|Jean-Pierre Wolff, whose vineyards in EdnaValley are CentralCoast Vineyard Team-certified, is proud of the creek restorationprojects that have helped improve local steelhead populations.|
Photo by Gaylene Ewing, Central Coast Vineyard Team
The California wine industry is booming: The number ofwineries in the state has more than tripled since 1990, bringingCalifornia to fourth-ranking producer in the world behind France, Italyand Spain. Keeping pace with that growth is a burgeoning sustainableviticulture movement, led, with others, by the SARE-supported CentralCoast Vineyard Team (CCVT).
CCVT—a collaborative since 1994 of growers, wineries,researchers and others—promotes sustainable practices through acomprehensive self assessment, regular on-farm workshops and, morerecently, third-party certification. The group started small, but hasevolved into a vital force in the state’s wine industry: Its 300members represent 11 percent of California’s total vineyard acreage,about 60,000 acres.
Over the years, the group has received two SARE grantsthatproved crucial in expanding participation in its signature selfassessment program, a largely unheard of tool when CCVT membersimplemented it in 1996.
During a 1999 SARE grant, CCVT leaders increased thenumber ofacres evaluated with self assessments by 70 percent; during a 2003grant, the number of assessments increased by 27 percent.
“Some of the earlier SARE grants were key in the earlydevelopment of this very small group,” says CCVT Executive DirectorKris O’Connor.
The self assessment, known as the Positive PointsSystem,involves extensive evaluation of a vineyard’s practices to conservewater and protect water quality, minimize erosion, reduce pesticiderisks, protect worker safety and conserve wildlife habitat.
| Goats provide some weed management support atCentral Coast Vineyard Team-certified Laetitia Vineyards in ArroyoGrande, California. |
Photo by Gaylene Ewing, Central CoastVineyard Team
The assessments have proven effective. In 2003, forexample,one grower managed to reduce soil erosion from 38 tons per year totwo-tenths of a ton per year by following the recommendations thatemerged from a self assessment. The group’s on-farm workshops regularlyencourage more than half of attendees to change their practices basedon what they learn, according to post-workshop surveys.
The Positive Points System has appealed to growersbecause ofits flexibility, says Dana Merrill, a vineyard owner and founding CCVTmember. “Since it is a positive system, as opposed to a regulatorysystem, it became something growers wanted to do, rather than wereforced to do.”
Today, CCVT is continuing to evolve. Like othersustainableviticulture organizations in the state, its members are shifting theirfocus from self assessments to third-party certification. “The PositivePoints System works fine as an internal system in our industry or onour farm,” Merrill says. “But if we are going to talk about it toconsumers, then it means more to have a third party ratify what we areachieving.”
Working with a broad range of advisors, members begandevisingthe Sustainability in Practice program’s rigorous standards in 2003,and a pilot group of 14 vineyards on a combined 10,000 acres receivedcertification in 2008.
For more information, go to www.sare.org/projects andsearchfor FW99-108 and FW03-010.