Unique Strategies to Boost Sustainability Practices

Most of us remember when Kermit the Frog famously broke into song and lamented the trials and tribulations of being green. While the famous puppet’s concerns were decidedly not environmentally focused, the sentiment is no doubt felt by wineries and wine-oriented businesses that have worked to meet the rigorous standards associated with being green, sustainable or organic.

Fox Run Vineyards in New York has worked toward more sustainability by investing in equipment that helps it keep its bottles out of the landfills, instead returning them safely to the environment.

The Finger Lakes winery produces more than 240,000 bottles of wine a year, but it has mitigated its impact on the environment after purchasing a machine that crushes bottles into environmentally usable sand.

Specifically, Fox Run is using the GLSand Bottle Crusher at its tasting room, which Fox Run president and co-owner Scott Osborn says can crush any clean glass container up to 2 liters in size within seconds.

Fox Run is the first winery in New York state to add the machine to its tool kit, Osborn said.

“It’s my hope that all New York wineries will adopt this technology,” Osborn offered. “It’s one of the best solutions out there for extended producer responsibility.”

The crusher isn’t just used in vineyards. It’s also used by landscaping and construction companies.

But for Fox Run, it’s helping them crush more than 600 empty bottles per weekend, which is about how many empties it has during a busy weekend. After being crushed to sand, the bottles fit in a few 1-gallon buckets, reducing their volume by approximately 90 percent.

“The machine is quiet, safe and easy for our entire staff to use,” Osborn said. “It’s another step on minimizing our impact on the environment, which is something we set goals for every year.”

Other steps Fox Run has taken to operating “green” include installing solar panels, switching to compostable cafe flatware and planting pollinator sanctuaries.

Whitebarrel Winery in Christiansburg, Virginia prioritizes sustainability and a green approach, but has eschewed earning the “organic” designation.

“Having an organic vineyard on the East Coast is really a recipe for disaster in our opinions,” owner Richard Obiso said. “However, our spray program is organic to the extent it can be. We do not think that having an organic designation is all that important for the wine industry.” 

Obiso said Whitebarrel does not emphasize sustainability to win over customers. It’s simply their philosophy.

“What’s good for the earth is good for business,” Obiso said. “We recycle over 95% of our paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum, glass, and metal. Whether it be something in the vineyard or a bottle from our customers — it all gets recycled. We even upcycle our old barrels and turn them into furniture (which we sell in our tasting room). We have an active composting program and we compost everything we can. We have adopted many eco-friendly practices from spun-sugar glassware to biodegradable plates and utensils.” 

Do their customers notice?

“Actually, we do not get a lot of customer feedback on our sustainability initiatives,” Obiso said. “We do this because it’s the right thing to do — we are not seeking any real recognition from our customer base. We just hope that our customers see our practices as a good thing.”

Michael Honig, owner of Honig Vineyard and Winery in Rutherford, California, has a practical philosophy when it comes to sustainability. It’s not just about the grand gesture — the little things also matter.

Plus, Honig said, sustainable practices can also cost less than traditional methods.

“The only thing that matters to me as the caretaker for my family and our business is to get it to the next generation,” Honig said. “Using sustainable practices in all facets of our business makes that dream possible.

“We have had major initiatives like solar, employee benefits, and electric cars, but also smaller things like putting up bluebird boxes, using vegetable inks on our label, and planting cover crops.”

Honig communicates its commitment to sustainability on its website, label and property.

“We’ve had amazing feedback, and all positive,” he said.

For LJ Crafted Wines in La Jolla, California, sustainability is one of their prominent selling points. 

LJ Crafted Wines makes its wine in a custom crush facility in Napa. When it’s ready, the full barrels are shipped to their urban winery in La Jolla, where they are served by the glass, straight from the barrel, or can be taken home in a growler.

It’s a unique business model, but it’s one that saves money and helps the environment, said owner Lowell Jooste, who moved to the San Diego area from South Africa, after selling Klein Constantia, his family’s winery.

“I think that the heavy and costly traditional single-use packaging is the biggest environmental challenge to our industry. Our selling points are high quality from Napa Valley and selling wine not packaging,” said Jooste, who co-owns the winery with his wife, Anne.

The transfer from barrel to glass is made possible via Lowell’s patented apparatus. Trademarked as a Wine Steward®, it allows wine to be repeatedly served directly from the barrel in which it is aging, without the remaining wine losing integrity.

They are continuing to further develop their packaging strategy.

“New in the pipeline is to use eco-friendly crowlers/twisteecans for shipping or for those where refilling isn’t convenient,” Jooste said.

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