Forging Ahead: Building a Washington Winegrape Sustainability Certification Program

Written by: Washington Winegrowers Association

The Washington wine industry has been hard at work developing its own statewide winegrape certification program. Throughout the first quarter of the year, an industry-based committee, the “Framers,” worked to develop the framework of the program including:

  • Determining terminology and performance thresholds and operating environment
  • Developing the conceptual design
  • Comparing and contrasting other programs (LIVE, LODI Rules, CSWA, SIP, etc.)
  • Agreeing on approach to Standards assurance (auditing)

The Framers included:

  • John Ware (Rocky Pond Winery)
  • Juan Muñoz-Oca (Ste Michelle Wine Estates)
  • Dick Boushey (Boushey Vineyards)
  • Wade Wolfe (Thurston Wolfe Winery)
  • Dan Fulton (Angiolina Farm)
  • Sadie Drury (Seven Hills Vineyard)
  • Patrick Rawn (Two Mountain Winery)

Questions the Framers discussed included:

  1. Geographic scope of the program
    • Washington and cross-state AVAs that overlap with Oregon and Idaho
  2. Onsite audit frequency
    • Once every three-year, first and second year
  3. Completing an annual self-assessment against certification standards using the Vinewise®\Winerywise™ web-based platform or a less prescriptive approach

A point of consensus from the Framers was that this program must be differentiated from all other programs – specifically tailored to Washington with a “gold” standard, “best-in-class” program reputation that avoids any perception being “just another sustainability program” or “greenwashing”. The group agreed that credibly proving Washington sustainability was of utmost importance for increased market value.

The second industry-based stakeholder group – the Standards Development committee – has started to flesh out Standards for winegrape certification. Populated by growers, vintners, and technical experts on viticulture, enology, and related topics, this committee is using the Vinewise® self-assessment as a starting point for the Washington Standards. The committee met in early May on what the baseline for certification should be for Washington state.

Some of the key issues this Standards Development committee includes:

  • Defining audits and approach, in particular with respect to worker interview guidelines
  • Determining improvement requirements process
    • setting minimum requirements for certification
    • setting improvement requirements over time
  • Deciding tools needed for user to successfully complete numeric data for certification
  • Determining scoring threshold for certification regarding legal and human resources compliance categories
    • aligning best practices with legal compliance
  • Adding evaluation practices related to Farm Labor Contractors

The Standards Development committee meets again in early June to assess approaches on pesticide use and what the pilot program process including auditor selection, process, and overall cost to the growers.

On the marketing front, the Washington State Wine Commission is working with their agency – Chapter & Verse – on a comprehensive marketing plan, including the creation of a logo and formal name for the certification sustainability program. This work will be unveiled over the next few months. Stay tuned!

Build Out Timeline at A Glance:

June – October:
Finalize Standards, set up pilot program, determine volunteer growers to pilot, train third-party auditors

Late October:          
Evaluate and assess pilot program; hold industry webinars and presentations; open 30-day public comment period

Finalize Certification Program

January 2022:         
Launch Certification Program!

Interested in being part of the process? To build an inclusive and comprehensive program, all sectors of industry – growers, winemakers, marketing experts, researchers, and more – will be necessary.

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