2010, The Girl and The Fig has reduced kitchen waste over 30%.
The takeaway? Successful sustainability requires commitment, demands transparency - and rewards abundantly. Sonoma gets this - a wine region daring to dream big, lead big, and inspire big with its 100% Sustainability pledge.