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Taking the Macro View
 March 2016

Hooked on recycling: vintner John Concannon

Fourth-generation vintner John Concannon manages the Livermore Valley winery that his great-grandfather started in 1883 and that his grandfather successfully steered through Prohibition. The winery has continuously operated under the same family label and stewardship for more than 130 years. For a winery with such a rich past, Concannon is determined to lead in the future. In 2010, it became one of the first to receive Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) certification. 


Looking back at the changes you've made to operate more sustainably, what are you most proud of?

 

We knew we needed a new winery to take us into the next 133 years, so in 2009, we built a state-of-the-art solar-powered winery. Eighty percent of the roof is covered in solar panels.

We bottle a lot of private-label brands for grocery chains at this facility, as well as the premium brands for The Wine Group, and of course, our own Concannon wines. In all, we bottle about 5 million cases a year here. We've gone to buying bottles in bulk instead of bottles in cases. The bottles are delivered shrink-wrapped, and we assemble the cases on the bottling line. You can get more bottles on the truck that way, so it's a more efficient way to get the glass to our facility – less traffic, less fuel, fewer emissions.


We also operate a large recycling center and recycle all of our own glass, plastic and cardboard. Getting these materials picked up used to cost us $144,000 a year. Now the money we earn from selling the materials pays for the recycling center, so it's net zero. There was some initial expense for equipment, like trash compactors, but no matter what size you are, you can start recycling. We started with our visitor's lawn area, setting up barrels for plastic, glass and paper. We have 125,000 visitors every year, and everything was going into one container. Our tasting-room manager was passionate about recycling and wanted to get it implemented.

Now the money we earn from selling the (recycled) materials pays for the recycling center, so it's net zero.
Smart shipping: Bottles in bulk

What about inside the winery?


In the last year, we've changed our barrel sanitation. We're now steaming the barrels at 220°F for three minutes and then doing a quick rinse. Steaming does a good job, and we've gone from using 30 gallons of water per barrel to 5 gallons. To clean larger tanks, we've switched to chlorine dioxide, an environmentally friendly compound that breaks down quickly and allows us to reduce rinse water from 150 gallons per tank to 50 gallons.

How have you reduced energy use?

 

Our offices and winery have motion-sensor lights. As you open a door, the sensor kicks on lights only in that area. If there's no movement after a few minutes, the sensors turn the lights off. The break rooms, the bathrooms, the lab – everything has motion sensors. Our outdoor lighting was upgraded several years ago with LED lights. They use 80 percent less energy than the metal halogen lights we had.


Have your sustainable practices had any impact on wine quality?

 

We're seeing richer, deeper flavor; better acidity; higher sugars; more predictable crops. I attribute that somewhat to our pruning, because we've adjusted our pruning to what we can water. Because of the drought over the past few years, we've reduced our grape yield by 25 percent, so that we only grow what we can grow responsibly based on our water allocation.


So what's next on Concannon's sustainability agenda?

 

We're talking to U.C.Davis about collaborating on some high-tech vineyard management research, like thermal imaging with satellites to help refine vineyard water needs and research into virus-resistant clones.

For me, sustainability is a way of life. It's one of our family's highest priorities. What attracted me to the CCSW program was the macro view of sustainability—that it's not just about how you grow grapes, but also how you treat your employees and what you give back to your community. We have a college-scholarship program for our employees' children and grandchildren to help them get a bachelor's or associate's degree in any subject. And we were the first in the Tri-Valley area to put vineyards in a conservation trust. To preserve the valley's agricultural heritage, we have set aside 200 acres of vineyard to protect it forever against urban development.


Copyright © 2016 Wine Institute

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Down to Earth: a monthly newsletter that celebrates the commitment of California vintners and growers to sustainable winegrowing and winemaking. Inspired by the photo book, Down to Earth: A Seasonal Tour of Sustainable Winegrowing in California, this newsletter profiles the best practices of vintners and growers and shares news in sustainable winegrowing.
 
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2015 Report Released:
The 2015 California Wine Community Sustainability Report gives an overview of the Sustainable Winegrowing Program and provides hard data for specific practices that help demonstrate the industry's leadership and wide adoption of sustainable practices. 
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Celebrate Down to Earth Month: In April, celebrate California's leadership in sustainable winegrowing and other green initiatives. To receive a toolkit with ideas on how to participate please email info@sustainablewinegrowing.org. And click here to find a list of Down to Earth Month events in your area.
 
Did You Know?

95% OF GROWERS PARTICIPATING IN THE SUSTAINABLE WINEGROWING PROGRAM ENCOURAGED SOIL NUTRIENT CYCLING by allowing resident vegetation to grow in the vineyard, using cover crops and or composting.
Resources • Publications

California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook:
Download individual chapters or the entire workbook to learn more about sustainability in your vineyard or winery.
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Educational Videos: Watch a short video with tips on how to create and implement an effective solid waste management strategy for your operation. More

Sustainable Winegrowing Webinars: Join an upcoming free webinar to learn more about the Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP) and Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW). Click here for webinar dates.
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