Since 2002 when the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance first unveiled its program, the self-assessment workbook has been one of the program's cornerstones.

Although the workbook was revised in 2006, it was due up for a major overhaul to reflect changes in both cultural and winemaking practices that have occurred during the past 10 years, says Lisa Francioni alliance program manager.

For example, one of the original questions asked whether participants used a flow meter to measure water use.

But it never addressed the other devices that growers used.

So the revised question asks whether participants use a device to measure water use.

The original program, which was developed by a committee of growers and winery representatives, was geared toward education.

So far, growers representing 70 percent of the state’s winegrape acreage and wineries representing 65 percent of the wine-case production have taken the self-assessment she says.

What many participants of the self-assessment found was they were doing a lot of the so-called sustainable practices already, Francioni says.

They just hadn’t documented them.

Retailers drive certification need

More recently, retailers have spurred a need for a third-party certification program. “It’s being driven by market forces,” she says. “They say, ‘You’re saying you’re doing all of this. Now can you prove it?’”

In anticipation of the certification program, a subcommittee comprising growers and winery representatives about two years ago began reviewing and updating each of the workbook’s 14 chapters.

The workbook, known officially as the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Self-Assessment Workbook, contains 227 questions that gauge the adoption of practices considered sustainable.

Users rank themselves on a scale of 1 to 4.

For example, one question asks about monitoring vineyards for mites and insects.

The participant is given four choices:

1. I or my PCA monitors my vineyard at least weekly for insect and mite pests. And I keep a written or electronic record of results. And I and/or my PCA use this information for management decisions.
2. I or my PCA monitors my vineyard at least weekly for insect and mite pests. And I and/or my PCA use this information for management decisions.
3. I or my PCA monitors my vineyard periodically for insect and mite pests.
4. My vineyard is rarely or never monitored for insect and mite pests.

Directly following the question is an educational component that discusses the importance of monitoring for pests.

"Not monitoring your vineyard is like driving a pickup truck without an instrument panel," a caption beneath a picture reads.

The original committee of about 50 growers and winery representatives that reviewed the first workbook is now reviewing the revisions, she says.

The new workbook is scheduled to be finished this summer.

When it’s completed, the alliance will conduct another educational campaign and workshops to encourage growers and wineries to take the new self-assessment.

If participants don’t want to attend a local workshop, they can take the self-assessment online.

The information is kept confidential.

But the alliance does release a sustainability report card every five years to show the industry’s progress.

All of the data are presented in a way so no individual grower can be identified. The last report card was released in 2009.

The report cards also are used to determine educational programs.

If the scores in an area or areas, such as human resources management or energy efficiency, are lower than the others, the alliance will conduct educational sessions throughout the state on that subject or subjects.

Continual improvement

Of the 227 best management practices contained in the self-assessment workbook, 58 are core to the certification program, Francioni says.

The certification program doesn’t set specific benchmarks. Instead, it requires growers and wineries to make continuous improvements.

“While we have some minimum requirements to get certified, it’s all about you looking at your specific vineyard and making improvements that are important to you,” Francioni told growers attending a recent San Joaquin Wine Growers Association tailgate educational session near Ceres.

The certification program also requires participants to conduct a self-assessment annually.

In addition, an approved independent third party must conduct the audits.

They are conducted the first year and then every third year after that.

So far, about 115 vineyards and 40 wineries have been certified.

Sustainable winegrowing program updates workbookThey then are allowed to affix a “Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing” logo to promotional materials.

The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance is a joint effort between the Sacramento-based California Association of Winegrape Growers and the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

The alliance and self-assessment workbook also have been used by other states, such as Washington and New York, and other countries as a basis to develop their own sustainable programs, Francioni says.