Twenty-five years ago, I was just getting out of college, and although I was born and raised on a ranch, I was not always sure that farming was what I wanted to do. My decision to toss my hat into the ring was helped by the fact that the late ‘70s were boom years in the grape industry, and the prospects looked pretty good. Little did I know that “the boom” of the late ‘70s would be followed by “the bust” of the early ‘80s but by then the die had been cast and I was in for good.

Needless to say times have changed for me in the last 25 years, besides getting married and having children, I find myself in and industry that is profoundly different from the one I started out in as a 21-year-old. For instance, I used to spend a lot more time on a tractor and getting my hands into the dirt. Where a reliable tractor used to be a main concern, now having a competent accountant and making sure I meet all the paper work deadlines are my big concerns.

‘Jug’ to premium

As I look back on the California wine industry, we seem to be in a situation today that is similar to where we were almost 25 years ago. Back then our industry was undergoing a major change. California wines were moving from the “jug wine” reputation to premium wines, largely by differentiating in its use of varietal names. Instead of “Burgundy” and “Chablis,” more and more California wines started appearing with names like “Chardonnay” and “Zinfandel.” It was a move that elevated California wines and helped to establish our place in the world marketplace. And of course, most of the world followed our lead.

Today California wines are once again moving to differentiate themselves from the many other winegrape growing regions of the world. Where once we only had competition from the likes of France and Italy, today you can add to that list Australia, Chile, South Africa, Argentina and a host of others.

We now find ourselves in a position where it is no longer just enough to produce great winegrapes, now it must be done responsibly in a sustainable manner. Hence, once again California winegrape growers are leading the world with their code of sustainable winegrowing practices.

The code looks at every aspect of how we grow winegrapes and make wine. Most of the concepts that the code encompasses could not have even been imagined 25 years ago, let alone implemented. Yet in today's world they have become a necessary part of doing business.

The code also helps us to address a lot of issues we didn't have to face 25 years ago. Pesticide use, labor management, air and water resources (both surface and underground) and the endangered species act, were all issues we only thought we knew about. Add to that the fact that California has increasingly become more and more urbanized. Now, no matter what you are growing, you have to me mindful of those around you. Whether you're spraying or moving your tractor down the road, it has an effect on your neighbors. And just as you don't appreciate your neighbors playing loud music at 11 p.m., they don't appreciate you moving your harvester during the morning rush hour.

All steps covered

In developing the code of sustainable practices the industry has touched upon every step in the making of a bottle of wine, from planting the vineyard to pulling the cork. We have expanded the definition of quality and at the same time our own accountability. Few commodities are represented to consumers the way wine is. A person can choose a bottle that identifies where the wine comes from by region, county, or even the specific vineyard. By having that special connection with the consumer, we believe that the code of sustainable practices will help ensure that California has a dynamic wine industry for the next 25 years.