From solar energy to soy ink to salmon protection, the Sokol Blosser Winery in Dayton, Ore., incorporates sustainability into many aspects of its farming, production and packaging.
Some of the earth-friendly measures are evident driving across the 100-acre vineyard. Solar panels amidst the vines provide a third of the facility’s power. Bluebirds are valued residents that keep the insect population in check. This year the Prescott Western Bluebird Recovery Project banded 50 bluebird chicks in the winery’s 15 birdhouses.
The winery was certified organic in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the estate has been certified by Salmon-Safe as a vineyard that protects and restores salmon habitat
Many things have changed since the winery’s beginnings in 1971. Back then, no one knew what kind of grapes would do well in Oregon. It turns out pinot noir and pinot gris are the standouts.
Founder Susan Sokol Blosser remembers when everyone in the Oregon wine business could fit in her living room. Now the state boasts a billion dollar wine industry with more than 400 wineries.
She says pursuing environmentally friendly practices in all phases of the business is a constant effort.
Her “aha” moment came in 1999 when she discovered The Natural Step, a global, not-for-profit organization that works with companies and municipalities to reduce ecological impacts.
“The thing I like about Natural Step is that it is a science-based, holistic framework for looking at sustainability,” Sokol Blosser says.
She realized that farming organically would be only one part of a commitment to sustainability. She had to consider the bigger picture, from how her employees got to work to what kind of paper was used on wine labels.
That got her thinking about other things.
“Because wine is part of meal, I started thinking about the food industry, which led me to look at fish and seafood and the plight of the oceans. We have over-harvested so many of the fish. All these things I had never thought about. The more I understood the whole of sustainability, the more pieces I knew we needed to work on a broader scale,” she says.
Farming organically is both a commitment and an attitude.
“There’s just a difference in mindset between organic pest control and traditional farming,” says Kitri McGuire, marketing communications manager.
“Their bug killers have names like ‘Renegade’ and ‘Spider Killer 5000.’ We use things like ‘Serenade’ and ‘Sonata’,” she says, laughing.
Their underground barrel cellar became the first winery in the country to earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certification. The building is covered with three feet of dirt, and native wildflowers grow on top. It is kept at a constant 59 degrees. There’s no air conditioning and only emergency heaters.
Because it’s believed that the best-tasting pinot noir ages in French oak barrels, which cost $900 to $1,200 apiece, either the barrels or the wood to create them has to be imported. With that hefty carbon footprint, Sokol Blosser tries to make sure those containers last a long time.
After their life at the winery, the barrels are sold for about $30. They have enjoyed second lives as flower planters, doghouses, beehives, rain water collection systems and for whiskey distilling.
"Our bottles are 30 percent lighter — that cuts way down on transportation costs," McGuire says. Small paper labels on each bottle are made from 100 percent post-consumer waste, and printed with soy ink. Natural cork is still used as a closure, even though it causes spoilage in a small number of bottles.
“We don’t want plastic; that’s made out of petroleum products. They just don’t mesh with what we do,” McGuire says. Neither do metal screwtops, a closure being used by some other wineries to replace cork.
Sokol Blosser says her customers appreciate transparency about what’s green and what’s not. Sometimes, she says, costs are simply prohibitive.
“It has to make sense, it has to make business sense, it has to be something we can live with. There are also lots of things we have done that don’t show, that we just feel good about,” she says.
Being green in the wine business is different from most other businesses. Customers may be drawn to a winery for being sustainable, but they’re not going to come back if they don’t like the wine.
“We don’t want to be ‘the green winery.’ We want to be known for making fabulous wine. And for being good to the Earth,” Sokol Blosser says.
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