We're in the thick of harvest at DeLoach Vineyards, and the upswing in energy and excitement that permeates this annual event couldn't come at a better time. The annual rite of wine media predicting yields and crop quality was washed out this year by America's much bigger economic woes. Wine trade publications leading up to harvest instead filled their columns with forecasts of industry-wide reduced production and stories of farmers without buyers for their grapes. Headlines about slashing harvest to control supply levels in the bastion of the ultimate luxury good, Champagne, no longer surprise. With almost everyone's balance sheets looking worse than they have in a number of years, this seems to be a ripe time to seek a new paradigm from which to evaluate our work.
Historically, other than financial profit, one of the most common metrics from which success in the wine business is measured is the number and type of accolades and high scores received by the wine in various competitions and peer review articles. I always love a good score, but as the second-generation proprietor of a global family wine business, I've learned that this alone does not sustain a brand. Recently, I have found the triple bottom line framework to be compelling for the wine world: people, planet, profit. These are not just catch phrases in the wine world; they are intertwined concepts that determine the prosperity and longevity of a brand.
The American wine industry is small and the producer that can stand on his own without the support of his community is rare. Even in Napa and Sonoma Counties where premium vineyard sites lend themselves to strong brand identities, the system is designed such that neighbors share a brand: their geographical distinction, or in wine-speak, their AVA. What's good for one is good for all, so the balance of differentiating oneself from the community is a delicate one. 90% of all American wine is made in California and of that, only 10% is made in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Giving back to the community is not a selfless act in these small towns, it's a necessary investment with high returns. Globally, the wine world includes over eighty countries; if we each just do our small part to give back to the community, what an incredible impact we can make in the world.
Many wineries today recognize the multi-faceted benefits of greening their business practices; planting cover crops, for example, is rapidly growing in popularity as an environmentally conscious way to fertilize soil. Alternative packaging -- lighter glass, Tetra Pak, PET -- reduces the carbon footprint of shipping costs and, often times, production costs for the winery. However, even the most eco-conscious of wineries cannot avoid the basic equation grape juice + yeast (saccharomyces) = alcohol (wine) + CO2 + heat. In other words, carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process and cannot be ignored when discussing the carbon footprint reduction initiatives of even the "greenest" of wineries.
Wine has an inseparable connection to the land on which it is grown. Try as we might to erect fences and create boundaries to separate my land from yours, the vine knows only one Earth. She is diverse and expresses herself with limestone, gravel, sandy loam, and other soil types, but if my neighbor were to so much as use an abrasive cleaning detergent while washing his car without carefully disposing of the runoff water, the seven year estate conversion to biodynamic farming over which my team at DeLoach has tirelessly labored could be compromised.
Sustainable winegrowing and winemaking practices enhance a winery in the green marketplace, but the cost of such efforts is too high for this to rationally be the driving force behind such efforts. Making the time and financial investment to ensure all of your practices are environmentally sound requires a long-term vision and redefinition of prosperity and a commitment to the quality of your product and the land from which it is borne.
Winemaking is a labor of love; unlike other manufacturing businesses in which the production quantities are set to optimize operational capacity, wineries hope for the best but prepare for the worst: pests and diseases in the vineyard, unexpected weather, ambient natural yeasts or bacteria in the winery. Any of these can, without notice, drastically affect a winery's financial prosperity. Yet like every other business, wineries must turn a financial profit in order to prosper and continue their good works for the people and planet bottom lines..
As we make wine in one of the most economically trying times in recent history, I predict that among those who prosper in these tough times, we will find a shared philosophy and a commitment to a triple bottom line, regardless of the wine's shelf price. The optimal balance of these three priorities is constantly shifting, and its discovery remains a proprietor's greatest challenge.