Ep. 120: “Anna-dotes,” aka The Six Pillars of Sustainability w/ Anna Brittain

Hello Wine World; we’re back! We kick off The Four Top’s sustainability season with Anna Brittain, executive director of Napa Green and Napa RISE. Anna lays out “the six pillars of sustainability,” sharing anecdotes—we call them “Anna-dotes”—to illustrate each one. Prepare to be surprised by Ep. 120.

Martín Reyes, MW 0:43
I only have a handful of sustainability jokes. So I’ve been afraid in the past of repeating the ones, but fortunately, I think that sustainability and dad jokes go very well together.

Katherine Cole 0:56

Martín Reyes, MW 0:57
Yeah, if you’ve heard mine before, I’ll just claim that they are also sustainable because they’re made out of 100% recycled material.

Katherine Cole 1:22
And with that, hello, and welcome to The Four Top. It’s a roundtable discussion of today’s hot button topics in the wine world. I’m your host, Katherine Cole.

Martín Reyes, MW 1:31
And I’m your co-host, Martín Reyes, Master of Wine. And welcome to a special episode that’s going to just set the stage for our next season.

Katherine Cole 1:40
That’s right, we are about to start a season that was your brainchild, Martín, because you are…Yeah, you I seem to recall that you’re on the board of Napa Green and a fantastic series of events called Napa RISE. And you suggested that we devote the next six episodes to the “Six Pillars of Sustainability.” And that’s why we are a three top today joined by a very special guest.

Martín Reyes, MW 2:05
Yes. So the person who came up with the concept of the “Six Pillars” of sustainable winegrowing leadership is the one and only Anna Brittain. Anna, welcome.

Anna Brittain 2:17
Hi, thank you for having me.

Martín Reyes, MW 2:19
Anna is a leader in environmental management and policy and who’s worked as a sustainability consultant for many organizations, including Ontario Craft Wineries, Sustainable Winegrowing British Columbia, Crimson Wine Group, and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. But she is the CEO of Napa Green.

Katherine Cole 2:38
That’s right. And Anna, it’s so good to see you again, we had you and also Sandra Taylor on for episode 98 of The Four Top in which you really opened my eyes about what the term sustainability means today. And we’re so excited to have you back. We’re just super inspired by the “Six Pillars of Sustainability,” and we thought for this teaser episode, we would just introduce this season and start out by finding out what, what are those six pillars? So we thought maybe you could just introduce us to the six pillars and give us an example for each one. You know, something you’ve observed, maybe an anecdote.

Martín Reyes, MW 3:15
More of an “Anna-dote.”

Anna Brittain 3:16
An antidote to climate change. Well, I’ll explain first, where the where the concept came from.

Katherine Cole 3:24

Anna Brittain 3:24
For years now, I’ve been at conferences and talks hearing people say, “sustainability is confusing, It’s amorphous, it doesn’t mean anything.” Worse yet: “It’s greenwashing,” as some people call it. Like claiming that you’re a leader when you’re not really doing much of anything. And so I was at a conference a few years ago, and I just had heard this one too many times. And I just stomped my foot and said, dang it, there really are six pillars of leadership that any program really needs to be working on to truly call themselves leaders, particularly in the agricultural space, which of course, is the space that Napa Green is in. And so those six pillars are energy efficiency and savings, water efficiency and savings, waste prevention, and the whole supply chain, what we call proactive farming, soil health and biodiversity. And then social justice, diversity and inclusion, which is something that’s gotten a little sidelined in the sustainability conversation. So we’re trying to bring that back, front forward. And then all of that really rolls into climate action and regenerative agriculture. And so those are really the six pillars, most of them very applicable in any setting, but a few of them very agricultural specific.

Katherine Cole 4:37
That is really helpful. And I had never thought about sustainability in that way until I learned about your six pillars.

Anna Brittain 4:44
I think it’s a really useful framework. It’s not really that confusing. Doesn’t need to be.

Katherine Cole 4:48
Yeah, but it is a word that’s just thrown around. So I like that you have these very clear concepts, six of them and you know, without further ado, let’s just jump into the first one, energy efficiency and savings. Makes sense when I think about it, but, but tell me about it in reference to wineries.

