Written by California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

As an agricultural industry, the California wine community has a long history of adapting to change and demonstrating its commitment to sound environmental practices and social responsibility. Building on these efforts are the educational and certification programs of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA). Established by Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers, CSWA is the most comprehensive and widely adopted wine sustainability program in the world, and – together with other important sustainability programs in regions throughout the state – has made California wine a leader in addressing climate change. 

Projects Addressing Climate Change Wine Institute and CSWA have worked for nearly two decades with winery members, other agricultural associations, and the academic/research community to better understand the issues surrounding climate change and ways in which wineries and vineyards can both adapt to and mitigate effects. This work includes: 

  • Wine Institute and CSWA worked with international partners from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to develop a greenhouse gas (GHG) protocol for measuring winery and vineyard greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Wine Institute conducted a study of California Wine's Carbon Footprint to identify the areas with the most opportunity for improvement to reduce a vineyard or winery’s GHG emissions (e.g., packaging, applied nitrogen in vineyards, electricity use, and distribution). 
  • CSWA released an online performance metrics tool to help California growers and vintners measure, track and improve their use of natural resources and reduce their carbon footprint over time. 
  • CSWA calibrated and validated the DNDC (DeNitrification-DeComposition) computer model for California vineyards in order to understand the ability of vineyard soil to sequester (capture and store) carbon. The model simulates carbon and nitrogen cycling among soil, air, and crops, and the interactions among local climate, local soils, and on-site management practices to simulate the emissions and consumption of gases within the soil environment. A simplified DNDC tool is integrated into the vineyard GHG metric. 

Sustainability and Climate Change The comprehensiveness of sustainability – which includes not only crop protection and soil management, but also energy and water use efficiency, air quality, human resources and neighbors, among many other areas related to climate change – makes it the most effective approach for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to change. CSWA’s California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing addresses key climate change issues. The Code includes energy efficiency and air quality chapters on best management practices to help reduce GHGs and other air emissions as well as dependence on fossil fuels. The Code also promotes viticultural practices, such as pruning for more canopy to shade fruit and using drip irrigation and deficit irrigation, to help enhance quality and conserve water. 

CSWA’s educational Sustainable Winegrowing Program has garnered the participation of nearly 2,100 wineries and vineyards; and today more than 85% of California wine is made in a Certified California Sustainable Winery and nearly one third of the state’s vineyards are Certified California Sustainable. (Another 15% of acreage is certified Lodi Rules, Napa Green and/or SIP-Certified.) Among Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing requirements are 58 required vineyard practices and 37 winery prerequisites including many directly related to climate change – e.g., nitrogen management, vineyard water and energy use conservation/efficiency – and measuring and tracking winery energy and water use efficiency and GHG emissions and vineyard water use efficiency and applied nitrogen. (See CSWA’s 2018 Certified Sustainable Annual Report for examples of adoption of specific practices.) 

California’s Leadership in Climate Policy When it comes to climate change policy, the state of California is a leader in GHG reductions and adaptation. The Cap and Trade program was created by the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 and provides funds for GHG reduction projects to encourage action by farmers. For instance, vineyards and wineries are active participants in the California Department of Agriculture’s Climate-Smart Agriculture programs, implementing Healthy Soils demonstration projects (e.g., cover crops and composting to build and maintain healthy soil) and SWEEP water-energy efficiency efforts, both of which are directly linked to climate smart agriculture. 

Like winegrowers around the world, California wineries and vineyards respond to climate and weather issues on a daily basis. The diversity of California’s growing regions, skill and experience of its vintners and growers, and their commitment to sustainable winegrowing will ensure that wine will continues to be a signature industry for the state into the future. 

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Wine Institute Communications Dept. 415/356-7525 communications@wineinstitute.org