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Thursday, Feb. 04, 2010

Sustainable practices may grow Washington wine sales

Wine drinkers typically assume wineries are environmentally sustainable, an impression that is reinforced if vineyards achieve certification of that status from reputable consumer or environmental organizations, experts say.

The annual Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers annual meeting, convention and trade show opened Wednesday in Kennewick, luring grape and wine industry representatives from throughout the Northwest, California and Canada to the Three Rivers Convention Center.

The show, which includes panels and continuing education sessions, continues through Friday.

A panel today will detail how wineries can save money, increase sales and reduce their impact on the environment.

On Wednesday, speakers focused on how consumers view environmental sustainability at a panel that included a fifth-generation vineyard manager from California, a representative of a Bellevue-based firm that tracks consumer health and wellness trends and an official with Salmon-Safe, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring agricultural and urban watersheds to maintain salmon runs.

"Wine is already perceived as sustainable," said Melissa Abbott, trends and culinary insights manager of the Hartman Group.

But she also advised wineries against adding too much information on labeling at the expense of information that might help convince someone to buy a wine.

Certification of environmentally safe practices by a winery from an independent third party like Salmon-Safe can help sales, said Dan Kent, managing director of Portland-based Salmon-Safe.

Salmon-Safe has certified more than 200 wineries across the Northwest, including about half of the wineries in Walla Walla, as committed to protecting water quality and wild salmon in their watersheds, he said.

The group, which also extends its certification to other entities such as farms and dairies, corporate campuses and large residential developments, has produced a wallet card listing Salmon-Safe certified wineries in Oregon and Washington, Kent said.

"The wine industry is on the cutting edge in the agricultural sector ... in proactively promoting environmentally friendly practices," said Aaron Lange, vineyard manager of Langetwins Winery & Vineyard in Acampo, Calif.