Anna Brittain 5:09
Yeah, well, I’m gonna talk both about what you don’t want to do and what you do want to do. For all of our wineries, we go out and do what’s called a resource audit, where we’re baselining, everyone’s energy, water, waste and emissions. So I won’t go too deeply into that. But we were out at a winery a few years ago. And we discovered that just by a simple change in their rate with PG&E, they could save about $40,000 a year on their energy bills. And we gave them all that information and how to do it, simple paperwork change, not not a hard shift. And they never took advantage of the opportunity. And maybe not too surprisingly, they sort of languished on finishing certification. They came back to the table a few years later, and we went back out. And the first thing the GM said, who hadn’t been involved the first time around, said, “Oh, man, we’ve just for years now been trying to figure out how to reduce our energy costs.” And we said, “well, did you ever make that rate change, you could have saved about $120,000 by now on making that rate change?” And you should have seen her face. I mean, she was pissed. I mean, energy is really one of the main ways that you can really reduce your bottom line, you can save money as a winery. I think on the other side, in terms of what do we want to be doing now, um very cutting edge now is putting in these micro grids. And so Domaine Carneros recently put in a micro grid. A micro grid is kind of a combined solar and then battery storage system. And that matters, especially now with more like power safety shut offs that we’ve been having, during the fire season. It gives a kind of backup energy source. And it really helps them to shave their peak usage and reduce the amount of time they have to spend using a generator, which is a lot of emissions. So it just helps with their kind of energy security and resilience given a lot of the climate changes that we’re having. So that’s a really great example of huge leadership and a huge investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Martín Reyes, MW 7:10
Wow. Thank you, Anna, for that. And energy, it costs money to use it. So in our heart, we believe it makes sense for a winery to focus on that as the first pillar, right? And sometimes the momentum or the inertia rather, is the challenge. The second pillar that you talk about is water. And water doesn’t make as much obvious initial sense in terms of the cost savings. I’ve heard you talk about gray water, black water, and of course recycled water. And there’s built in efficiencies and savings there, too. Tell us about that.

Anna Brittain 7:38
One of the things we really focus on to your point is the water-energy-climate nexus, as we call it. What the hell does that mean? That means there’s a huge amount of energy that it takes to transport, to heat, and to treat water. And so these are deeply interconnected issues. So as you save water, and it takes a lot of water to sanitize the tanks and the barrels, it takes a lot of water for most vineyards to irrigate their vines. And so as you save water, you’re also saving that energy, energy has an emissions footprint, so you’re also reducing your emissions and you’re also taking climate action. And of course, water availability is one of the most critical issues being affected by the changing climate here in California. In terms of wine industry water use, I do have to be fair and say that relative to other agriculture in California, our water use is quite low, relative to many other things being grown here in California. Almonds and pistachios and rice and all of those things. So to be fair, we’re a relatively water efficient crop, but it still does use a huge amount of water. So the example I was going to share is over at Chateau Montelena, a winery we’ve all heard of, right.

Martín Reyes, MW 8:53
Yeah, I’ve heard of that before.

Anna Brittain 8:56
Their wine maker, Matt Crafton was was sharing with me…a few years back, they had two blocks that were just consistently underperforming, are like, “are we gonna have to tear these out? What are we going to do?” And they decided to put in this Tule technology. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, but it’s this one really popular system locally, that really provides you real time information on soil moisture, on weather, on evapotranspiration, all these different factors and creates this opportunity to do very precision irrigation. And he said, within, I think a year or two that had completely turned around. Those two blocks became their most desirable fruit. Then he said, actually, that system had paid, and this was this is an anecdote from about two years ago, he was saying then it had paid for itself 20 times over, so now it’s probably paid for itself 40 times over in that time.

Martín Reyes, MW 9:45

Katherine Cole 9:45
Wow. I love that because it’s technology providing positive solutions.

Martín Reyes, MW 9:51
While also saving money and also saving water. It’s like an increasing quality…and increasing fruit quality. The nexus you talk about, yeah.

Katherine Cole 9:59
Everyone wins. The next pillar is waste prevention and supply chain. And I know Martín and I have talked extensively about the problem with glass bottles. And we’ve even done an episode about that. But I think there’s even more to dig into here isn’t there?

