Sonoma County Winegrowers To Establish Center For Ag Sustainability To Address Concerns About The Future Of Farming

Santa Rosa, Calif., (January 16, 2017) – As the calendar turns to a new year, Sonoma County Winegrowers (www.sonomawinegrape.org) are quickly closing in on its goal of becoming the nation’s first 100% sustainable wine region by 2019.  According to the latest Report Card published in the Sonoma County Winegrowers’ 3rd Annual Sustainability Report, 85% of the county’s vineyard acres have completed the sustainability self-assessment – the first step in achieving certification.  In addition, 60% of the vineyard acreage in the county – more than 34,000 acres – has been certified sustainable.

Bolstering its position as the global leader for sustainable winegrowing, Sonoma County Winegrowers president, Karissa Kruse, today also announced the group will establish the Sonoma County Center for Ag Sustainability to enable winegrowers to identify and focus on the most challenging problems facing the local wine community to ensure its continued success and the preservation of Sonoma County’s agricultural heritage. This announcement was made during the organization’s 26th Annual Dollars & $ense Seminar and Tradeshow, one of California’s oldest grower and vintner gatherings.

“We have long recognized that our job as farmers is to preserve and protect our agricultural legacy and way of life for future generations.  The reality is that ag is on the brink of a crisis. Not only are thousands of acres of farmland being lost to development in California every year, but there are serious threats to the financial viability of our businesses due to increased regulations, rising labor costs, new overtime requirements, drought and more,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers.  She added, “Clearly, the status quo is not an effective strategy moving forward.  We must look to lead on addressing these pressing issues and new ones that will emerge to ensure our continued success and the preservation of agriculture in Sonoma County.”

The Sonoma County Center for Ag Sustainability will be a strategic think tank to help develop innovative ideas and strategies to strengthen and build upon the region’s sustainability efforts and its 100-Year Business Plan to Preserve Agriculture.  Understanding that it takes creative, thought provoking, and out-of-the-box thinking to solve some of the critical challenges facing Sonoma County’s agricultural community, the Sonoma County Winegrowers are creating a groundbreaking program that will bring together a small, diverse group of thought leaders and experts from across various business industries, subject matters, academia, job functions and skill sets, and other unique backgrounds, to problem solve and develop new, fresh ideas that will advance farming not only in Sonoma County, but may also revolutionize grape growing and the larger wine industry across the globe.

As a first step, the organization hired a globally recognized leader in strategy facilitation, Professor George Day, to help facilitate and manage the strategic planning of the Center for Ag Sustainability.  As the Geoffrey T. Boisi Professor Emeritus at The Wharton School of Business and Co-Director of the Mack Institute for Innovation Management, Dr. Day has consulted with some of the most recognizable corporations, including General Electric, IBM, Coca-Cola, Boeing, Best Buy, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and Medtronic.  He is also the past chairman of the American Marketing Association.

“I am proud to work alongside the Sonoma County Winegrowers to launch this innovative process that will help bring fresh ideas and innovations to solve some of the critical issues facing agriculture today,” said Dr. Day.  He added, “I am struck by the commitment and vision of the winegrowers.  Their thinking is truly unique, not only for agriculture, but for business in general.  It will be exciting to bring this effort to fruition as it will greatly benefit farmers, their employees, families, local residents and the region.”

The Sonoma County Center for Ag Sustainability will kick-off as a 2-year program starting in January of 2017.  The first 6 months will be used to determine who will be invited to participate in order to create a diverse group of subject matter experts who can bring new thinking to one of the oldest professions in the world. In addition, the Sonoma County Winegrowers will develop the program and format in conjunction with Professor Day, as well as facilitate a retreat with the Sonoma County Winegrowers Board of Directors to better understand scenario planning and the 100-year business plan pillars. In June of 2017, the Sonoma County Center for Ag Sustainability will begin to meet every 4 months for a strategic planning session on the pillars of 100 Year Business Plan to determine insights, innovations and recommendations on moving the grape growers forward.

Throughout the 2-year program, the Sonoma County Winegrowers will share learning and progress broadly, which will culminate in a White Paper which will be published providing the insights and learnings to a global audience. These findings and ideas will also be incorporated into the Sonoma County Winegrowers strategic plan, marketing and branding efforts, and other areas of the organization that will guide their focus on the preservation of agriculture.

Incredible Progress Made Towards a 100% Sustainable Sonoma County

“The progress made in the past three years towards our goal for 100% sustainability in Sonoma County is nothing short of remarkable,” said Kevin Barr, Sonoma County Winegrowers’ board chairman and owner of Redwood Empire Vineyard Management Company.  He added, “Sustainability is critical to maintaining our agricultural heritage and ensuring our vineyards thrive for generations to come, while also providing Sonoma County with a significant point of differentiation in the global marketplace for consumers.”

According to the new Sonoma County Winegrowers’ 3rd Annual Sustainability Report:

  • 49,577 vineyard acres (85%) of Sonoma County’s 58,235 vineyard acres have been sustainably self-assessed;
  • 34,654 vineyard acres (60%) of Sonoma County’s 58,235 vineyard acres have been certified sustainable by a third-party audit; and,
  • More than 1,200 vineyard properties in Sonoma County are sustainable by either completing their sustainability self-assessment or receiving third party certification; and,
  • More than 40 wineries are certified sustainable.

As it closes in on 100% sustainability, the Sonoma County Winegrowers will continue to work with four sustainability programs, all of which offer certification from an independent third party auditor: California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), Fish Friendly Farming, Lodi Rules, and Sustainable in Practice (SIP).  Sonoma County’s Winegrowers take a triple-bottom line approach to sustainable practices that measure grape growers’ commitment to being socially responsible in how they treat their employees, neighbors, and community, environmentally conscientious with their farming and winery practices, and economically viable as a business.

In 2016, the group announced it was focusing its efforts on the social-responsibility component of sustainability with the relaunching of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation to provide resources and support for agricultural employees and their families.  The Foundation has been working with a variety of community-based organizations and governmental agencies to identify existing resources, leverage available support and create new programs which will assist local farm employees and their families in the areas of affordable housing, childcare, education, healthcare, and workforce development.

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