What Does It Mean To Produce Sustainable Wine?

Two hands in a white bucket squeezing grapes.

Photo courtesy of Washington State Wine Commission.

The Washington Wine industry has been growing steadily for the last 30 years. An economic driver, wine brings the state millions of dollars. Growers and winery owners realize however, growing grapes and making wines are only part of the sustainable model. 

The Washington Wine Commission has a new program for growers called Sustainable WA. It’s a three-pronged approach enabling Washington Wines to be a leader in the industry. It focuses on sustainability in growing grapes, being stewards to the land, and having a healthy workforce.

Sadie Drury is a manager of 300 acres of grapes in the Walla Walla Valley. They have been growing sustainably through a program called LIVE since the start. Now, she is part of the roll-out with the Sustainable program.

“So the Washington Wine Growers and the Wine Commission is taking this to the next level by making an actual certification with basically a stamp of approval that can go on a bottle. And sustainability has a way of being confusing to consumers because I don’t think they understand that it’s not just taking care of the environment.”

Drury explained that some “organic” programs are actually more harmful to the environment and to employees. For years growers in the state have used a variety of methods to grapes for marketing and conservation. These other programs were the foundation for developing Sustainable WA.

“Seems to be the thing that people think of when they think of sustainability or organic is making sure we are doing what is best for the environment but what I like about sustainability programs is it also means you are taking care of the people who farm the land so people like myself and my employees and even the consumers by using products that are safe.”

The final part of the program is making sure the business is taken care of so that the industry is successful.

Dick Bushey sits on the board of the Wine Grape Growers and Wine Commission. He says in this time of climate change, research is key.

 “It affects everything we do, it affects the pests and growing conditions and different varieties…that’s in our priorities, as far as where we’re going to spend our money, to keep this program viable and meeting the needs for the growers.”

A healthy, stable workforce is important to Dick. Most of his employees have been with him for many years. This program will help retain trained workers.

“There is a whole section on how you handle employees, how you evaluate them, how you promote them, how you build their skills. And I think that’s kinda what’s separating us.”

Bushey is hopeful that seventy percent of growers in the state will agree to participate in the program. The first growers are already enrolled and large industry partners will be starting soon.

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