Anna Brittain 10:14
There absolutely is. I mean, this is a huge one. So we know for wineries, anywhere from 30 to 50% of their carbon footprint comes from packaging and distribution alone. So this has to be a huge focus, especially this packaging, and what’s one of the biggest weights literally in terms of packaging: glass. So there is a lot of conversation now about lightening up the glass, you know, Jancis Robinson is calling out people when she’s reviewing their wines about how heavy the glass is. Um, so this has become more and more of a conversation with our members about lightning that up. It’s changing out your packaging to more environmentally friendly packaging, cardboard, getting rid of those wood boxes, all those things. But the example I was going to give here is one near and dear to Martín’s heart, which is Spottswoode Estate. And they have just been doing so much work around this topic. In terms of supply chain, this is an interesting conversation, because glass has been having a lot of supply chain issues. You find the lightweight glass you want and it might be hard to get, which actually happened at Spottswoode. But they found another source of lightweight glass and so they have, they have lightened up their glass but also they’ve gone after being TRUE zero waste certified, meaning nothing goes to landfill. It’s all recycled, or it’s all composted, or it’s all reused in some way. Because they’re already you know, really such incredible leaders, when they did that analysis, they didn’t have so many added things to do. But so it required getting a little more creative. So I know one of the, one of the anecdotes I heard from Molly Sheppard, their assistant winemaker and environmental manager, she said, “You know, one of the things we looked at was our employee lunches. We did these employee lunches it was bringing in all this waste all this packaging and everything. And we went over to just having the lunches catered.” It was better food. It was a better experience and actually it saved them money. I mean, that surprised me. I’m thinking you’re bringing the chef to cater lunch, I’m thinking this is costing you more, but it didn’t in terms of what they were paying for bringing in meals from the outside. They’re pretty much at zero waste. I know you know that Martín because you’ve worked with them on some of that project.

Martín Reyes, MW 10:41
Like you said that’s a big one. And I, I’m resisting the urge to jump into that because that’s not what this is about. This is about the “Anna-dotes” of the six pillars and then we’re gonna dive into the episodes in the upcoming season.

Martín Reyes, MW 16:50
So we’ve gone through three, the fourth one is the one where most people probably both inside and outside the wine industry think of when they say “wine and sustainability.” Proactive farming, soil health and biodiversity. Katherine, can you please say what you said about the wine industry is a what? A gateway?

Katherine Cole 17:11
Wine is a gateway drug to environmentalism?

Martín Reyes, MW 17:14
Yes, yeah, you’ve said it. So it is ground zero even though it’s not the only ground but this is the fourth pillar. So viticulture, a big one. Talk to us about that.

Anna Brittain 17:24
Consumers, guests, visitors, if they think about sustainability, they think about it in the vineyard. And so we are always trying to keep, give people a systematic soil to bottle perspective. Get them from the vineyard into the winery. Right. But of course, as so many people say, the vineyard’s where the wine is made in many ways. And so one of the big things we work with our members on is what’s called regenerative carbon farming. It’s all of these practices such as compost and cover crops, reduced tillage, things like that, that all increase water retention, nutrient retention, create more resilience to the drought we’ve been having, to the high heat days that we’ve been having, but also store more carbon in the soil. And even if it doesn’t end up storing as much as we might hope, it has all these other benefits that make it absolutely worth it to do all of these practices. I was thinking about Seavey Vineyard, because they are really kind of all in on their ecosystem management and their regenerative carbon farming. And I think they’re an interesting one to spotlight because I think another thing a lot of folks don’t think about is just how much forested lands there are alongside a lot of these vineyards. And of course, we’ve had three mega fires in five years. There’s a lot of private forested lands that need to be managed, and that is part of carbon storage and climate action. And so Seavey has a lot of forests that they’ve been doing proactive management on. So they’ve been using goats to go out there and graze, doing some selective thinning. They’ve been doing a compost and biochar blend in the vineyard. Biochar is kind of like a charcoal. I’ve heard it called a condo for micro organisms. So it gives them a fun place to kind of live and stay and hold water and nutrients and then help deliver them to the plant. So they’ve been doing that and they do like it. There you go. Exactly. They also have sheep that are out in the vineyard being natural lawn mowers, they really kind of have it all that they’re doing out there. And so that’s proactive farming, thinking ahead to creating a healthy system. So that when when dangers like fire or like drought come into play, they’re prepared in advance rather than reacting to them. And that’s a huge, a huge shift that we all have to make in farming.

Katherine Cole 19:36
And I’ll just jump in and say if anyone’s wanting to Google them, it’s spelled s-e-a-v-e-y.

Anna Brittain 19:44
Yeah, that took me a while. I’m like Seavey like “CV”. Yeah, yeah.

