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Could Washington State become known as the greenest wine-producing region in the United States? Perhaps on earth? And could that reputation be gained by 2020?

Nicolas Quill, general manager and winemaker of Pacific Rim Winery, Richland, Washington, posed those questions during the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers’s annual meeting, held in Kennewick in February.

The Pacific Northwest presents an extraordinary opportunity because it is already viewed as environmentally friendly, Quill said. Consumers appear to increasingly value products that are sustainably produced and may be willing to pay more for those products, he said.

 "It would take leadership," Quill said. But the Washington State wine industry has already shown that when people work together toward a common goal they believe in, they can move the entire industry, he said.

Consumers will require the industry to raise the sustainability bar in the future, and that could be transformed into a competitive advantage for the Washington wine industry, Quill said.

 "We need to keep differentiating ourselves to compete in the wine world, and we want to do the right thing for the planet."

French-born and a descendent of a three-generation winemaking family, Quill was formerly the winemaker at Hogue Cellars, Prosser, Washington. In 2007, Pacific Rim opened its West Richland winemaking facility, a new venture of California’s Bonny Doon founder Randall Grahm.

Pacific Rim produces about 120,000 cases a year, with capacity to expand to 300,000 cases a year.

In setting up Pacific Rim, Quill and his associates looked at how the company could work toward economic, environmental, and social sustainability. They began with a focus on Riesling production and a commitment to pure wines that enhance fresh foods.

Pacific Rim officials realized the need to get consumers behind the company. To do that, the company:

•Vowed to offer its wines at a fair price–not just a low price, but a price the consumer would perceive as a good value.

•Determined to focus on recycling and the use of recycled materials to help the environment.

•Worked to eliminate dangerous chemicals from farming practices to provide a healthier product, and a healthier connection between the farmer and the land.

 "These were just the beginning," Quill said. "We know we can do more. It’s a continuum in our business."

Pacific Rim located its winery within 50 miles of most of the vineyards it uses, reducing fuel and transportation costs and reducing carbon emissions. The company encourages sustainable farming practices in the vineyard, and has held a forum for growers to share information about successful sustainable practices. One-third of the Riesling grapes the company uses are farmed on the Wallula Gap in a certified biodynamic vineyard, Quill said.

Pacific Rim composts 100 percent of its pomace and filtration waste, and is working to reduce the amount of waste water produced and its carbon-dioxide emissions. The company’s office is green-built, and has a roof-top greenhouse that grows produce for a restaurant that shares the building. The building itself has a geothermal heat pump system that draws on latent heat in the earth via a 300-foot-deep well under the building.

Quill said he’s still debating the importance of energy reduction, and how critical it might be to strive to become carbon neutral, in terms of marketing and cost savings. He’s considering changes in transportation and logistics, such as new ways to deliver wines efficiently to the end user. That could mean bulk shipping to bottle elsewhere, he said. He also is exploring alternative packaging with a lower carbon footprint than traditional glass bottles.

With so many thoughts to be considered, Quill said, it can be tough to get started toward sustainability. He recommended beginning by drafting a clear company definition and goals. Then, identify strategies.

He urged winery owners to start with small changes, get their staff behind them, ask questions, and be creative. It’s also important to define milestones along the way, he said.

Quill said he would welcome stakeholders, including wineries, vineyards owners, and communities, to e-mail him (nicolas.quill@pacificrimwinemakers.com) with comments or suggestions about the possibility of a green campaign for the Washington wine industry.

 "Together, we can build a green vision for the Washington wine industry and lead the world by 2020," he said. "Let’s just do it!"