Wine Exec Addresses Climate Conference

Fetzer's director of regenerative development speaks at event in Paris

by Jane Firstenfeld
josh prigge fetzer
Josh Prigge, director of regenerative development for California’s Fetzer Vineyards, spoke on a panel about sustainability in the wine industry during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France.
Paris, France—Representatives from 195 nations agreed to lower greenhouse gas emissions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference on Dec. 12 in what is being widely hailed as a “landmark” agreement. The United Nations had fought for the initiative since 2009, with the long-term goal of limiting global warming through adoption of stricter emissions standards worldwide.

The international wine industry is an obvious stakeholder concerned with global warming. The allied Caring for Climate (COP21), the official business forum during the conference, was addressed by a wine industry panel that included Josh Prigge, director of regenerative development for California’s Fetzer Vineyards, as well as representatives from an international group of wineries.

Wine industry take-away
The breakout session “Climate Action in a Bottle – Red, White or Rose?” was attended by some 50-75 interested parties, Prigge told Wines & Vines upon his return from Paris last week.

The Caring for Climate business forum “was global,” he said. “We were brought together to build momentum and support.” His panel included representatives from French wine organizations Moet-Hennessy, Chateaux Smith-Lafitte and Maris, and Chilean powerhouse Concha y Toro (which now owns Fetzer).

“We talked about what the wine industry is doing to address climate change, something Fetzer has been doing for decades,” Prigge said. “Climate change is important to our industry specifically because we could be very affected by it in terms of varieties we grow and produce. We must be prepared for any adjustments in the conditions. It’s important for the wine industry to lead the way, but we cannot do it ourselves.”

He cited Fetzer’s vineyard practices, which he termed “beyond organic. These are regenerative practices using habitat, cover crops and biodiversity to build the health of the soil and sequester excess carbon.”

The consensus from the wine panel, he said, was that “in the wine industry, we all share the same thought. We need to have a voice, to show our support, to do the things we can do to set an example and be a model.”

Regarding the persistent drought in California and other western states, Prigge said, “It’s hard to pick one weather event and say climate change is the cause. But it definitely plays a part.”

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Prigge said he observed “a lot of security.” But at the conference itself, “There was nothing but excitement and optimism to make a global agreement.”

He admitted being excited to receive his invitation to appear from the United Nations after Fetzer was recently accredited as a “Certified B Corporation” in recognition of its environmental and social achievements. With annual production of some 2.5 million cases, it’s the largest winery in the world to achieve B Corp. certification.

Founded in 1968, Fetzer is known for an aggressive commitment to sustainability. It became the first California winery to operate on 100% clean energy in 1999. By 2006, its 75,000 square feet of rooftop solar panels provided 80% of the energy to its bottling facility. Its newest goal is to reduce energy use by another 20% by the year 2020.

Fetzer CEO Giancarlo Bianchetti said in a recent news release: “The wine industry is uniquely positioned to tell the story of climate change, because wine grapes are dependent on specific climates and regions for the growing of quality fruit, making vineyards especially vulnerable to a warming climate."

Posted on 12.15.2015 - 08:17:06 PST
As a wine lover and writer,and a fan of Fetzer quality wines, this is a landmark action for the industry. Proving that their innovations can be achieved and still produce a quality wine that is competitive in the international market should open the gates for other quality American wineries to follow.Congratulations on the wine industry's participation in the climate conference.