By Karissa Kruse

On Sunday (4/21), the Press Democrat published an article on the front page questioning the status of the Sonoma County Winegrowers’ commitment to sustainability. The answer is – UNWAVERING.

A decade ago, Sonoma County, and its 1800 grape growers, made a commitment to be 100% certified sustainable in all its vineyards. To this day, Sonoma County is still the only wine region in the world that has not only made this commitment but achieved it. It was a commitment that was viewed as “impossible” or “daunting”, however, those other wine regions didn’t have the grape growers who live, farm and have their families in Sonoma County.

It would be nice if we could sum up sustainability with one word or one practice, but sustainability is complicated. It is a never-ending journey of learning, collaborating, and improving. Sustainability is also holistic, focusing on every part of the business – environmental, economic, and social. Here is what a decade-long commitment to sustainability means for Sonoma County Winegrowers:

  • It has developed more than 44 best management practices that positively impact water conservation and quality;
  • It has drastically and voluntarily cut the use of glyphosate in Sonoma County vineyards by 70%;
  • It created the first one-hundred-year business plan to preserve local agriculture;
  • It established the Center for Ag Sustainability;
  • It is the largest provider of workforce housing in the North Bay region with 40% of vineyard employees receiving housing directly from their employer;
  • It established the first Leadership Academy for Vineyard Employees in the country;
  • It has improved soil health & increased organic soil matter;
  • It has made a significant investment in solar& energy efficiency;
  • It has moved to mechanization and leveraging new technology;
  • It has invested in ponds, rainwater catchment, and water monitoring hereby reducing its water needs;
  • It became the exclusive pilot partner for the first Climate Adaptation Certification for Agriculture, creating custom farm plans to measure and manage carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions; and,
  • Every year, the winegrowers focus on improving.

With the foundation of the Sonoma County Winegrowers sustainability commitment, the organization and its leadership launched a new initiative in 2022, the Farm of the Future. The Farm of the Future is a living lab and innovation incubator for the future of agriculture.  Local winegrowers recognized that they would need partners and collaborators to invest in learning with them to protect agriculture’s long-term viability. Through this living lab, Sonoma County winegrowers and innovative companies can pilot-proof best practices, equipment, and technology that may eventually result in game-changing solutions that can be shared with farmers across the country and around the world.

Last week, local winegrowers began receiving Smart Apply, precision spraying equipment from John Deere Company as Sonoma County Winegrowers embark on a major collaboration with one of the world’s most iconic brands. The John Deere technology is designed to enhance eco-friendly practices, minimize the carbon footprint, and encourage sustainable land management.  John Deere joins Ford Pro, Wilbur-Ellis, and Agrology as collaborators in the Farm of the Future, choosing Sonoma County to invest and partner, recognizing our winegrowers’ leadership and values.

The Sonoma County community should feel confident and proud that their local grape growers are the only farmers in the world who have come together and formally committed to sustainability. There is no question that the Sonoma County grape growers are global leaders in sustainability, and they are just getting started.