How Bonterra Winery Leapfrogged Ahead Of Other Businesses To Achieve Climate Neutral Certification In 2021

By Liz Thach, MW, Contributor
Sheep in the Vineyard at Bonterra WInery Bonterra: Sara Sanger

If you visit the website of Bonterra Winery, one of the first captions you will encounter is the phrase ‘Climate Neutral Certified. Not in 2030. Now.’ With so many other businesses around the world setting goals to become carbon or climate neutral by 2030 or even 2050, how was Bonterra able to become the first organic winery in the world to become climate neutral certified in October 2021? After spending a day walking through their organic vineyards and interviewing winery employees, some answers have emerged.

The simple answer is that Bonterra has been working for years on implementing environmentally friendly practices, because it is part of their culture of farming organic grapes since they were established in 1993. The longer answer is they are just getting started to implement even more sweeping changes to eventually move to Climate Positive. This is when a company produces more renewable energy than what is needed for operations and also finds ways to sequester carbon on their property.

According to Bonterra-Fetzer CEO, Giancarlo Bianchetti, “Climate Neutral is critical to our objective of accelerating our climate action and being climate positive across our business by 2030.”

“We decided to start with the Climate Neutral Certification process offered by Climateneutral.org,” explains Jess Baum, Bonterra’s Director of Regenerative Development & Sustainability, “because they are a third-party non-profit group that doesn’t just focus on what the company is doing, but involves the customer.” Each product that is certified is allowed to include a climate neutral certified seal on the packaging, and their website informs consumers of total carbon emissions created by the product. For example, one bottle of Bonterra wine produces 3.4 pounds of CO2e emissions, whereas an apple is .09 lbs CO2e; a tennis shoe is 27.6, and a smart phone is 131.”

About Bonterra Winery’s Environmental and Social Issues Focus

With over 1000 acres of organic and biodynamic certified vineyards, Bonterra produces around one-half million cases of wine per year. Located in the hills of Mendocino County, sheep and cattle are often seen roaming through Bonterra vineyards to provide natural fertilizer, soil tilling, and weed control. Bonterra supplements their own grape production by purchasing grapes from other certified organic and biodynamic wine grape producers in California. Bonterra is owned by the Chilean wine giant, Concho Y Toro, along with its sister winery, Fetzer. According to the 2020 annual report (2021 not published yet), Concho Y Toro’s revenues were Ch$769,067 million (US$1.06 billion), of which 11.9% were from its US brands - Bonterra and Fetzer. Bonterra showed good performance in 2020 with 16% volume growth.

From its founding Bonterra has focused on environment and social issues, and has managed to rack up an impressive array of certifications. These include: California Sustainable Winegrowing, B Corporation, Demeter, CCOF Organic, and ISO 14,001 Environmental. Through implementing these efforts over the years they had already adopted solar power, water conservation, composting, and energy saving devices in the winery. The vineyards have always been farmed naturally with no chemical additives, and a focus on wildlife and water conservation. Bonterra has also implemented many positive employee and community practices, with over 30 full-time vineyard workers and efforts to support local education. All of this paid off when it came time to analyze their current footprint and become certified climate neutral.

“The main impetus came in 2020,” explains Baum, “when we realized there was a climate emergency in the world. With wildfires, the pandemic and social unrest all occurring, we knew we needed to take action around climate change. Therefore, after some research, we settled upon ClimateNeutral.org.”

Process for Becoming Climate Neutral Certified

The process to become certified climate neutral by the non-profit ClimateNeutral.org includes three steps: 1) Measurement of the carbon footprint of each product/service the company produces; 2) Purchase offsets to make up for emissions you have not yet reduced; and 3) Develop an action plan to continue to reduce carbon emissions. Bonterra adds a fourth step of ‘Speaking Out’ about what they are doing, because they know they “can’t reduce climate change on their own.”

Bianchetti expands on this position: “As we move forward on our current path and plan future mitigation strategies, we will continue to communicate our goals and milestones. Working together, we can all make a difference.”

As a non-profit, ClimateNeutral.org receives funding through donations and by levying a fee for every ton of carbon emissions. Certified companies must purchase carbon credits to counterbalance their footprint, and ClimateNeutral.org assists in this process.

For Bonterra the first step of measuring their carbon footprint took 3 months of gathering and analyzing data, and was eye-opening for them. “Even though we were already doing a lot for the environment, it was a big surprise for all of us to see the areas where our carbon footprint was largest,” reports Courtney Cochan, Bonterra’s Director of PR and Communications. “We then had the data we needed to move forward and target more areas to reduce emissions.”

According to Baum, “the largest part of Bonterra’s footprint is in Scope 3 – the glass bottle and transportation of wine to the market – at 58.4%. The vineyard is only 16.1%, and most of that has to do with diesel tractors in the vineyard.” (See Figure 1: Bonterra’s total carbon footprint.)

Figure 1: Bonterra Winery's 2020 Carbon Footprint Bonterra Winery

Interestingly, even though Bonterra owns 1000 acres of organic and biodynamic vineyards, the certification does not currently allow them to include carbon sequestration from the vineyards in their calculations. If it did, the carbon footprint would probably be much less. A 2018 study by UC-Davis researchers showed that the soil organic carbon storage by acre is 41,000 lbs in conventionally farmed vineyards, but 45,000 lbs in organic vineyards and 46,300 lbs in biodynamically farmed vineyards. This suggests that Bonterra will eventually be able to reap much credit for the carbon stored in its vineyards.

Bonterra’s Action Plan – Electric Vehicles, Lighter Bottles, and Regenerative Agriculture

After calculating their carbon footprint, Bonterra discovered their greenhouse gas emissions for Scope 1 was 584 tCO2e, Scope 2 was 22 tCO2e and Scope 3 was 9,217 tCO2e, with a total emissions level of  9,823 tCO2e. They then purchased carbon credits from agencies that focus on forest preservation, such as mangrove restoration in Myanmar, reducing deforestation in Brazil, and modifying logging practices in China to protect forests. The total annual investment was $74,631.22, which provided an emissions offset of 9,823 tCO2e. All of this information is provided to consumers in a very transparent fashion on the website of ClimateNeutral.org. As Bonterra makes progress in further reducing their own emissions, the cost of offsets will decrease.

Bonterra’s action plan targets the areas where they can make the most impact, but will be continuously updated over time. “We are moving from low emissions to no emissions,” states Baum. Investing in electric vehicles for the vineyard and other applicable company vehicles, along with researching ways to reduce the weight of their glass bottles and using more alternative packaging. They have also recently obtained Regenerative Organics Certification.

“The Regenerative Organic Certification focuses on soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness,” explains Baum. “The concept is not new, because it was originally used by indigenous societies who knew how to live in harmony with the land.” The process includes incorporation of organic farming principles, but also promotes low tillage of the soil, which allows for better carbon sequestration, along with other benefits.

“We have been farming here organically for nearly 30 years,” reports Jeff Cichoki, Winemaker for Bonterra. “It is better for our employees, the community, wildlife and the land.”

Customers Respond Positively to Organic Wine Grapes and Climate Neutral Certified

Apparently customers are resonating with Bonterra’s focus on organic farming and the new Climate Neutral certification. “In the last few years, sales of our organically farmed wines have increased dramatically,” reports Rachel Newman, Bonterra’s VP of Marketing. “We want to involve the consumer in the journey, and have discovered that they are very excited about doing this.”

Bonterra Winemaker, Jeff Cichoki Bonterra: Sara Sanger

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