Years after the Lange family's Gil Creek restoration project, which transformed a barren riparian area into a lake overflowing with fish, fowl, and other wildlife, Aaron Lange now understands what the hard work and effort was all about. He, too, shares the family's concern for the environment and sustainable agriculture.
As viticulturist and operations manager for LangeTwins vineyards and winery, headquartered near Lodi, California, Lange leads their participation in The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, commonly called Lodi Rules. The Langes have 388 estate-vineyard acres that were certified under the Lodi Rules program in 2006, with plans to double the number of certified acres this year.
In its third year of existence, Lodi Rules, a program of the Lodi-Woodbridge Wine Commission, is slowly catching on with area growers, Lange said. The sustainable program is certified by the third party Protected Harvest.
By the end of 2006, 12 growers had certified a total of more than 5,400 acres. Already, some wineries are paying a bonus to growers certified under the program, and a local insurance company also offers certified growers a discount, he noted.
"Hopefully, the sustainability concept will resonate with the consumer," he said, adding that LangeTwins wines will soon use the Lodi Rules sticker to convey the sustainability message to consumers.
"The program is more comprehensive than being organic," he said. "It's more than just about the soil or biodiversity. It also includes economic and social responsibilities."
Sometimes, he said, you can save money by following sustainable guidelines when inputs are reduced. Lange admitted that sustainability requires more management than traditional viticulture. However, they would rather put more money into management than inputs, he said.
For example, the Langes follow a "prescriptive" sulfur program for powdery mildew management that saved about 75 tons in sulfur material and two applications in their wine grape blocks in the first year. Instead of blanketing all the blocks with sulfur every ten days, a schedule is followed that is based on the mildew susceptibility of varieties and a powdery mildew index model. A customized computer program helps track index data and plan applications to manage fungicide resistance for the 20 different varieties they grow.
As part of the certification audit process, he annually prepares a workbook to detail their sustainability vision and management plans for soil, water, nutrition, pests, ecosystem, and human resources. The workbook includes short- and long-term goals, such as implementing a biodiesel program, replacing the last of their furrow irrigation with low-volume systems, and reducing dust pollution caused by farming practices.