The Popular Wine Brand That Purposefully Keeps Its Sustainability Efforts Off Its Bottles
Chelsea Iversen — B the Change
The Fetzer name is no stranger to the majority of stores that stock wineshelves with the company’s affordable and popular bottles. A producer of more than 2 million cases of wine a year, Fetzer Vineyards’ wine brands are sold in all 50 states and more than 23 countries worldwide. The suggested retail prices for the company’s Fetzer label are $10, and its Bonterra brand wines range from $14 to $55. Among the brand’s recent releases, six Fetzer wines earned the commendation of “Best Buy” from Wine Enthusiast magazine, proving that Fetzer’s founder, Barney Fetzer, had it right when he declared, “Earth-friendly practices yield better grapes.” And better grapes yield better wine.
Fetzer is guiding the wine world toward regeneration, a term used to describe a dedication to environmental practices that go beyond sustainability. And the company is going beyond the vineyard with its environmental efforts. As the largest certified B Corporation winery in the world, Fetzer’s production is extensive, relying on approximately 300 employees and immense energy consumption. However, Fetzer has been operating on 100 percent renewable energy since 1999, and was the first U.S. wine company to do so. The company was also certified as Zero Waste in 2014 by the Zero Waste Business Council.
You won’t find this information readily on a Fetzer wine bottle. The company’s commitment to the environment is ingrained into every level of its business but has yet to be celebrated publicly. That’s why, a couple of weeks ago, the company invited local journalists, including me, bloggers and other wine enthusiasts to the Road to Regeneration event to highlight Fetzer’s achievements and start a wider conversation about what others in the area are doing or could be doing in regeneration.
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The shade was cool as we stepped onto the Fetzer vineyard with a sweeping view of Mendocino County’s Sanel Valley. To begin the day, we were greeted by Paul Katzeff, the founder of Thanksgiving Coffee Co., a local Mendocino-based neighbor of Fetzer that purchases coffee beans solely from small-scale farming co-ops. Katzeff’s company is helping to support sustainable communities and democracy in the world’s coffee-growing countries.
Coffee in hand, we listened to a brief welcome and a rundown on Fetzer’s grape sourcing from Ben Byczynski, Fetzer’s busy director of vineyards. “Regenerative agriculture is in our DNA,” Bycynski told us. Many grapes the company uses for its flagship Fetzer wines are certified sustainable. And though Fetzer does source a portion of its grapes from other nonsustainable vineyards, Bycynski’s goal is to use 100 percent sustainable grapes by 2020. His commitment was reinforced by the job title of the next presenter, Josh Prigge: director of regenerative development.
Bob Blue, vice president of winemaking, led us through the winery for a crash-course in all things fermentation. We tasted juices at various levels of tartness and experienced how one varietal grown on separate vineyards could taste vastly different. Blue’s 25-year history at Fetzer gives him a perspective on sustainable and organic winemaking that few in the industry have. And, in person, he was modest and unassuming—despite his impressive accomplishments in the field and recent lifetime-achievement award earned for his dedication to organic viticulture.
As we explored the production facility with director of production James Sobbizadeh, we witnessed the entirely renewable-powered production line. And the zero-waste commitment is hardcore: There isn’t a single wastebasket in the entire facility. From reusing shipping boxes to recycling rubber bands, everything is either reused, recycled or composted.
Outside, the afternoon was warming up, and we enjoyed an on-theme “low-emissions lunch,” provided by chef Julia Conway of Assaggiare Mendocino. To round out the day, we heard from a Peruvian visual artist and poet who is also dedicated to bringing the public’s attention to waste. Adrian Arias, a recent Artist in Residence at San Francisco’s de Young museum, gave us a glimpse into his show Beautiful Trash, which explores themes of recycling and regeneration.
We closed out the day overlooking the estate and its vineyards as the September sun sank lower in the sky. It’s easy to dwell on our lack of regard for and the destruction we cause to the natural world. But to be a part of a movement towards its regeneration was heartening. And in-line with Fetzer’s contribution, it’s full-bodied, complex and better when shared with others.
This story originally appeared on B the Change.