Katherine Cole 19:47
My day job, Vin Agency, actually designed their website, so I know them well.

Anna Brittain 19:50
Oh, nice.

Katherine Cole 19:52
Well, great. I love that example. I love the idea of a polyculture rather than a monoculture where there’s just a lot going on. It’s just a richer environment for the people as well as for the planet. So our next category is social justice, diversity and inclusion. And I think this surprises some people, when they first hear that that’s one of the six pillars of sustainability, I think people don’t realize that we need to treat our people in a sustainable way as well as our planet.

Anna Brittain 20:20
Yeah, I always say you really can’t have environmental or economic sustainability without social sustainability. It’s absolutely foundational to all of this. And really, when kind of the term sustainability came out, late 80s, early 90s, originally, the social element was actually very much there. And it’s just sort of gotten sidelined over time. And it’s become sustainability equals environment. And that piece has just gotten lost a little bit. And so we’re really trying to bring that back. Because especially in an agricultural industry like ours, you have to be caring for the people and keeping people engaged, because we have a lot of labor shortage issues right now. So wanting to retain the employees that we do have, and help them feel like they’re working for businesses that care about more than just the bottom line. And so the the example I was thinking of here was over at Dominus Estate. They’re incredible leaders on so many fronts. But one really interesting and wonderful thing that they’ve done is they put in a classroom at the winery, so that staff can learn Spanish or English during the work day. So they don’t have to commit hours after work, or on the weekend, to go work on learning English or Spanish, whichever way that might need to go. And so that the whole team is encouraged to be bilingual, and be able to speak with each other on an ongoing basis. And one of the other things they really started doing, it might seem really obvious, but they actually talk about it was kind of challenging at first was really asking the the vineyard team to start sharing feedback and ideas. And they said at first the guys were kind of reticent, you know, maybe they thought they were going to, you know, get negative feedback or something they didn’t really want to talk. But gradually, they kind of opened them up, and got them to start sharing their ideas. And Todd has said, you know, not only it has that given us some incredible ideas, but it’s actually just created more of a feeling of community, like we really have a community where we can talk to each other and share ideas and and not worry about the, you know, any negative ramifications that might come from that. I think that their shortest term employee has been there for 12 years, one person has been there his entire career. And so that just shows. Retention shows your social sustainability, I think it’s a really important indicator.

Katherine Cole 22:34
I love that, classroom. What a great idea. And, you know, I hear sometimes from folks when they share their wine with their vineyard workers, the vineyard workers say, “oh, this is the first time I’ve ever tasted the wine from the vineyard I’m working at.” And that just seems like such a basic, there should be communication and sharing between all members of the team. And that’s just going to be better for everyone. I love that story.

Anna Brittain 22:59
Yeah, I was working up in Okanagan, I helped develop the British Columbia sustainable winegrowing program. And I was working up there we were at a winery, I forget the name, but where they just brought in the whole team at the end of every season and had them taste the wines together. Doesn’t that seem obvious? But no, not everyone does that. And it made even for the people on the team that aren’t really wine drinkers, they could make the connection between the grape and what they were trying in the glass. And I think it’s things like that, that might seem obvious, but, but not a lot of people are doing.

Martín Reyes, MW 23:28
Anna, that’s a perfect segue into the last and final and definitely not the least of important of all the pillars. And this really actually is…this brings it all home, really. It’s a systemic view. The the pillar, the sixth one, is climate action and regenerative agriculture. Tell us about this pillar.

Anna Brittain 23:45
Everything we’re talking about up until now contributes to climate action, right? You’re saving water, if you’re saving energy, if you’re having a more engaged team that’s helping to improve the vineyard and winery management, all of those things are contributing to climate action and regeneration. But then there’s even more that you can do beyond those five pillars. And so that’s why we kind of have this sixth cumulative pillar here. And as I was thinking of an example here, because that’s, that’s a big, that’s a big call, like who are you thinking of in more than 100 members that you want to give, give an anecdote about? And I have to say, truly, one of the things I do, I’m on the green medal judging panel, that’s a statewide award that people can apply for. It was two years ago, I was reading the application for Clif Family Winery. And it actually like brought tears to my eyes. They are such incredible leaders. And so I wanted to talk about them, even though they don’t have their own winery, actually. So they own their own vineyards. They don’t have their own winery. So this isn’t a fully soil to bottle example, which I always like to give. But there’s just nothing they don’t do out in the vineyard. I mean, they have gardens alongside their vineyard and some of that goes to their employees, some of that goes to fresh food for their local food truck. They do absolutely do carbon farming, do compost, do low till, do sheep grazing, do goat grazing in the forest, they pay for all of their employees to get National Park passes and go out and be in nature. They have a sip and support program where they donate a portion of their food truck profits to local nonprofits such as Napa Green. They’re really doing it all. They’re also doing zero waste. They’re just absolute, absolute leaders. We have so many leaders in our program. But I think when I’m thinking about climate action and regenerative agriculture, I’m thinking like, who is really fully whole systems. And another, last, last story from them. But another fun thing they do is they have solar panels out in the vineyard. And they thought we should we should do something with the land under the solar panels. And so they put in pollinator habitat and bees, and they created solar grown honey that I think is just so fun. So it’s really bringing it full circle really thinking systematically, a really inspiring example.

