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Sustainability is part of the conversation at Merry Edwards Winery. View email in your browser

Getting the Story Out
November 2018

Merry Edwards (right) with newly appointed winemaker Heidi von der Mehden

Merry Edwards recently completed her 45th harvest as a California winemaker, a distinguished career that began at Mount Eden Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1974. After a stint at Matanzas Creek Winery in Santa Rosa and several years as a consultant, Edwards launched her own eponymous brand in the late 1990s. A decade later, Merry Edwards Winery debuted near Sebastopol.
 

How has your notion of sustainability changed over your four-plus decades as a winemaker? Is it easier or harder now to be sustainable?
 
When I was a young winemaker, we didn’t talk about sustainability. We weren’t using that word. But I was very aware of trying to be careful with water. I was on Mount Eden, in the middle of nowhere, and we had no source of water except for a spring. Everything was dry farmed. But I wasn’t thinking: “I’m living a sustainable lifestyle.” After we moved into our building here, in 2008, I started including a Green Report Card in the mailers we send with our two wine releases each year. Each time I would highlight three different actions we had taken toward sustainability. Those actions were then included on the sustainability page on our website. This was before we were a Certified California Sustainable Vineyard & Winery (
CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE).

At first, I thought, “We’re sustainable, but why do I need that label?” Now I think it is important to encourage others to make the effort. I was doing everything sustainably, so I felt it was time to take a position. I’m 71 and that’s my role now, to share my experience with others. If they see that industry leaders are certified, I think it promotes the idea.

How else do you communicate your sustainable practices to your consumer audience?
 
When you drive up our driveway, you see signs that explain that our vineyards are sustainably farmed. One of our tasting room hosts is always looking to have conversations about sustainability. We have jars of dirt from each vineyard in the tasting room, and I’m sure that gets people onto the topic of sustainability. The hosts talk about everything we do, so naturally they’re going to talk about sustainability. It’s part of the fabric of our farming. It’s hard to talk about how we make wine without talking about how we grow grapes, make compost on site and use solar power. When I do winemaker dinners, I always talk about sustainability.
 
The positive result of this is a good conversation. For a long time, people looked at metal stakes in vineyards and thought that wasn’t “natural.” But the metal posts are made of recycled material. Our end posts are constructed from former oil-well drill pipes. The posts that support our vertical trellis system are made from recycled car bodies. All of this metal will rust and return to the earth. Plus, the vertical trellis system helps us reduce chemical use because the fruit is better exposed. Our task is to cultivate awareness in our customers about what’s really sustainable, in whatever format we can.

Vineyard stakes from recycled metal are the sustainable choice.

We are constantly putting the tenets of what we do into our conversations. We explain how we make our compost, even if we don’t think at that moment that we’re pointing out our sustainability.
 
Consumers don’t always recognize the progress. This area used to be all apples, and prunes before that. Vineyards use a fraction of the spray material that the orchards did. We’re using less and farming better. In the winery, we no longer use any chlorine products for sanitizing. Our choice is ozone which breaks down to carbon dioxide and water. We purify our deep well water using UV light. It’s delicious and allows all employees to use refillable water bottles.

 

Water wise: Von der Mehden and Edwards inspect a water-stress sensor.

Consumers don’t always have the whole picture. One common misperception is that it’s better to hand-hoe a vineyard rather than have a tractor come through. But is that true? A tractor is more efficient and uses less fuel than having people in gas-powered vehicles come to the site. Consumers are usually surprised and interested when we explain the tradeoffs behind our decisions.
 
When I’m giving presentations to the trade, we talk about our farming, how we conserve water. I don’t say, “Here’s our sustainability checklist,” but it’s integral to everything we talk about. So they understand that we’re very concerned about the earth and its future.
    
We’re teaching by example. We refer consumers and media to our website, and we’re doing what we say we’re doing. I feel the best way to be effective is to be authentic and share our sustainable efforts with others.


Copyright 2018 Wine Institute

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