Growing up in New Zealand, the concept of sustainability was engrained in me as a way of life. Most New Zealand families grow their own food, recycle everything they can, and care deeply about energy conservation. Taking that approach and applying it to a business can be challenging because we all have a bottom line to worry about. However, sustainability falls on the shoulders of all individuals and organizations.
Like those in other industries, winemakers should take conservation issues to heart. After all, we depend on healthy, fertile land to deliver a quality product. But true sustainability involves much more than the environment.
The True Scope of Sustainability
Most people look at sustainability through an environmental lens, but we need to broaden our definition. Sustainability actually falls into three camps, often deemed the three E’s of sustainability: economic sustainability, social well-being and equity, and environmental sustainability.
Economic sustainability considers whether a business is financially viable. At St. James Winery, we assess our business practices to ensure we’re positively impacting the local economy. An economically sustainable business will be an influential, lasting force in the community.
Social well-being and equity also tie back to how we interact with the community. Employees should be paid a fair, livable wage, and the company should contribute to a high quality of life for employees and community members by paying heed to local culture.
Lastly, environmentally sustainable businesses exercise responsible practices for conserving natural resources, minimizing pollution, managing and recycling waste, and using energy efficiently. In short, are we acting like responsible stewards of the land for future generations?
Promoting Sustainable Operations at Your Winery
Sustainable practices influence purchasing decisions much more than the typical winemaker might fathom. According to one study, 34 percent of consumers take environmental and sustainable attributes into account when purchasing wine. The hard part is communicating the steps your winery is taking to be sustainable in every sense of the meaning.
When shopping for California wines, consumers can look for the Green Medal award, which recognizes wineries that show leadership in sustainability practices. When sustainable practices aren’t printed on the label, consumers will need to do their research or buy organic, which doesn’t add extra sulfates unlike most wines made with organic grapes.
Finally, wineries should be prepared to answer questions about their sustainable practices. As consumers become more environmentally conscious, they will ask about it in the tasting room. You should be open and eager to discuss how your winery is leading the pack in sustainability and even strike up conversations to put it on your customers’ radar.
8 Sustainable Practices for Every Winery
At St. James Winery, we want to set an example for other businesses operating with all three E’s of sustainability. With that goal in mind, we’ve implemented these eight practices to become more environmentally responsible, which your winery can also apply:
- Compost and reuse your winery waste. Your winery should compost all solid and liquid waste and put it back into the field. By recycling these natural resources, you’ll save money while replenishing your fields with nutrient-rich soil. This will also reduce stress on the city water treatment system and dually promote the social equity side of sustainability.
- Install your own power and refrigeration management systems. Cooling wine and beer can eat up a lot of energy. With a new system in place, we now use 35 percent less energy than we did three years ago, despite growing nearly 10 percent.
- Make sanitation cleaner (no pun intended). At our winery, we use the ozone to manage our sanitation, not chemicals. This not only reduces the risk of harm to our plants and wine, but it also makes our products healthier for humans to consume.
- Find small ways to make a big difference. Consider installing smart lighting that only turns on when you enter the winery and tasting room, and look for other simple ways to conserve energy. Small changes like turning old wine barrels into recycling bins for the tasting room and recycling materials such as shrink wrap can positively impact the environment over time.
- Take advantage of natural methods. Rather than buy bottles and have them delivered, bloating our carbon footprint in more ways than one, our winery purchased a nitrogen generator that composes nitrogen from air. Producing this nitrogen in-house saves us money in the long run and limits the impact we have on the environment around us.
- Conserve water by installing an irrigation management system. Irrigation management systems not only save water, but they also time and gas because the vineyard manager no longer has to drive around the fields to monitor irrigation. Instead, it can be done remotely. Our winery’s irrigation system is based on weather — we’ve reduced water power because we’re aiming for a target instead of doing it in the field at random.
- Rally your team around conservation. Instill a mentality of sustainability among your employees by giving them water bottles and coffee mugs so they don’t waste plastic containers. We even encourage our staff to bring their recycling from home to promote sustainability at home.
- Get involved in the community. The limits here are endless. For example, we planted a vineyard vegetable garden. We sell some of the vegetables to local restaurants and give the rest to a food shelter. This way, we support the community by providing local options for restaurants and improve the quality of life for community members in need.
We might be in the wine business, but we’re also consumers. All wine consumers should do their due diligence and understand how the wineries they buy from practice sustainability. You can take this a step further by supporting sustainability award programs and community involvement initiatives when you see them and engaging other wineries in a dialogue about conservation.
Like other socially conscious industries, wineries will need to show consumers they value the environment and their local communities through sustainable practices. Inspire others to rise to the occasion by spearheading the sustainability movement at your winery. The environment, your consumers, and your bottom line will thank you.
Andrew Meggitt joined the St. James Winery team in 2002 and has been enjoying life in the wine business for over 20 years. A three-year-long travel adventure around the world following university influenced not only his outlook on life, but also his perception of winemaking styles and methodology. Andrew creatively stretches the boundaries of traditional winemaking while integrating both old- and new-world techniques he learned while working in New Zealand and France.