Vineyards make the leap to carbon neutral

I just returned from a week of visiting wineries in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. Rodney Strong, in Healdsburg, Calif., was one that I visited and was just officially declared the first carbon-neutral winery in Sonoma and the second carbon-neutral winery in the United States. Parducci, in Mendocino, was the first.

What is “carbon neutral?” We create more carbon dioxide, a gas, by burning fossil fuels which trap some of the sun’s light waves that reflect from earth back to space in the form of heat. Every time we travel or turn on our computers, we add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This is because most of the energy we use comes from fuels like oil, coal and gas. Being “carbon neutral” means removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as we put in. Wineries can do this by installing wind mills, solar panels, changing to biodiesel for farm equipment, converting from incandescent to fluorescent lighting and planting trees.

Two years ago, I visited with Paul Dolan, who is the co-owner of Mendocino Wine Company, which is the umbrella company of Parducci Winery and Paul Dolan Vineyards. At that time, Mendocino Wine Company was “offsetting” by buying emissions credits. When a company does not quite remove enough carbon dioxide with such devices as windmills and solar panels, they can buy emissions credits. There are organizations which disperse the funds collected as emissions credits: Three Phases Energy Services, which manages methane capture, renewable energy and sustainable forestry; Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which manages wine, solar and total power projects; and Native Energy, which manages wind, solar, biogas and methane capture projects.

When I checked the Native Energy Web site, I discovered that I could calculate my recent airplane flight from Seattle to Santa Rosa and offset my carbon emission of that flight by sending $14 to Native Energy, which would put it into a fund set up for the Greensburg Wind Farm in Kansas. The town vowed to rebuild as the greenest city in America after being leveled by a tornado. A family can calculate its carbon footprint and actually offset its emissions. I know a family on the Island that was not turning on their lights on Sunday during the summer; however, now that our days are shorter, I guess that their mission is tabled.

Last month when I spoke with a Parducci representative, I found out that Mendocino Wine Company is totally carbon neutral now without buying credits, as is the Rodney Strong Winery.

In the Rodney Strong gift shop, there is a huge blowup copy of a check for over $2 million from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. It is a rebate for installing the largest solar panel system in the wine world, providing electricity for almost 800 homes.

As you might guess, if a winery is committed to being carbon neutral, it is aware of how any of its actions can affect the environment. The Rodney Strong Winery just celebrated its 50th anniversary. An early adapter of solar energy, it was among the first wineries to install solar panels and has been a leader in Fish Friendly Farming, which is agriculture where private landowners foster practices that do not endanger fish.

Depending on location, wineries are installing wind mills to generate power.

Wineries often use tree-free and/or recycled paper for labels and use soy-based inks. Most participate in on-site vineyard composting, water conservation and water-recycling.

However, there are very few wineries worldwide that are officially carbon neutral. Other than Rodney Strong and Parducci in the United States, there is one in Canada, as well as some in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

“Global warming is real and one of today’s biggest threats to our future,” said Tom Klein, Rodney Strong’s owner. “This is something we had to do. The whole world needs to get involved in solving this problem.”

Wine Prices for the Holidays

Studies show that consumers are drinking the same amount of wine, just buying lower-priced wine during the current recession. Consequently, many prices are being lowered for the upcoming holiday season. Look for your favorite wines at possibly a lower price. It is a great time for holiday gift giving, too.

Dee Hitch can be reached at

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