Martín Reyes, MW 26:02

Katherine Cole 26:02
I’m inspired. And I’m so psyched for this season now.

Anna Brittain 26:08
I hope I created some more motivation. Yeah.

Katherine Cole 26:11
Anna, I could see these six pillars being adopted worldwide. I mean, have you been hearing other people who’ve been using this framework?

Anna Brittain 26:17
It’s been getting a lot of resonance. And I do give some presentations, global presentations, like with the Porto Protocol, and it does resonate. The hard thing about sustainability is it is more complex, it’s a lot more complex than just not using Roundup. It’s, it’s a whole universe, as I put, it six pillars, of things that you’re working on. And so it can be overwhelming, like, how do I even wrap my mind around this. And this is a way that can kind of ground people and help them wrap their mind around it.

Martín Reyes, MW 26:46
I’m also very excited to dive into these next six episodes, and there is a new website for Napa RISE. And that is risegreen.org. And you’re probably wondering why it doesn’t say Napa RISE? This idea isn’t, of course, tied to a geographical area, it’s intended to spread. So risegreen.org And, Anna had the brainchild and the idea along with Meghan to make sure that that’s built in for the future.

Anna Brittain 27:16
RISE is: resilience, innovation, sustainability and empowerment. And I think that is such a perfect encapsulation of what we want to be doing. And speaking of taking this concept global, we do hope that in the next one or two years, we’ll take this to the next spot. Maybe it’s Willamette, maybe we’re doing Oregon RISE in the next one or two years. So yes, this is applicable to anyone in the wine industry, and we hope to take it take it abroad from here.

Martín Reyes, MW 27:47
You should have seen the smile on Katherine’s face when she heard that idea. Bringing it to Oregon.

Anna Brittain 27:53
That might be next, watch out.

Katherine Cole 27:55
I love it. I love it. Yes, I love more communication between the different wine regions, but just such a brilliant concept, Anna, and thanks so much for joining us today and getting us psyched up for this season. These episodes will kind of run congruent with Napa RISE, following the same themes, following that framework, and just learning more. And having great conversations!

Martín Reyes, MW 28:14
Excellent. Anna will see and hear a lot more of you, and I might sneak in there every once in a while in the coming weeks and where, let’s see, where you can find me. Martín Reyes, Master of Wine. I’m also at reyeswinegroup.com and winewise.biz.

Katherine Cole 28:30
And you can find me Katherine Cole at katherinecole.com. But why go there when you could go to thefourtop.org. Find our social media handles, let us know what you thought of this episode. If you’re excited for this coming season. Don’t forget to go to risegreen.org and read all about Napa RISE.

Martín Reyes, MW 28:46
And signing out from the Benicia adjacent Napa Valley location. Thanks so much for listening, everyone.

Katherine Cole 28:53
And signing out from the high-fiber, protein-packed city of Portland, Oregon in the Willamette Valley. Thanks everybody.

Kielen King 29:01
This has been The Four Top podcast. Katherine Cole is our executive producer, Nick Toole is our producer, and I’m Kielen King, sound supervisor. We are also assisted by audio editor Michelle Richards, Media and Design Manager Ruby Welkovich, and Sales Director Kristin Castagna. Please visit our website thefourtop.org to learn more about us, listen to back episodes, and purchase books written by our amazing panelists. If you have not already subscribed to The Four Top on iTunes or Spotify, please do so, and please leave us a rating. Every rating feeds the algorithm and helps new listeners find The Four Top. Stay safe out there, and thanks for listening.