The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: Fetzer and Bonterra Vineyards

Sustainability Series: Fetzer and Bonterra Vineyards


May 23, 2010

Founded in 1968 in Mendocino County, California, Fetzer has been a pioneer in the wine making field since its inception, and was one of the first California wineries to branch out into Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Riesling. Always ahead of the curve, the winery converted to sustainable growing for all of their grapes in the late 1980s. The Bonterra brand, produced at the Fetzer winery, was started in 1992, and it is now the leading brand of wines made from organic grapes in the U.S. We talked to Ann Thrupp, PhD, Manager of Sustainability and Organic Development for Fetzer and Bonterra Vineyards, about the impact that sustainable business practices can have on society.

How does your business define sustainability?

At Fetzer and Bonterra Vineyards, we interpret sustainability as our commitment toenvironmental responsibility, social equity (i.e., social responsibility), and economic viability. This also means using practices that ensure long-term positive outcomes for the planet, for people, and to produce high quality products that are good for consumers and our business. Internally among employees, we refer to this commitment to sustainability as “e3”(environment, equity and economics), which is commonly known as the “triple bottom line.”   

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

Fetzer and Bonterra are pioneers in using sustainable practices, and the company has been incorporating sustainability into business operations for more than 20 years, starting in the mid 1980s, long before “sustainability” and “green” became popular concepts. Our sustainable practices and accomplishments include the following: 

Waste Reduction and Elimination: Through a company-wide waste reduction effort and the recycling of all materials, Fetzer has reduced waste to landfill by 96% since 1990. To help employees meet these results, Fetzer has recycling centers throughout the entire facility. In addition, all stems and seeds and skins from the winery’s crushed grapes are composted before being spread throughout the vineyards as natural fertilizer. (This amounts to more than 2600 tons of compost per year.)  

Sustainable and Organic Agriculture: The vineyards owned by the company are farmed organically, and all of the grapes from these vineyards are used in the Bonterra Vineyards brand. Bonterra – which means “good earth” – is produced from 100% organic grapes. The company farms a total of 950 certified organic acres for Bonterra – which is the largest producer of certified organic winegrapes in the United States. 

Water Conservation: Since 1999, Fetzer has implemented many water conservation practices, including improvements of hose nozzles, high efficiency barrel-washing and cleaning technology, and construction of ponds to store rain water – which have resulted in significant reduction of water use.    

Water Quality and Treatment: Fetzer uses a combination of filtration systems and aeration ponds. Some of the treated water is then used for irrigation in the vineyards.

Reduction in Chlorine: In 1998 Fetzer significantly reduced the use of chlorine from its facilities and now treats its water through an ultraviolet water treatment system. 

Green Building: In 1995, Fetzer constructed a 10,000 square foot administration building in Hopland, California, made of recycled and natural materials. Soil (i.e., rammed earth) was used for the walls and recycled wood was used for both exterior and interior structures. Energy efficient lighting was also incorporated into the design.

Renewable Energy: Fetzer runs on mainly renewable energy sources. The company purchases 100% green energy for the main winery operations. In addition, solar panels were installed on top of the administration building and the wine bottling facility. The wine bottling array is 899 kilowatts and is capable of generating 1.1 million kilowatt hours of clean electricity annually – enough to offset more than 855 metric tons of CO2 emissions or the equivalent of taking 160 cars off the road for a year. 

Alleviation of Global Warming: Fetzer is helping to reduce global warming by reducing its green house gas emissions. Commuter vans are provided to employees to reduce further Carbon Dioxide emissions. Fetzer joined the Climate Action Registry in 2006, and annually undertakes a voluntary inventory of its emissions, with the aim of finding ways of reducing emissions.  

Recycled Materials: Fetzer uses recycled glass in its wines’ bottles, and case partitions are made from 100% recycled materials. 

Light-Weight Bottling: In 2008, Fetzer began a major initiative to use wine bottles that are lighter in weight by an average of 16%, for more than 23 million bottles of wine that are produced at the winery. This has reduced the overall glass usage by 2,173 tons in a year, and resulted in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 14% or 2,985 tons of CO2 equivalents in the supply chain. 
Stewards of the Environment: Because the wildlife was there first, Fetzer has worked with the Audubon Society to provide a sanctuary for Blue Herons and other native birds. Fetzer’s employees have also worked with the U.S. Fish and Game to restore and enhance important creeks on the winery property by planting shrubs along the stream banks to reduce erosion. 

Supporters of the Community: Fetzer’s employees support a wide range of organic and farming-oriented organizations including the Organic Farming Research Foundation and the California Certified Organic Farmers, and many community initiatives for social, environmental, and health-related causes.   

What are your short term and long term goals?

Even though Fetzer winery and Bonterra Vineyards have already achieved high levels of accomplishments in sustainability, we continue to aim for further improvements in water conservation, energy efficiency, packaging, and other areas. Although we have a green building, which was built in 1995-96, before the existence of LEED certification standards, we aim to have that building certified in the new LEED Existing Building category by early 2011.   

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

Our water conservation initiatives and innovations continue to be very important, and have significance in our region, where water is a critical resource. We also continue to share information about practices with others in the wine industry, and among other stakeholders. We show how many of these innovations have “win-win” outcomes (i.e., environmental, economic, and social benefits). By continuing to provide education and outreach, we are helping other businesses learn from our experience.

How do you measure your progress?

Employees at Fetzer regularly track and document metrics/measurements for energy, water, waste, materials, and inputs. When Fetzer develops an innovation, such as new light-weight packaging, or new spray nozzles for cleaning, we generally analyze the environmental as well as the economic benefits/impacts.

How do retailers factor into your efforts?   

For many years, Fetzer and Bonterra pursued sustainable practices as a core approach to business, aiming to do the “right thing,” but did not emphasize these practices in marketing strategies with retailers and others customers. But in the last three to four years, the company has realized that retailers are increasingly interested in knowing about sustainable practices, so we have increased communication and education with retailers and consumers about our initiatives. 

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food (and wine) industry?

There are many economic, environmental, and social reasons to explain the importance of sustainable practices. Consumer demand is rising for organic products and environmentally sounds practices, and there is a competitive advantage here. But we also want to catalyze change and make a difference in the world.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Consumers are paying increasing attention to sustainability issues. Many studies have shown that a growing segment of consumers want to feel satisfied about what they consume and want to purchase items that are produced in environmentally-friendly and responsible ways. At Fetzer, we are authentic pioneers in using a sustainable approach, and Bonterra is a highly successful pioneering wine made with organic grapes, which is celebrating its 20th year. We are pleased to be able to fulfill consumers’ and retailers’ interests in good quality wines and the use of sustainable production practices. 

For further information, visit and

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom