Sustainable Strides

Sustainable Strides

Ramona is home to the only certified sustainable vineyard and winery in San Diego County, according to a database by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

From pest management to viticulture, Teri Kerns, president and CEO of Ramona Ranch Vineyard and Winery, has spent the last five years maintaining a certified sustainable space, earning her a certification from the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing program. From the beginning, farming holistically was always a part of her business plan. “My husband and I are from the Oregon coast. We both grew up in the country. My parents practiced sustainable practices without having a label on it. It was good stewardship,” said Kerns.

As a part of the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing program, certified wineries and vineyards have to meet 60 vineyard and 41 winery prerequisite practices amongst other requirements, which focus on key sustainability areas such as energy efficiency, wildlife habitat or soil health, to name a few.

“Our entire property is Roundup free. We don’t spray for any type of pre-emergent in the vineyard. We combat our weeds the old-fashioned way. We weed whack, pull [weeds] by hand. We also focus a lot on the biodiversity and ecosystem management,” said Kerns. As a part of that ecosystem, Kerns has California native plants on her property which she says encourages a diverse amount of bugs. “And, it just goes up the chain, the more diverse your bugs are, the more diverse your birds are, the more diverse your birds are, the less pests you have. It helps with your pest load,” she added.

Several miles away in Miramar, the Charlie & Echo team is looking at their carbon footprint from a packaging perspective.

“I just hate the waste. We’ve always been striving to get the lightest bottles that are still solid quality that we can find and we use some of the lightest bottles. It’s hard-pressed to find lighter bottles than the ones we use,” said Eric Van Drunen, winemaker at Charlie & Echo.

So, how light are we talking?

According to Wine Folly, a 750 ml bottle of wine is about 25.36 oz. or 718 grams. Wine bottles at Charlie & Echo weigh in around 390 grams. For their sparkling wine bottles, the weight is around 560 grams. Van Drunen says lighter bottles mean that winemakers save not only to make the wine bottle but also on transportation.

Along with lighter packaging, Charlie & Echo is also a part of 1% for the Planet in which they donate 1% of their topline revenue to environmental causes. For Charlie & Echo, it’s forestry.

“Last year, we offset 24.6 mT (metric tons) to make our winery carbon neutral, and then purchased an additional 9.3 mT in climate-positive credits, all through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (a 1% for the Planet partner),” shared Van Drunen. He adds that if you take the figure that a tree sequesters around 22 kg/year, the 9.3 mT is a little over 400 trees.

Allison Jordan, executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance says they are also seeing this trend in the wine industry, moving toward light-weighting glass. In fact, according to Wine Business Monthly, 34% of winemakers moved to a lighter-weight glass bottle in the last year, as of 2020.

“There was sort of a concern, and I think it’s still true on the very, very high premium wines, that that means it’s a luxury product, higher quality and somehow better. There were definitely concerns, and rightfully so, from wineries that their consumers expected a heavier bottle,” said Jordan. “I think the more we see light-weight glass in the marketplace, it’s becoming more and more accepted so that’s really important because that reduces the greenhouse gas footprint,” she added.

Lowell Jooste, owner of LJ Crafted Wines, is taking packaging to another level by avoiding wine bottles all together. In 2016, he opened his winery in La Jolla, serving customers straight out of wine barrels. And, for customers looking to take the wine home, they sell reusable growlers.

“There’s two sides to it: the one side is the production of the bottle, the other side is getting rid of the bottle. The main problem, if one’s looking at the greenhouse gas emissions story, it’s the production of the bottle. Once you’ve used the bottle, it does nothing in a dump,” said Jooste.

“From a carbon footprint, the problem is really the enormous amount of heat that needs to be generated to produce the bottle. We thought, let’s go along the lines of reusable bottles because I know bottles can be recycled but that doesn’t improve your greenhouse gas emissions story, it only saves bottles going to the dump,” he added.

Since LJ Crafted Wines opened its doors, they have served wine out of 385 barrels, saving an estimated 115,000 single-use bottles. With this business model, the winery relies on local support and for those who are visiting, they now offer wine in a 750mL can to-go, which can be recycled.

“We’re lucky we’re in a very good community and I’d say the success of a business like ours is having the right community location,” said Jooste.

For those in the wine industry looking to make a difference sustainably, and with so many avenues to consider, where’s the best place to start? One option is to start with the California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

Or, consider the advice of the aforementioned winemakers.

“I’d like to see more people using reusable packaging,” said Jooste of LJ Crafted Wines.

“Everytime we make that purchase, every time we do our planning of what bottles to buy, it’s something you can do,” said Van Drunen. “Next time [you] buy bottles, get one that’s a little lighter,” he added.

“Start educating yourself and if you’re in this for the long run, really look at the impact your decisions make on your land and on your final product. It’s a lot easier to spray Roundup than it is to weed whack our vineyard every two weeks for the entire growing season. It’s more expensive to be certified sustainable and practice sustainable practices. In the long run, if you’re spraying Roundup, what’s going into your water sample? Do you drink the water? Are you concerned about that?,” said Kerns, president and CEO of Ramona Ranch Vineyard and Winery.

And for wine consumers, Van Drunen recommends doing a bit of research.

“If sustainability and the environment are important things for you, take a few seconds on your phone and just go to the website. Do they say anything? Do they care at all? And, if you don’t see something but you like them—you had their wine, you like the place, it’s a local place—then the next time you’re there, ask.”