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Posted: Monday, December 01 2008. 11:10

Winery Study: Sustainability Programme of Napa's Cakebread

Environmentally and socially responsible wine growing has already been prevalent in Napa Valley.  But what once was labeled as "the right thing to do," seems poised to turn into an industry standard, observes Rishi Vohra who was pleasantly surprised on sensing the purpose behind the recent greening of Napa Valley's Cakebread Cellars.

Bruce Cakebread explains the Sustainability programme
Sustainability in the wine industry refers to a holistic approach in wine production that respects the environment, the ecosystem and even society.  Organic is a term given to environmentally friendly methods that use no chemicals or pesticides. 

A broad spectrum of sustainable practices can be found across California's wine country, which is responsible for growing 90% of the wine produced in the U.S.  Incorporating sustainability into its operations is a bold step for wineries, as each level presents unique challenges and benefits.  In recent years, California winemakers have realized these benefits to the environment and now the number of wineries employing sustainable practices is endless.  One of the recent additions to this list is California's premium winemaker, Cakebread Cellars.

Cakebread Cellars started as a small winery over 30 years ago.  Over the years it has quickly established its excellence in making some of the world's highest quality wines, sought after by wine connoisseurs all over the globe.   But while some wine growers have joined the green bandwagon to keep pace with industry trends, wineries such as Cakebread Cellars have a more deep-rooted purpose – to reduce its environmental impact and thereby be a responsible member of its community.   Apart from its fine reputation of quality wines, that's what makes Cakebread Cellars' unique.

This philosophy of producing wines sustainably and greening the winery sparked off as a thought, backed only by a sense of purpose of being environmentally responsible.  Producing wine entails a set of complicated processes which among others, results in producing waste and emissions that significantly impact the environment. 

To counter these adverse impacts, President and COO Bruce Cakebread analyzed Cakebread Cellars' wine processes and decided it was time to change the way things were done both within the winery and on its vineyards.  The difference was that Bruce realized that the shift would be successful only if it involved a change of mindset of all its employees.  As Bruce says, "For our employees we try to educate them about healthy lifestyle, healthy eating and now the green program to promote a healthy environment so they can use this knowledge at work and if they chose, continue these habits at home with their family as well."

While providing future long-term economic benefits, going green adds immediate significant costs.  But that did not deter Bruce.  With the assistance of renowned Bay Area Management consultant, John Garn, he introduced Cakebread Cellars' green program in its annual meeting in January 2007, which was well received by all in attendance. Now it is a fully institutionalized green philosophy adopted by each of the 80 employees of Cakebread Cellars and has gained further momentum since its inception.  Within such a short period, the sustainable practices earned its winery certification as a Napa County Green Winery in April 2008, just a few months after it set on its green path.   Its well documented green initiatives have prompted many wineries in the region to follow suit. 

Winemakers, like anyone else, want a healthy environment. They want to treat the land that is giving them so much with care and respect. With sustainable practices in the vineyard and cellar, they also hope to win the trust and appreciation of wine lovers who are looking for a great bottle of wine with a green pedigree.  However, despite of this competitive advantage, Cakebread Cellars does not use its green practices as a marketing tool in an age when marketers proactively market the green attributes of its products to procure more business.   Says Bruce," While we always like good "press", the green program is more for our employees and the community than a PR program to promote our wines. We feel our customers already expect us to be good stewards of the land."

The driving force behind the green program is Cakebread Cellars' green team, headed by Karen Eppel.  Under the supervision of Bruce Cakebread, the green team has been successful in implementing sustainable practices in the areas of water conservation, solid waste & recycling, energy conservation, pollution prevention, and education. 

The winery has gone a step further by converting four of its vineyards to organic (while employing sustainable growing practices in the others), developing new vineyards with areas preserved for wildlife, and introducing biodynamic practices.  In addition, three of its vineyards have been certified by the Fish Friendly Farming program, the practices of which restores fish and wildlife habitat while improving water quality in the area.  Next on the agenda is moving towards zero waste and reducing its carbon footprint.

While touring the winery, one cannot escape the green philosophy of Cakebread Cellars.  Employees carry a refillable water bottle and guests are encouraged to use water coolers as opposed to bottled water.  All materials used in the final packaging are recycled.  This includes the wine bottles, corks, capsules, cardboard, styrofoam and even the wine label rolls!  One cannot leave the winery without experiencing the feel good factor of sipping quality wines produced with environmental stewardship at its best! 

Cakebread Winery at harvest time Photo: Rishi Vohra
Bruce realizes that it takes more than great grapes to produce world class wines and that Cakebread Cellars can only be as good as its employees.  "If our employees are healthy, eating well in a good clean environment then we all will be able to sharpen our focus on the goal of producing world class wines."

In the words of poet Robert Frost, immortalized by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, "The woods are lovely dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep…."  These golden words are easily translated into Bruce Cakebread's green vision which sees no bounds. 

Rishi Vohra is a filmmaker and writer who occasionally contributes articles to the Times of India and The Hindu. He has written his first novel and is awaiting its publication. He is working on his MBA program in Sustainable Business at the San Francisco State University. Vohra lives in Berkeley and often visits Napa and Sonoma Valley wineries. Rishi may be contacted at rishi7777@gmail.com

       

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