Producers of Washington wines, at all price points, are feeling the impact of consumer demand for green or sustainable products. While few consumers have an understanding of sustainability, wine purchasers are nonetheless asking for these wines. This consumer trend could challenge the competitiveness of Washington wineries, which are primarily small family owned and operated businesses without the technical staff required to build sustainability into all aspects of their business.
"Winewise: The Washington Guide to Sustainable Wineries" is a business practices evaluation tool that is being developed to help wineries to address opportunities, identify weaknesses, and improve sustainability of their wineries while at the same time promoting the responsible advancement of the Washington wine industry.
Identifying management practices that are environmentally sound, economically feasible, and socially equitable builds a solid framework to achieve sustainability. Each chapter of Winewise will include a checklist, self-assessment, and corresponding action plan template for wineries to use to improve their business sustainability. The Winewise project is coordinated by the Washington Wine Industry Foundation.
The impact of a statewide and comprehensive sustainability program built by and for Washington wineries should help promote and protect market share for the state’s wineries. In addition, Winewise will provide opportunities for the state’s national and international promotional efforts to identify Washington as not only a premium wine producer but also a sustainable producer.
As a decision-making guide, Winewise will provide best practices along with a measurement tool and template for wineries to use to determine an action plan. A Steering Committee, comprised of industry volunteers, has determined that Winewise will help them:
• Craft the best quality wines possible
• Reduce their carbon footprint by reducing use of energy, fuels, and other inputs
• Maintain economic viability of their wineries
• Practice water conservation and planning
• Utilize eco-friendly material handling and environmentally preferred purchasing
• Practice solid waste reduction, recycling and management
• Promote physical, social, and economic well-being of employees
• Promote neighbor and community communication
The Winewise Steering Committee conducted an industrywide survey to determine and prioritize what are viewed by wineries as the most important management issues for inclusion. Leading issues identified from the survey include:
• Energy efficiency
• Water management
• Education and research
• Waste management—reduce, reuse, recycle
• Staffing, training, and employee relations
• Material handling
• Environmentally preferred purchasing
• Community outreach
• Site development
The Steering Committee intends to create a dynamic process where additional chapters can be included as identified by the industry. In addition, chapters on Business Plans, Marketing Plans, Lending, and Contracts, which have already been covered in Vinewise, the grower companion to Winewise, will be reviewed and edited where appropriate to target the unique needs of wineries. Vinewise is the Washington Guide to Sustainable Viticulture and is an online, interactive guide of business and viticulture topics created by and for Washington wine grape growers to determine and assess current viticulture management practices against industry standards of sustainability. For details, see www.vinewise.org.
The Vinewise online guide has been evaluated by the Steering Committee as an acceptable format, and industry teams are developing outlines to be included in each chapter of Winewise following the Vinewise format. Once each team completes their outline, professional and technical experts will fill in content and create an assessment guide for each chapter. When completed and vetted within the industry, the content will be loaded into an online home for Winewise, allowing easy accessibility for Washington wineries. The Steering Committee expects that the online guide will be formatted similarly to the Vinewise Web site.
The Steering Committee also intends to include guidance for wineries seeking third-party certification utilizing Low Input Viticulture and Enology, Inc. (LIVE). Based in Oregon, LIVE is a nonprofit organization granting certification to vineyards and wineries that follow a set of rules to satisfy an international standard by means of a point system. LIVE certification allows wineries the use of a special certified label for their bottles. Vinewise has just started working with the LIVE organization to give Washington grape growers access to third-party certification. For information about LIVE, visit www.liveinc.org.
The key industry person behind the Winewise effort is Joy Andersen, winemaker for Snoqualmie Winery in Prosser and chair of the Steering Committee. Her guidance and dedication to this effort is critical as is her technical knowledge of winery needs. The Winewise Steering Committee has dedicated considerable hours in five organizational meetings, which began last May. The leaders by topic include:
• Water Management/Process Water: Kendall Mix, Corliss Wines
• Energy Efficiency: Joy Andersen, Snoqualmie Winery
• Waste Management—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Nicolas Quille, Pacific Rim Wines
• Environmentally Preferred Purchasing: Mickey Dunne, Powers/Badger Mountain Winery
• Staffing, Training and Employee Relations (including safety): Tim Henley, Gordon Brothers Winery
• Material Handling: Joy Andersen, Snoqualmie Winery
• Research and Education: Kerry Ringer, WSU Extension enologist
• Community Outreach: Valerie Fayette, Walla Walla Community College
• Site Development: Judy Thoet, Diageo/Sagelands Winery
The Washington Wine Industry Foundation continues to seek grants to fund the effort to complete Winewise. The project has been strongly supported by both the Washington Wine Commission and the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.