In today’s super-crowded marketplace, wineries are looking for any marketing edge they can find. And since most winery owners are decent human beings, fumbling along trying to survive as best they can and trying to do the right thing, anyway, it sometimes makes sense to slap a “We’re green” label on their product and hope consumers agree and buy their wine instead of the other person’s.
The problem, as Matt Merrill, of Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery, explained to us recently, is that just saying you’re green doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. There are no official government standards for certifying a winery or vineyard as using sustainable farming and winery practices, like there are for organic certifications.
“There’s no real third-party certification,” Merrill said, at least on the government side. His father was part of the effort to change that on the private side.
Dana Merrill, who founded the winery after 30 years of managing vineyards, joined with Robert Mondavi, Bob Fetzer and several other growers and winery owners in the late 1980s to form the Central Coast Vineyard Team to develop and support environmentally sound farming practices. By 1996, according the Team’s website, they had developed the Positive Points System, which eventually evolved into Sustainability In Practice certification, a third-party evaluation program that not only looks at the things you’d think: pest management and water conservation, but also animal habitat preservation and the well-being of the workers, many of whom are immigrant migrant workers.
As Matt Merrill explained to us during our tour of the winery and vineyard, sustainable practices aren’t necessarily organic.
“We like sustainable better,” Merrill said. “You can use more targeted spraying [for insects]. You’ve got the balance.”
He added that he found that one of the sprays approved for use under organic standards was actually harsher than the one he liked to use against leaf hoppers and lace wings. Not surprising – as Anne often notes, some of the most toxic substances on earth are actually natural and organic, such as snake venom, oleander and nicotine.
That being said, a lot of the practices used in the Pomar Junction are organic and Merrill said that except for the occasional spraying, the vineyard could probably qualify for organic certification, although they won’t do it.
“It’s just too much documentation,” he said.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about the environment. In fact, when Anne asked why farm sustainably, Merrill was hard-pressed to put it into words, it was such a no-brainer to him.
“Because that’s the way we farm,” he said, initially, then later added, “For us, it’s just taking care of the vineyards. It’s more of a long-term thing.”
Pomar Junction wines are SIP-Certified, which means the vineyard and the winery have undergone an audit by the Central Coast Vineyard Team, which is then blinded, so the reviewers don’t know who they’re reviewing, and reviewed.
You probably wouldn’t be able to taste whether a wine is SIP-Certified or not, but Merrill, who is the general manager of the winery, does hold the attitude that wine is made in the vineyard and the quality of the grapes will determine the quality of the wine, and for him and his father, that means sustainable farming practices. In fact, Dana Merrill is so proud of his vineyards, he even offers winery guests tours of the vineyard in their own special wagon towed by the vineyard tractor. Matt Merrill said you can go out, look at the view and drink wine.
We loved the wines, by the way. Anne was rather partial to the rosé, but Michael liked the Brooster the best.