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Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009

Winemaker speaks at potato conference

KENNEWICK -- Sauvignon Blanc grapes that Paul Dolan once described as "insipid" evolved into premium grapes good enough to use in top-tier wines after he switched to organic farming techniques.

Dolan described that experience nearly 20 years ago as his "aha moment" that led to his efforts to create a business model based on the "triple bottom line."

The fourth-generation winemaker from California spoke to a group of several hundred people from the potato industry Tuesday at the 2009 Washington State Potato Conference at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.

"I'm concerned about the environmental issues we're facing on the planet," he said. "I know you are, too."

The triple bottom lines goes beyond economics to account for the environmental and social impacts of a business, Dolan said.

When he took over a California wine company years ago, he saw it as an opportunity to improve the quality of life for his employees and the communities where they did business.

"I realized the business was part of a larger system," Dolan said.

The company started an organic garden, began printing wine bottle labels with soy ink, used green building techniques, started using green power such as wind, reduced waste sent to the landfill by 97 percent and more, he said.

"We found that there were a lot of things that we could do that we didn't know we could do," Dolan said.

And that was all while growing the business by 15 percent and profits by an even greater rate, he said.

Dolan also addressed impending shortages of resources such as water and fuel.

The U.S. has 5 percent of the population, but uses 30 percent to 35 percent of the world's resources, he said.

"We're moving out of the industrial revolution and into an energy revolution," Dolan said. "The question is, is the planet here for us or are we actually here for the planet? If we're here for the planet, that changes the dynamic of how we do business."

The issue of sustainable business is on the minds of potato growers as several major buyers, such as McDonald's, are starting to demand such practices, said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission.

"Paul was here to ... really get growers thinking about 'What kind of changes could I do on my farm to meet these new standards that are coming out,' " Voigt said.

He appreciated that Dolan talked about thinking of the crop as part of a whole system.

And though many growers already are conservationists -- making sure they don't use more water than needed, for example -- Dolan provided a reminder that there's more to do, Voigt said.

* Ingrid Stegemoeller: 509-582-1537; istegemoeller@tricityherald.com; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com