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Sonoma Growers Aim for 100% Sustainability

February 2014
by Andrew Adams
Santa Rosa, Calif.—The Sonoma County Winegrowers on Jan. 15 announced their goal to certify all of the county’s nearly 60,000 acres of vineyards as sustainable within the next five years. No California county has accomplished this feat.

Karissa Kruse, who took over as the group’s president in March 2013, acknowledged the plan’s ambitiousness but said she is confident the economic, environmental and social benefits of sustainability will convince the county’s 1,800 growers to certify their vineyards through the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) or another third-party certification process. About 60% of the county’s vineyards are currently in assessment through a sustainability program.

Proponents of the move say it will help growers demand a higher price for their grapes and assist wineries in selling their wines to retailers and consumers looking for sustainable products. Growers, especially smaller operations, are concerned about the cost of assessments and certification and possibly not being able to use some sprays for Botrytis and powdery mildew, especially in the cooler and foggier parts of the county.

The growers group also released findings from an economic impact report that found the local wine industry had a total impact of $13.4 billion in 2012, nearly doubling since 2005.

The county is home to 755 wineries, according to Wines Vines Analytics. Of these, 544 produce less than 5,000 cases, but 14 Sonoma County wineries make more than 500,000 cases per year. These larger companies, which include wineries owned by Constellation Brands and E. & J. Gallo Winery among others, account for 63% of the county’s total production of nearly 27 million cases. The county’s average winery retail price for a bottle of wine is $22, and the average annual case production is 36,000.

The county’s share of total direct-to-consumer (DtC) sales grew 25% by case volume from 2012 to 2013 and 17% in value. In 2013, the county’s wineries shipped 842,473 cases to consumers, representing 24% of the total volume and 21% of the total value of DtC shipments.

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