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Sustainability: How one of the largest wine companies in the U.S. measures impact

As we join the world in celebrating earth day, it seemed fitting to look at a company in our own backyard who has been leading innovation in the wine industry for decades and fosters a culture of land stewardship now paired with a measurable commitment to sustainability across it’s portfolio.

Jackson Family Wines is one of the largest U.S. wine companies and includes the iconic Kendall-Jackson label. Started in 1982 by the late Jess Jackson, the family-owned company, now run by wife Barbara Banke, produces upward of 6 million cases for 50 brands from vineyards and wineries across California, Oregon, France, Italy, Australia, Chile and South Africa.

Facing a future of extreme weather events across the globe, and years of ongoing drought in California, Jackson Family Wines has doubled down on sustainability. We caught up with Katie Jackson who leads the company’s efforts as VP of Sustainability and External Affairs to learn more.

What’s your company’s position on sustainability?

At Jackson Family Wines, we invest in the health of our lands, quality of our wines, and well-being of our people and communities. Sustainability is in our DNA. Over the last decade, we have made great strides in water conservation, energy management and reducing our carbon emissions. In 2016, we published our inaugural Family Responsibility Report, a public facing document, which outlined our commitment to producing the highest quality wines in the most responsible manner.  

Which sustainability effort are you most proud of your company for and why?  

Choosing a single standout initiative for me is difficult because I’m so proud of all of the initiatives and my team’s achievements to drive positive change at Jackson Family Wines. We rely on a consistent source of clean water to grow the best grapes to make high quality wines. As farmers, my family understands that access to water will challenge our agricultural community well into the future. I believe we’ve made big strides in water conservation.

Since 2008 we have reduced the number of gallons of water it takes us to produce a gallon of wine by 57%.

Over the last few years, we have utilized empty fermentation tanks to store rainwater collected from our winery rooftops, for reuse in our facilities. This has enabled us to offset groundwater usage for this operation for nearly six months out of every year.

Another source of large water demand is in barrel washing. We have developed barrel wash water recycling and heat recapture systems that reuse water and reduces barrel wash water usage by up to 80%.

Our latest water innovation trial is the VSEP. VSEP, short for Vibratory Shear Enhanced Processing, is a reverse osmosis membrane used for treating process water. We are in the process of installing a VSEP unit in our largest facility to capture and reuse barrel wash water up to 10 times, with a potential of savings over 1.4 million gallons of water annually.

We were the first winery to deploy a commercial scale UV tank sanitation unit and now have units at four wineries, saving over 300 gallons per tank sanitation cycle.

We have also made remarkable progress in our vineyards.  

Recharging aquifers in California is crucial to a reliable water supply. Ground water recharge works by diverting peak flows and flood irrigating the vineyards during the vines dormant season, thereby recharging the aquifer. Our first-year trial indicated that we can recharge well above water use in our vineyards. We are now working with our fellow farmers to develop a regional recharge program.

To address the challenges around frost water use and stream stage needed for fishery protection, we worked with other growers to purchase and install wind machines to meet many of the regional frost needs. This program has reduced our water use in frost prone vineyards by up to 50%.

We have also leveraged sap flow monitoring technology that allows the plant to indicate when it needs water. This technology has reduced water usage for vineyard irrigation by over 80% in some cases.

Amid the 2015 drought, working with Trout Unlimited and resource protection agencies we engaged in an effort to provide reservoir water to a stream key to salmon survival. We continue those releases today.

How does your company motivate, encourage and empower sustainable practices by your employees on a regular basis?

Perhaps most importantly, we have established an internal culture that truly values our precious water resources, and encourages closed-loop thinking with all our resource uses. We are embarking on a Zero Waste initiative across the company which will ultimately require a tremendous level of support from all our employees if we are to be successful.

Our approach to employee engagement is to celebrate the successes and best management practices of the leaders in our company. All of the water innovations I mentioned above came from someone on our vineyard or winery teams, and it is my role as head of sustainability to ensure that the good ideas get implemented across the company, and the initiators of those ideas get recognition.

Which other companies do you feel are leading the charge in sustainability efforts and why?

Too many in the wine community to mention. Outside the wine community, perhaps Patagonia.  They have done a tremendous job in driving positive change. Their focus on supply chain engagement and stakeholder transparency are truly remarkable.

What three things can anyone do to be more sustainable on a regular basis?

Build bridges across communities to discover partnering and learning opportunities.

Be conscious about purchasing decisions.

In California spend every day thinking about how to use water more wisely.  

We’ll drink to that and so can you. Select California wines are about to sport a new environment-friendly logo on their labels and Jackson Family wines are included.

The Certified Sustainable logo will appear first on the 2017 Matanzas Creek Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc, to be released this spring, followed later in the year by some wines from Cambria, Byron and Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve. The company hopes to have the logo on its popular Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay with the 2018 vintage.

The new “California Certified Sustainable” logo was just approved for use on 2017 vintage wines by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, a joint effort by the Wine Institute, a state trade association, and the California Association of Winegrape Growers. We should begin to see it soon on new white wines and rosés from 2017, and later on red wines when they are released in a year or two.

Why should you care about these labels? To be California Certified Sustainable, a winery must adhere to 58 individual requirements in the vineyard and another 37 in the winery. This is more than avoiding pesticides and herbicides; it’s about energy and water conservation, pest management, wildlife habitat protection and monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions, among other criteria. Results are audited by third-party accreditors.


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