Why did you decide to certify your vineyards through Sustainable WA?
Steve Elerding (SE): I was speaking with Brian Carter and he said all of his growers were Sustainable WA certified. That got my attention. I knew little about the program so I spoke to four well-known Yakima Valley growers and responses ranged from “great idea” to neutral to “never.” Looking through the application, it seemed overwhelming for a one man operation like mine. However, being not being easily discouraged I decided to give it a try, reasoning my vineyard could be improved by the process. I was pleasantly surprised. As I plowed through the application I saw numerous areas that could be fine tuned. The biggest obstacle was providing collection for sprayer wash/drainage. There was nothing out there I could find to guide me. Finally, my son Patrick and I improvised using an old 500 gallon shuttle that collects effluent by gravity from a new concrete pad for sprayer filling/cleaning. Simple, elegant and inexpensive. In retrospect, the application led me to tidy up dozens of aspects of my operation.

What does sustainability mean to you?
SE: To me sustainability is about stewardship of the land. It is means leaving a legacy of farming responsibly. Many small growers live on the vineyard site and we want to leave our children a place that is better for us having lived there and worked the land. Washington state is unique in having about a thousand wineries and 400 winegrape growers. There are a few large corporate farms, but the vast majority are small family operations. Sustainable WA helps many of those family businesses say “Look, this place isn’t owned by a Fortune 500 corporation. This is where we live, where our children have been raised. We want to grow grapes in the most responsible way we can.”

Why is a certification important to your business?
SE: Certification indicates that all the viticultural practices are compatible with the highest industry standards. The process is rigorous. Consumers can be assured that no corners were cut. In the tasting room wine buyers want to know everything there is to know about that bottle of wine. Sustainable WA certification says to the consumer this bottle was produced according to the highest possible standards. It is a great marketing tool.

Why is it important for WA to have its own certification program?
SE: The Washington wine industry is unique with so many small growers – so many family operations. Sustainable WA launches the conversation with the public about the uniqueness of that industry. This allows the winery to “personalize” the bottle of wine. When you read a feature article in a newspaper it almost always starts off with a story of someone effected by the topic. Similarly, if the consumer sees a picture of the vineyard and the grower, it launches the narrative which makes that bottle of wine personal. Adding Sustainable WA to the label indicates the highest standards are met.

Why should a winery consider purchasing certified grapes?
SE: For the winery, the new generation of wine drinkers is young, diverse and are more often women. These discerning shoppers want to know the story of that bottle of wine. Sustainable WA certification is a great way to get that narrative across.

Read // Sustainable WA Grower Stories // Sustainable WA Grower Stories //


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