Shannon Ranches Earns Sustainable Certification
Susan Stout • Contributing Writer
Lower Lake, CA – Shannon Ranches is proudly farming all 745 acres of its Lake County vineyards sustainably, and it has the official certifications to show for it.
Since Shannon Ranches started production of winegrapes in Lake County, the family-owned business has practiced sustainable methods. The Shannon Ranch vineyards recently earned the distinction “Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing” (CCSW).
With this certification, Shannon Ranches becomes one of three Lake County winegrowing operations recognized by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) on its list of Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Participants. The other two certified sustainable operations are Sandy Bend Vineyard in Upper Lake and Snows Lake Vineyard, LLC in Lower Lake.
The Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers formed the CSWA in 2003 to promote the benefits of sustainable winegrowing practices, enlist industry commitment, and assist in implementation of the Sustainable Winegrowing Program.
According to CSWA, the goals of the CCSW certification program are “to enhance transparency, encourage statewide participation and advance the entire California wine industry toward best practices in environmental stewardship, conservation of natural resources and socially equitable business practices.”
“The certification separates us as a grape-growing region,” said Audrey Shannon, hospitality and public relations manager for Shannon Ranches. She said the business is completely Lake County-oriented. “We are branding our grapes, our wine, as Lake County. We live here, grow here, raise our kids here.”
“Sustainably Farmed; Family Owned” is emblazoned in the Shannon Ridge logo and throughout its web site (www.shannonridge.com). Sustainable farming practices are used in the vineyards of Shannon Ridge and of Vigilance Vineyards operated by Shannon Ranches.
Certification by CSWA “is a huge third-party endorsement” for the wines, which are nationally distributed, she said. Shannon Ranches wines can be found in BevMo! and several major grocery stores.
Every operation seeking CSWA’s full certification must complete a list of requirements. These include completing a yearly self-assessment on 227 best practices outlined in the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Workbook, showing reasons for the ratings during a third-party audit, meeting prerequisites or having action plans for improving performance, establishing action plans and updating them annually, and demonstrating continual improvement.
Shannon Ranches was able to accomplish certification within approximately nine months of starting the process, although the practices have been in place all along, according to Shannon Ranches Director of Compliance Keith Brandt.
He explained the business began looking at the audit criteria for certification early in the summer of 2012. CSWA’s third edition workbook was used for the self-assessment, which, along with verification and support documents, took two days to complete. The business then applied the audit criteria to the 2012 growing season. Some work toward certification that had been done two years prior was used as a starting point, he said.
“We certified all 11 sites within Lake County,” Brandt said. “Since we manage all sites essentially in the same manner, it made sense to certify all 11 as one unit.”
As for any changes in the way of operations, Brandt said it took “little, if any” extra effort. “Shannon Ranches has followed a sustainable farming model for some time, so the documentation/verification of the CSWA audit had no significant impact on our day-to-day operations.”
Owner Clay Shannon knew that his operation’s size was such that buyers wanted him to have certification on his vineyards. “Keith (Brandt) had a ‘to do list’ and got it done,” said Paul Zellman, educational director for the Lake County Winegrape Commission.
The Commission is committed to supporting the efforts of Lake County winegrowers to become certified sustainable and, to that end, recently partnered with CSWA on a pilot program designed to assist growers with small- to mid-sized operations through the certification process; interested growers may contact the Commission for details on the pilot program.
As of September, 188 vineyards statewide, representing 72,046 acres (13.5 percent of the 535,000 acres of California vineyards), were certified. For more information on the sustainable winegrowing certification process and a list of certified participants, visit the CSWA web site at http://www.sustainablewinegrowing.org.
The Lake County Winegrape Commission is a marketing order established in 1991 to promote the region’s premium winegrapes and to assist winegrape growers through education and research programs. For further information about the Lake County Winegrape Commission and its programs, call the Commission office at (707) 279-2633 or visit www.lakecountywinegrape.org.
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