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Carbon Neutrality: What's it All About in the Wine Industry?

by Monty and Sara Preiser

Ask Rodney Strong and Sonoma-Loeb


Sonoma-Loeb, long a grower of grapes, but relatively new to the wine production industry with its one Chardonnay, shares an important niche with established winery Rodney Strong and its half million case production. The wines of both establishments are of top quality in our judgment, yet today we write about their business and humanitarian leadership in an area much more important on a global scale than the enjoyment of wine – carbon neutrality.

“Carbon neutrality” refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released against an equivalent amount saved or otherwise offset. Often the simplified (but accurate) definition of carbon neutrality above is expanded to include neutral emissions and savings of all the greenhouse gasses covered in the Kyoto Protocol (hydrofluorocarbons, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride). In other words, the expanded and mostly preferred meaning of carbon neutrality really stipulates that a business must use/release, and then save/offset, an equal amount of all these gasses in the aggregate.

One of the strongest arguments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) is that it will often save money, but this is a natural by-product of the core reason for such reductions – the saving of energy. High energy costs make it difficult on many levels to keep a modern economy on the move, so it is quite logical to direct a business’ attention toward the use of energy in as sparingly a manner as possible. Suffice it to say that this desirable result can be accomplished in many ways far too vast in scope to cover here. However, achieving carbon neutrality is one of the most vital if we are to avoid depleting earth’s resources, or lowering them to a non meaningful level.

Rodney Strong has announced that in its effort to fight global warning it has become the first winery in Sonoma County to become carbon neutral. The winery recently became a member of The Climate Registry (theclimateregistry.org), and will calculate and report emissions of winery and vineyard greenhouse gases, allowing the company to mitigate and offset those emissions.

Over the years, Rodney Strong has implemented numerous green business practices to reduce its impact on the environment. The company installed one of the largest solar electric systems in the wine industry in 2003; updated production facility lights to energy efficient fixtures with motion sensors; received Fish Friendly Farming certification for their estate vineyards; and now farms in accordance with the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Workbook published by the California Association of Winegrape Growers and the Wine Institute.

Though Rodney Strong in Sonoma, and a few other U.S. wineries in other regions, have staked leadership claims for their wineries in this area of carbon neutrality, Sonoma-Loeb contends that it is the first winery to have taken the actual product (bottled wine) to a carbon neutral status, meaning that the carbon footprint of the production and delivery of the bottle to the consumer has been offset.

Working with Carbon Solutions America, Sonoma-Loeb has been able to assess the energy used in producing its Chardonnay label, and offset it by supporting the replanting and maintaining of Redwood forests in Humboldt County, California.

Rodney Strong owner Tom Klein put it in a way that should call to us all. “I’m proud to say that now, in 2009, we’ve become carbon neutral and hold ourselves accountable for our winery's carbon footprint. Global warming is real and one of today’s biggest threats to our future. This is something we had to do. The whole world needs to get involved in solving this problem.”


Once again the Napa Valley wine industry, through the Napa Valley Vintners Association, has donated large (no, that trivializes the amount to some degree – let’s say huge) sums of money to various programs in Napa County – money that without which many of these programs could not operate on any meaningful level. Over $5,000,000.00 raised at the famed Auction Napa Valley (ANV) in June was distributed in the form of grants to area healthcare, affordable housing, and youth service non-profit entities. This year's gifts bring the overall giving generated by the ANV to an astounding $90,000,000.00.

“We all feel, especially during this recession, that any dollar raised at the auction was a dollar more than we had the day before - and to have raised [over 5 million] in this economy was just terrific," said Janet Trefethen of Trefethen Family Vineyards, the 2009 ANV chair.

But there is an unseemly angle to this story that is rarely, if ever, written about by Napa journalists, most of whom live there and are careful not to ruffle the feathers of wineries or the local governments within and for the county for fear they may lose revenue, sources for news scoops, or party invitations. In this case the “bad guys” sit in county and city governments and pass new regulations (or fail to repeal old ones) designed to make matters difficult for the wine industry to operate. Never mind that without the taxes and wealth funneled into the Valley by this single industry and its attendant services the county could offer little more to its citizens than what a small tax base would allow.

Until recent renovations and new construction downtown, the city of Napa was one of the most wanting 75,000 person population centers in the country, especially for a city that has the usual advantages of being a county seat. The town lacked buildings of over about 6 stories, major shopping, fine dining, TV coverage, investigative reporting, and on and on and on. Fortunately, due to the wine industry and its attendant services, much is changing. Why politicians don’t see the cause and effect of these advances is something that has been beyond us for years. Why no one has written a major story on the issue is even more disturbing. It is not a public issue during elections, and it is rarely spoken about. Who is afraid of whom, and why?

So kudos to the Napa wineries, and double kudos to those who are members of the Vintner’s Association, for all they do for the people of Napa County, even in the face of what is really too much opposition from the peoples’ representatives.

Let’s take one closer look at some examples of where the just distributed $5,000,000.00 will go.

1. Housing: The agency called “Fair Housing Napa Valley” (FHNV) has been inundated by families victimized by predatory loans that have caused them to lose their homes. Foreclosures have also driven renters out of their domiciles, creating more pressure for residents to find decent, affordable rental units. ANV's funding will enable FHNV to expand services to households that need assistance in keeping a roof over their heads.

2. Health Coverage: Regardless of your take on the new health care proposals in Congress, any fair minded person knows that coverage for a large minority of our citizens and/or workers is hard to find. During these trying economic times especially, many families are also losing health insurance coverage for their children and babies. The funds from the Vintners will go a long way toward supporting the “Children's Health Initiative Napa County,” which connects thousands of children to affordable health insurance, and health care.

3. Troubled Kids: “Big Brothers Big Sisters of the North Bay” sponsors mentoring programs that address the problems of school dropout, low academic proficiency, truancy, poverty, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, unemployment, high rates of crime, youth violence and gang involvement that greatly impact the lives of youth who live in Napa County. Sociologists know that role models are the best way to transform wayward kids. Monies donated from the Vintners help match needy children with caring mentors.

One wonders whether the elected representatives in Napa read the same press releases that we do. For them to continually cause problems for the wine industry is self defeating. It’s time for the governments in and of the county to wake up and smell the grapes.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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