Sustainability is a word that we keep hearing about and with good reason. It’s more than just a buzzword. It’s the balance between protecting the environment, growing our economy and benefitting society. Then there’s the word “organic” that is often a confusing one. What does that mean and how does this all impact our daily lives?

We recently learned about Bonterra Organic Vineyards, the first zero-waste certified wine company. Earth-friendly winemaking is at its core, which led them to become the first winery to sign the Paris Climate Agreement.

Elizabeth Drake, Bonterra Organic Vineyards’ Regenerative Development Manager tells us more about how Bonterra has a goal of making wine while leaving the Earth better than we found it and what it’s like to be a woman in the industry.Tell us about your title, it’s so interesting!

ED: I’m glad you think so! Regenerative Development is a concept that moves beyond sustainability to focus on enhancing the world around us through restorative business practices. Meaning, it’s not just about reducing negative impacts—a concept traditionally associated with the concept of sustainability; it’s about going beyond, working collaboratively toward creating positive impacts on the environment, people and communities. At Bonterra Organic Vineyards, I oversee our efforts to use less water and energy, to divert nearly 100% of our waste from landfills, and to achieve carbon neutrality as we pursue a regenerative approach to growing and making wine. We’ve built our business around the goal of ultimately putting more back into society, the environment and the global economy than we take out. In other words, we’re aiming to leave the Earth better than we found it.

As a woman in the wine industry leading the change, what has been the most rewarding so far in your role?

ED: It’s gratifying to work for a winery that is championing regenerative practices, which represent a new and exciting way to think about sustainability. Bonterra has been farming organically on our own ranches for more than 30 years, and today we’re looking beyond our business to build a network of organic farmers across California with whom we share ideas and resources. This kind of exchange helps expand organic acreage, which ultimately moves all of us toward a more resilient tomorrow. As a woman with a seat at the table, it is especially gratifying to know that others may be inspired to pursue roles as change agents in the wine industry.

What changes have been/or are being made at Bonterra Organic Vineyards?

ED: At our estate vineyards in Mendocino County, California, Bonterra implements a coordinated mix of organic practices to enhance soil health and biodiversity. These include applying compost, planting cover crops, and pursuing a reduced tillage regime. We allow sheep to graze on our cover crops, which helps us naturally control weeds, keep herbicides away from our vines, and avoid high-emission tractor passes. We conserve nearly 50% of our land in its natural state and implement programs to enhance insect and wildlife throughout our vineyards.

Beyond the vineyard, we’ve proactively addressed our waste stream, and we now hold TRUE zero-waste certification. Minimizing greenhouse gas emissions is a top priority; we have powered ourselves exclusively with green energy for over 20 years. And as a certified B Corp, our business is centered on sustainable practices, as we continually work to enhance the way we care for people and communities.
What are some of the challenges in the wine industry with consumers and education when it comes to sustainability?

ED: It can be overwhelming for consumers to digest the many facets of sustainability. But we know consumers are becoming more and more cognizant of environmental impacts, and they’re making more eco-minded choices as their awareness grows. It’s our job as a winery focused on regenerative practices to help consumers understand how they can personally make an impact by supporting sustainable producers—not only in wine but across all industries.

At Bonterra, we’ve made efforts to give back to the community through pioneering research and education. For example, we recently conducted a study, in partnership with Pacific Agroecology of Davis, California, to explore how regenerative farming choices affect organic carbon storage in vineyards. The study’s findings indicate that organic farming has a positive impact on soil’s capacity to store carbon underground, a key component of the global effort to slow climate change. By conducting and sharing this kind of research on the climate benefits of organic, regenerative farming, we help consumers understand the “why” behind what we do.

What are some benefits aside from environmental impact in making a conscious decision to move towards a more eco-friendly wine like Bonterra?

ED: Consumers are increasingly concerned about what goes into the products they buy, and how those ingredients may impact us. Wines like Bonterra are made with organically grown fruit, ensuring no harmful synthetic pesticides or herbicides ever make it into the wine. What’s more, all of the regenerative efforts we make in the vineyard—from applying compost to sheep grazing, cover-cropping and eschewing harmful additions—results in greater purity of flavor in the glass, so you can feel good about the inherent quality of our wines.

What do you wish consumers to know?

All of us play a role in building a sustainable future for our planet. By supporting wineries that implement sustainable practices, grow their fruit organically and remain mindful of environmental impacts, each of us can help nudge the economy—and widespread business practices—toward sustainability on a global scale.

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