The Mendocino Wine Company is doing their part to change the course of global warming by implementing practices to reduce their carbon footprint and investing in carbon offsets. Their efforts have garnered their family-farmed –Parducci Wine Cellars the recognition of being the first winery in the nation to achieve carbon-neutral status.

Going green makes economical sense as well as environmental sense, Mendocino Wine Company’s Kelly Lentz said at the recent Washington State Grape Society convention held in Grandview, Washington. By taking steps to reduce their electricity bill—the largest component in their carbon footprint—the California winery located in Mendocino is saving money and the environment.

Mendocino Wine, founded in 2004, is a partnership of the Tom and Tim Thornhill families and Paul Dolan. The partnership purchased the historic Parducci Wine Cellars shortly after the company was created and embarked on an ambitious program of sustainability under the umbrella of being carbon neutral. The company’s annual wine production is around 200,000 cases.

"Carbon neutral means that you’re either offsetting what you’re polluting or you come out zero at the end," Lentz said. "But how do you know what you pollute or know where it’s coming from?"

Going green is not all that difficult, she said, and involves three basic steps.

Measuring your footprint

The first step is determining your carbon footprint and establishing a baseline, a process that has been made –easier by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s –Climate Leaders program and for Californians, the California Climate Action Registry (see Web site addresses on facing page). Both programs are free and provide advisors to help businesses and individuals inventory and calculate their greenhouse gas emissions and develop a baseline for emissions.

"It’s not very hard," said Lentz. "Most people think you need fancy gizmos and recorders taking lots of statistics. But what we did was basically pull out all of our accounting records. Your fuel bills, electric records, natural gas usage. Those are the big ones."

After analyzing their records, they found that over 60 percent of their emissions were coming from electricity usage. Both the EPA and California programs provide models that turn kilowatt-hours into estimated carbon dioxide emission levels.

She predicted that for most grape growers, fuel use would be the biggest area of emission. Although their vineyards are organic, for growers using chemical-based pesticides, she noted that the EPA can help determine if a particular pesticide produces greenhouse gas.

Mitigating your emissions

To help identify how to reduce their electricity usage, Mendocino Wine partnered with their electric company, Pacific Gas and Electric. An energy audit conducted by PG&E showed they could save energy by installing more efficient equipment as old equipment wore out. "Our facility is 75 years old, so there’s lots of old equipment," Lentz said. By changing refrigeration and updating lighting, they saved 9 percent in annual electricity use. And by converting from incandescent to fluorescent light bulbs, they saved another 5 percent.

A significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was made by switching from diesel to biodiesel for their tractors, trucks, and other fossil-fuel-powered equipment. They purchase biodiesel from a local facility that converts restaurant fryer oil into biodiesel. They are also looking at purchasing hybrid cars for company vehicles; some staff members have already purchased biodiesel vehicles.

"One word of warning for the biodiesel—it does gel at a higher temperature than regular diesel, so in the winter we have to mix it with regular diesel," she noted.

Other changes made to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions during the last three years include installing a solar energy project that now produces about 20 percent of their annual power; a large, on-site recycling project; buying locally whenever possible; participating in a local tree-planting program; using 100 percent recycled papers and soy ink in packaging and office materials; and using chlorine-free corrugated cardboard.

Changes were also made in the vineyard. Irrigation practices were made more efficient, reducing water use by 21 percent, she added.

Offsetting emissions

But it’s nearly impossible to mitigate all of your carbon dioxide emissions, she said. Therefore, Mendocino Wine is partnering with several companies involved in renewable resources and power technologies to offset Parducci’s emissions. Called "offset investments," Lentz said they have invested in companies that manage wind, solar, tidal, and biogas power generation projects, as well as methane capture and sustainable forestry projects.

She stressed that the world of carbon offsets and credits is relatively new and considered the "wild west." One must investigate companies before investing to ensure they are reputable.

"Going green doesn’t mean sacrificing your bottom line or your ability to compete in the market," Lentz said. "We have an opportunity to do things differently. If we don’t like where we see things we are doing are heading, it’s up to us to change that."