Whether that segues into a price advantage for growers remains to be seen.
“Market research by others and the Lodi commission in 2004 shows that people buy wine based on perception of quality and price,” he says. “The environmental message is important, but it is not the driver like it is in produce. However, there is a segment of the market that is interested. The program ultimately will only work if there is a pull from the marketplace, but it is way too early to tell.”
Already, one participating winery has offered a $50-per-ton premium for certified Lodi Rules grapes. Five wineries with Lodi appellations plan to incorporate the Lodi Rules seal into their label this year, and they also must be involved in the audit process.
In 2007, about 7,000 acres of Lodi grapes are expected to be certified sustainable through the Lodi Rules program, nearly a four-fold jump since its inception. And the number of participating growers has increased from six the first year to nearly 20 this year. There are about 100,000 acres in the Lodi-Woodbridge district.
To join, growers contact Protected Harvest, fill out a detailed application and questionnaire, and pay a flat application fee of $2,150 plus $1 per acre to cover the cost of certification.
‘Doing the right thing’
Aaron Lange, whose father, Randy, and uncle Brad helped pioneer sustainable practices in the area, sees certification as part of the evolution.
“Ultimately, Lodi Rules exists to provide recognition to the Lodi area of the sustainable practices we’ve been doing for a long time,” says Lange, who manages vineyard operations for LangeTwins Vineyards in Acampo.
LangeTwins Wine Estates will feature the Lodi Rules seal on the back of its LangeTwins and Circles Edge labels.
Lange says he believes consumers will ultimately support the Lodi Rules program once they learn the certification has teeth.
“I think it is important for consumers to see that the Lodi Rules Program for sustainable winegrowing is a rigorous, third-party certified program that’s peer reviewed by environmentalists, scientists, and academics,” he says. “However, I think that demand for Lodi Rules-certified wines will increase when consumers discover they’re grown according to values that closely match their own concerning environmental protection, social equity and economic sustainability.”
Ultimately, Lange says he hopes wineries will find a way to capitalize on that and pay a premium for the fruit.