Anna

Anna Brittain is named executive director of Napa Green in 2020. (courtesy photo)

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Napa Green is a sustainability certification program of the Napa Valley Vintners. (Robert McClenahan Photograph)

'Carbon farm plans' among goals for new leader of Napa Valley's winery, vineyard sustainability program

Napa Green is described has a “soil to bottle” certification program focused on environmental and climate change issues with area wineries. A program of the 550-member Napa Valley Vintners trade group, it works with winery owners who agree to follow environmentally sensitive practices.

Recently announcing its Napa Green program had an 80% participation rate, the association also announced appointment of an executive director, Anna Brittain. She answered questions from the Business Journal.

First of all, where was the picture of you that picture of you taken?

Well, as you can probably tell I have some Irish heritage. The picture was taken in County Kerry on my first visit to Ireland with my mother in June 2019.

Owners who participate in the certification programs submit to third-party verification of good practices such as preventing erosion and sediment runoff to the betterment of creeks and the Napa River. Are participants more than just winery operators then?

Napa Green Certified Land and Napa Green Certified Winery are two complementary but distinct certifications, providing the opportunity for comprehensive soil-to-bottle certification, which sets Napa Green apart. The Napa Green Certified Land program supports growers and vineyard managers to develop comprehensive, whole farm conservation plans. This emphasis on the whole property and not just the vineyard also makes our land program distinct, encompassing roads and land along waterways for the health and resilience of the Napa River watershed.

The Napa Green Certified Winery program seeks to get owners and operators to agree reduce a winery’s environmental footprint, with third parties certifying that they have met certain standards. So is getting owners to sign up, what’s the biggest challenge?

(N)o one is starting from zero. Most wineries are already implementing 60%–70% of these best practices….

The Napa Green Certified Winery program is both a practice- and performance-based program. Winery members commit to more than 100 sustainability practices to improve energy and water efficiency, prevent waste, take climate action and care for and engage employees.

The first challenge comes when winemakers and operations managers first look at the list of standards. I always emphasize that no one is starting from zero. Most wineries are already implementing 60%–70% of these best practices, so they just need to commit to keep moving up the ladder.

 

What is the biggest environmental challenge facing the wine industry in the Napa Valley today?

Napa Green aims to grow our impact on climate action … helping growers adopt and implement “carbon farm plans” to sequester ever more carbon in the soil.

The biggest challenge facing us all is the climate crisis.

If you haven’t seen the Bill Nye “Safety Glasses” video, look it up. The wine industry alone can’t solve climate change, but … with arguably the premier agricultural product, our environmental leadership creates waves of impact in the beverage industry and beyond. Sustainability increases agricultural and business resilience.

This year Napa County is adopting a climate action plan, and Napa Green aims to grow our impact on climate action, including helping our members complete greenhouse gas inventories and helping growers adopt and implement “carbon farm plans” to sequester ever more carbon in the soil.

Younger customers seem to prefer the idea that their wines are produced under environmentally sensitive conditions. Has this shift made it easier to get vintners and others to participate in the program?

The evidence is in: Most consumers, and particularly millennial consumers, want to use their purchasing power to support environmentally and socially responsible businesses.

They are looking for third-party certifications that validate that businesses are walking the talk. The growth and sales of sustainably produced products is far outpacing their conventional counterparts. Our challenge and opportunity is to help customers identify and understand sustainable wines.

If we want younger consumers to become the wine aficionados of tomorrow, and compete with products like White Claw, sharing authentic stories of environmental stewardship and sustainability is critical to build industry and brand affinity and loyalty.

What is the biggest concern raised by landowners and wine makers in getting them to agree to participate in the Napa Green program?

How much is this going to cost me?

To which I say we can save you money and help you sell more wine. We often help wineries cut energy costs by 20%–30%, quantify and facilitate rebates, and save staff time. We’ve identified well over $500,000 in savings for our members through energy-rate changes and rebates, not to mention other improvements in operational efficiency.

In the vineyard, our third-party certification partners facilitate environmental compliance, including compliance with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board’s complex waste-discharge requirements. Napa Green Land provides the most streamlined and cost-effective pathway to achieve compliance and go beyond compliance.

Businesses also need to start thinking about (returns on investment) in new ways. For instance, if you get into a new restaurant or get media recognition for sustainability certification, what is that worth to your business?

What are some of the tangible environmental benefits Napa Green can point to in the valley from the programs?

The Napa Green Land program and its members plays a critical role in the revitalization of the Napa River and creeks, with keystone species like beavers returning to the watershed.

Some of the most important benefits are intangible. Everything wineries do to improve energy and water efficiency, prevent waste, invest in renewable energy cuts their carbon footprint and eliminates those emissions that we can’t see but we certainly can feel in our changing climate.

So much of this comes down to awareness, monitoring and maintenance: no longer using Styrofoam for shipments, turning down hot water temperatures when higher temperatures aren’t needed for sanitation, changing barrel-cleaning practices, going “Deep Green” with Marin Clean Energy to ensure 100% of grid energy comes from renewable sources. Thousands of collective actions add up to tangible change.

You helped design these programs in the early 2000s, what is about you that lead to choose to do this work?

(I)t means a lot to be a part of growing sustainability and environmental stewardship in the special place where I grew up.

Well, I wasn’t at the table when the Napa Valley Vintners and other community stakeholders launched the Napa Green Land program (2004), but I did help design the Napa Green Winery program (2008).

I am from the Napa Valley. I grew up in Calistoga and St. Helena. I have worked on climate action and environmental management in Vietnam and Switzerland, in Washington, D.C., and here in the Bay Area. I’ve come to the conclusion that you can make the biggest impact at the local level. My work is my passion and mission, and it means a lot to be a part of growing sustainability and environmental stewardship in the special place where I grew up.

How hopeful are you about the industry being able to deal with the issues which it faces as it relates to climate change, especially because some believe it will lead to more catastrophic wildfires and increasing temperatures — both challenges in the wine industry?

40% of all of the certified sustainable wineries in California are here in Napa County.

Sometimes it feels like the changes we are making are too incremental.

My mother’s home in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park burned down in the 2017 Tubbs Fire. I try to stay focused on the opportunities.

We are fortunate to have a community choice energy provider where anyone in the community can choose to have 100% renewable energy.

We have a growing network of electric vehicle chargers, many of which are free, which make it possible for more and more of us in Napa County to have EVs.

We have members like Larkmead Vineyards experimenting with new grape varieties that are more resilient to rising temperatures and extreme weather.

More than 40 of our Napa Green wineries have their own solar arrays. Forty percent of all of the certified sustainable wineries in California are here in Napa County. We are proving that sustainability and caring for nature elevates quality and experience. We have to keep building that engagement and impact

Making the commitment to third party certification takes time and effort, but it is worth it to demonstrate our commitment to the community and to protect our watershed, our land and the air we breathe.​

- Susan Boswell, Chateau Boswell Winery