By Jon Miller
October 31, 2019
Grapes are exquisitely sensitive to climate, which is why climate change is reshaping the wine industry on a global scale. Some regions are prospering. Some are struggling. Virtually all are changing.
Sonoma County, known worldwide for its outstanding wines, is being challenged as never before. It’s not just devastating fires like the current Kincaid blaze that vineyards are contending with, although it is important to note that 15 of the 20 largest fires in California history have occurred since 2000, according to National Geographic. It’s also the daily toll of growing grapes while the climate continues warming at an alarming rate.
With California’s average yearly temperature rising three times faster than the global average (3°F. vs. 1°F), growers are having to rethink which varietals they plant, when and how they harvest and even where they should locate new vineyards. For the region’s 1,800 vineyard owners, most of them small, family-owned operations, adapting to this rapidly changing environment has been a wrenching experience.
But winegrowers, like the grapes they grow, are a sturdy lot. And the Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) are as resourceful and hardworking as they are tough. Not only are they adapting to climate change, they are also taking it on directly. Five years ago, the group set about becoming the nation’s first 100% certified sustainable wine region in 2019. On September 12, just about a month before the Kincaid fire ignited, SCW announced that 99% of its 1,800 members have been certified sustainable.
And SCW is continuing to build on its sustainability leadership as an exclusive participant in the California Land Stewardship Institute’s Climate Adaptation Certification Program, which is the first program of its kind available in the world for agriculture.
While carbon farm plans have been utilized by some farmers and ranchers in the past, this new climate adaptation certification marks the first time farmers will have a certification and a comprehensive greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction and carbon sequestration program that includes all three main GHG — carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. This voluntary climate adaptation program will be customized to site and operations with growers documenting their reductions, monitoring their greenhouse gas emissions and undergoing an annual audit. After launching and piloting the effort in Sonoma County vineyards, the program will be available to other wine regions around the world.
About the author:
Jon Miller is a freelance writer specializing in issues related to the environment and healthcare.