Wine Ink: How green is your wine?

Kelly J. Hayes
Wine Ink

When you hear the phrase “green wine,” do you think of a herbaceous sauvignon blanc from New Zealand? Or does your mind conjure words like “sustainable,” “organic,” and “biodynamic,” which describe responsible growing practices?

A glass of savvy is always great on a spring day, but this story is about how an established environmental program helps farmers and winemakers take better care of their vines and wineries. We all know that the single-most important component of wine is the place it is conceived. But we may not consider the complexities and costs that go into making wine sustainable.


In California’s Napa Valley, a flourishing environmental program called “Napa Green” provides certification to wineries and vineyards that take comprehensive steps to protect and improve the environments where wines are grown and made. A Napa Green designation is given to those who meet strict environmental guidelines affecting issues like soil erosion, watersheds, energy usage and emissions.

Napa’s history of stewardship extends back to 1968 when citizens helped establish the first Agricultural Preserve in America. Napa Green programs began in the early 2000s as a natural extension of that legacy. The goal is to take practical steps to limit the impacts of winemaking on the land in the Napa Valley and, where possible, make improvements.

Wineries that can prove compliance with over 100-plus closely monitored green business practices receive designation as a “Napa Green Winery.” Properties and vineyards that meet specified environmental standards are identified as “Napa Green Land.” In both cases, bottles produced from “Napa Green” properties can use the Napa Green logos on their labels.

In 2015, the Napa Valley Vintners’ Board of Directors showed their desire to encourage members of the wine community to use best practices by setting a goal to have all eligible NVV members (those who either own a winery or own more than 5 acres of vineyard) involved in the Napa Green program by the end of 2020. As of this spring, there is more than 50 percent participation in Napa Green programs.


Susan Boswell, the proprietor of Chateau Boswell winery on the Silverado Trail near St. Helena, is a vocal proponent of the Napa Green programs. “As growers and vintners, we know that what we do today in the vineyard makes or breaks the quality of our wines in the future,” she said in a recent interview. “Napa Green is a vision that, with attention to detail and precisely tuned ecological practices in our vineyards and wineries, we can reach another notch above and make better wines.”

“Soil to bottle” is the catch phrase the organization uses to define the goals. For example, the “Napa Green Land” program works with individual property and vineyard owners to assess and develop custom plans to reduce soil loss and preserve and restore sensitive habitats to exceed environmental compliance requirements. Third-party verification is required on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance and continuing improvement. These are not regulations to force wineries to be organic or biodynamic, both of which also have their own official designations, and are choices left to individual growers. Rather, these are practices designed to better maintain the overall health of the habitats and the vineyards in the Napa Valley.

Boswell says that in 2007 Chateau Boswell became the first winery in the Valley to receive the “Napa Green Winery” designation. Boswell followed that up in 2010, when the estate also was designated as “Napa Green Land.” According to Boswell, participation is not only about doing good, but also about improving profits. “It costs me less to be energy efficient. We use less energy today than I did before I added 11,000 feet to my facility. Monitoring what we use is critical. By monitoring our usage we can be so much more efficient.”

Boswell also believes that participation in the program makes for better winemakers. “Being hands on makes you a better vintner. It makes you pay attention. Not just to the winemaking practices but everything that surrounds them.” She tells a story of how Chateau Boswell created an energy-efficient cooling system to replace the more power-consuming HVAC (heating/ventilation/air condition) system. “We use just two fans to circulate the cool underground air from the earth below our caves to provide cooling to the entire facility. And we do it all on 3 amps,” she says proudly.

“I think the most fun is seeing if I can beat myself each year in my conservation and efficiency goals,” Boswell laughs. “And that goes to my bottom line.”

I guess that is another kind of green.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at

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