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Wine bottle corks are repurposed as mulch, an example of sustainable practices implemented at Snoqualmie Vineyards winery.

Wine bottle corks are repurposed as mulch, an example of sustainable practices implemented at Snoqualmie Vineyards winery.

Photo courtesy of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates

Winerywise, the free, online guide to ­sustainable winemaking and winery practices developed for Washington State’s wine industry, is ready for use.

Educational outreach sessions are planned for the coming months to show wineries how the interactive program works, says Joy Andersen, winemaker at Snoqualmie Winery, Prosser. Andersen, who chaired the grassroots committee that developed Winerywise, helped unveil the program during a special session of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers annual meeting.

Andersen has been involved with sustainable wine practices for many years. As winemaker at Snoqualmie Winery, she’s guided that winery’s sustainable efforts, focusing on energy conservation projects, solid waste reduction and management, winery water quality and conservation, among others. The Snoqualmie winery facility is certified organic and produces a “Naked” line of wines that are made from certified organic grapes, although the wine itself is not organic.

Snoqualmie ­Vineyards, with nearly 380 certified organic acres of wine grapes, has the state’s largest organic wine grape acreage. Another 140 acres are in ­transition to be certified organic.

Since 2007, the winery has published a sustainable and organics annual report to detail its sustainable projects and progress, such as reducing its total winery water use from 4.2 gallons of water per gallon of wine produced in the 2005 harvest year to 2.4 gallons. Electricity consumption also decreased last year by 8 percent from the previous year, accomplished by replacing low-efficiency lighting and ballasts with modern fluorescent fixtures controlled by motion sensors.

The development of Winerywise is just in time, says Andersen, who’s also a member of a national sustainability committee of the National Grape and Wine Initiative, a coalition representing all segments of the grape industry.

“All segments of the grape industry are talking about sustainable practices right now. The juice grape side is already feeling pressure from their customers who want to know that the industry is following sustainable practices and food and worker safety laws,” she said in a phone interview with Good Fruit Grower, adding that retailer pressure on wine is not far behind. “They’re ­coming for our industry, too.”

Andersen believes that the national discussion about sustainability occurring within the grape industry is positive and should lead to standardization of sustainable programs.

As chair of the broad-based Winerywise steering committee, Andersen helped lead the volunteer effort that began in 2007. The committee represented wineries, wine grape growers, researchers, and educators, and was supported by the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, Washington Wine Commission, Washington Wine Technical Group, Washington State University, and Walla Walla Community College. Grants from the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Department of Labor and Industries received in 2010 helped complete the project and fund development of the online format.

The online, interactive guide focuses on sustainable business and winery management topics and provides wineries with tools to evaluate their business and process practices, compare their practices to industry standards of sustainability, and plan and implement sustainable management strategies. Andersen noted that by using the guide, wineries will not only learn more about the value of sustainability, but will be equipped to make changes and improve their practices.

Winerywise does not include a third-party audit or certification component. But for those wineries seeking recognized certification, it provides guidance for the  ­programs available.

Program details

The guide is a three-step series of checklists, self-­evaluation and assessment forms, and action plans, ­covering the following topics:

  • Energy efficiencies
  • Water management
  • Waste management
  • Staffing, safety, and human resources
  • Material handling
  • Preferred purchasing
  • Community outreach
  • Site development
  • Education and research

After completing the self-evaluation forms, a score of the winery’s baseline of sustainability is given. Items in the assessment are categorized as mandatory, basic, better, and best. Scores of the industry average are given in a side-by-side comparison of the individual winery.

Wineries in Practice

An important component of the Winerywise program under development is WIPs (Wineries in Practice), a list of wineries that are willing to serve as educational resources for a specific topic. Andersen explained that the WIPs are wineries that may have already completed a major upgrade or improvement, such as an energy efficiency upgrade, waste water treatment, or glass reduction ­project, and are willing to help others. Or, she said, they may just be starting to improve the sustainability of their practices and are willing to share their journey.

“WIPs can be anywhere along the learning curve line of sustainability, from already going through the program to just starting,” she said, adding that the idea is to give wineries more confidence in completing action plans by giving them names and contacts of where to go for help.

Winerywise was designed to be a companion program to Vinewise, the online Washington Guide to Sustainable Viticulture that debuted in 2006.