The WOW! Factor: A look at the world of organic wines

California’s Fetzer Vineyards will be among the exhibitors at WOW!, Vinexpo’s first-ever space dedicated to organic and biodynamic wines. We caught up with Josh Prigge, the pioneering winery’s director of regenerative development, for his insights on sustainable winemaking.

Why is a sustainable/organic approach to winemaking important?

The wine industry is particularly vulnerable to climate change and natural resource degradation. The quality of our products and the longevity of our industry depend on our evolving towards earth-friendly farming practices like organic, biodynamic and sustainable.

Organically farmed vineyards benefit from cover crops, reduced tillage, wildlife integration, and compost-enriched soil. This enables the ground to sequester more carbon, the vines to better retain water during drought, and vineyard ecosystems to flourish. It’s a win for the wine, the farmer and the land.

We began focusing on organic winegrowing 30 years ago because we believed that organic grapes would make better wine. The quality absolutely showed up in the glass, and our Bonterra Organic Vineyards wines have been farmed this way ever since. For our flagship Fetzer brand, many of our California growers are farming sustainably and we’ve initiated a goal to source 100% of our fruit in this way by 2020.

What are some of your more cutting-edge practices?

Fetzer’s overarching goal is to become Net Positive in our operations, so we optimize all we do around regenerative solutions that put more into the world than we take out. The BioFiltro BIDA® System at our Hopland winery is a passive aerobic bioreactor that naturally removes up to 99% of wastewater contaminants. We’ve also installed some 30 smart water meters that leverage cloud computing technology to spot water leaks or waste events in real-time.

What are some of the measurable impacts of these practices?

With the BioFiltro BIDA® System, we expect to regenerate at least 17 million gallons of water each year and use 85% less energy than our previous wastewater treatment solution (aeration ponds). Our new smart water meters should allow us to reduce water use by up to 25% within a year of installation, enabling us to meet our 2020 water efficiency goal by 2018. We also support several ghg emissions-reducing projects around the world as part of our CarbonNeutral® certification with Natural Capital Partners. These are detailed on our website.

What’s the next frontier in sustainable winemaking?

We believe a net positive approach is the way forward for sustainable winegrowing and wine business. At its heart is this truth: that those committing to become net positive must go beyond risk avoidance and incremental improvements, truly innovating to eliminate negative impacts. Creating a positive impact in one area does not excuse ignoring a negative impact in another. Net, you must pursue best practice across the spectrum of social, environmental and economic impact areas. We truly believe that wine businesses adopting this approach will be best positioned to grow their brands, have strong financial performance, and attract the brightest talent.

What would be your perfect Earth Day pairing?

A glass of Bonterra’s biodynamically farmed “The McNab” Bordeaux-style blend from one of our estate vineyards in Mendocino County. The 2012 is drinking beautifully now. I’d pair it with a flavorful dish focused on vegetables grown in our employee-tended organic garden, where we gather each Earth Day to celebrate the potential of an Earth-first approach in every aspect of our business.