October 2008

It’s Not Easy Being Green

By: Rachel Burkons

Terlato Wine Group commits to sustainable farming

Chairman Anthony Terlato (left) and Doug Fletcher, Vice President of Winemaking at Terlato, share a commitment to sustainable farming that encompasses every aspect in the vineyard.

Kermit the Frog may have said it best: “It’s not easy being green.” It may not be easy, but at Terlato Wine Group, it’s a necessity.

Spend five minutes discussing sustainable farming practices with Doug Fletcher, and it becomes clear that a commitment to “going green” is more than just the trend du jour at Terlato Wine Group; it’s a way of life. From considering which irrigation methods have the least impact on the environment, to evaluating bottling and labeling systems, Fletcher, Vice President of Winemaking for the Terlato Wine Group, has led properties like Chimney Rock, Rutherford Hill and Terlato Family Vineyards toward a bright future that keeps the world around us in mind.

“We’re trying to do what we think is right,” explains Fletcher, who earned a degree in biology from the University of Oregon. “My definition of sustainable is to try to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it in. It would be great if we got to the point where we have a negative carbon footprint. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there,” laughs Fletcher, “but it would be great if we could.”

The main reason Fletcher isn’t so certain that Terlato will ever be able to completely negate its effect on the environment is that, unlike other “green” wineries that rely on organic farming and biodynamic practices, Terlato’s commitment to sustainability comes without a specific set of guidelines and regulations to follow. While organic wines are strictly defined as those that are grown and processed in a very particular manner, in Terlato’s world of sustainability, there are no “rules” to follow.

“Sustainable is much harder to do than organic because we have to question everything we do,” explains Fletcher. “When we talk about sustainability, what we’re really doing is asking ourselves, ‘Is this the most we can do? Is there a choice we could make that would be better?’ It’s really up to us to try to figure out what’s best. I feel quite strongly that this approach is better than just following some set of rules.”

Without specific paths to follow, Fletcher and his team have had to approach every aspect of their planting, harvesting and production with a questioning eye, evaluating the long- and short-term effects of each step involved in the winemaking process. Fletcher considers several alternatives before deciding which products to use or methods to adopt, and every decision is based on a comprehensive look at not only the immediate impact at the winery, but also the repercussions to the world as a whole.

Terlato has recently been toying with the idea of switching to biodiesel fuel in their tractors, but Fletcher has been hesitant to jump aboard this “green” trend, citing the fact that increased use of biodiesel fuel has driven up the cost of cooking oil in Third World countries, a result that Fletcher considers irresponsible as a citizen of the world. Terlato is also committed to paying vineyard workers a living wage, a concept that does not fall under the “rules” of organic farming, but that Fletcher believes is imperative. “Nobody talks about paying vineyard workers as being sustainable, but it is,” attests Fletcher. “Housing and healthcare get swept under the rug, and to me, that’s not being sustainable.”

Fletcher’s commitment to sustainability in the vineyards has been implemented, literally, from the ground up: from switching to underground drip lines that minimize evaporation and therefore use less water, to halting the use of elemental sulfur dust (frequently an inorganic byproduct of the environmentally reckless petroleum industry) used to curb mildew on vines. With every change Fletcher implements, consequences—both negative and positive—can pop up.

“When we stopped using sulfur dust, suddenly, there was an explosion in the blister-mite population; we had unknowingly been killing them before,” explains Fletcher. “They’re cosmetically ugly, but they don’t harm anything, so I’ve learned to live with looking at deformed leaves every now and then.”

Quandaries such as this keep Fletcher searching for the answers to the questions constantly running through his head. “I’m always asking myself, ‘Is there a better way? What will do the least damage?’” admits Fletcher, like a hero on a never-ending quest. “It’s not a marketing approach, and it’s not easy, but it’s something we have to do, and it’s exciting, always looking for a better way of doing it.”

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