Doing Good with Elizabeth Drake and Bonterra Wines

Mar. 12, 2018

This story is part of our “Women in Wine” series — an ongoing effort to highlight the women shaping today’s evolving global wine industry. From winemakers to sustainability specialists to executives, these are the women among the vines to watch in 2018 .

Winemaking is an enterprise defined by the future. Vines that are planted now will slowly mature and bear fruit over time, fruit that will age in casks and bottles before finally being uncorked and enjoyed. And while all winemakers must look to the future and plan years ahead, Fetzer and its Bonterra Vineyards label has spent decades finding ways to make that future a better place.

Fetzer Vineyards has been a sustainability pioneer since the 1980s. For over two decades, the company has developed practices that are environmentally-friendly, socially responsible and economically viable. In 1990, Fetzer had the idea to create a 100 percent organic wine label – Bonterra Vineyards – and in 1992 that idea came to fruition when the first wine under the Bonterra label was released. Since then, Bonterra has become the number one selling brand of wines in the US that is made with organic grapes.

Elizabeth Drake is one of Bonterra’s sustainability specialists, a role she landed almost immediately after graduating from Cornell University. For Drake, the job was the perfect storm of her combined passions and studies—she could apply her knowledge from school in the sustainability field while also making an exciting leap into the California wine industry. At only 22 years old, it was a dream come true.

Always looking ahead, we were eager to talk with Drake and get her insights into what’s next for Fetzer and Bonterra, as well as how she herself has impacted the company’s sustainability efforts.

What Does a Sustainability Specialist Do?

Elizabeth Drake: Overall, my job is to manage the environmental and social impacts of our operations. I monitor the winery’s water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. I analyze everything and then look for opportunities for improvement.

In addition to all the analyzing, I also manage all of our certifications. We're a certified B Corp. We're certified zero waste. We’re certified carbon neutral. We’re certified as a California sustainable wine grower. It takes a lot of coordination to keep these certifications current, so I spend a lot of time collecting data, issuing assessments and other necessary tasks to make sure we maintain those certifications.

“It's great for us to be a part of the sustainability movement. It's powerful and growing.“

What Does Sustainability Mean to Fetzer and Bonterra?

Fetzer was founded in 1968, and our founder, Barney Fetzer, always had sustainability top-of-mind. It was part of his ethos from the very beginning and we’ve kept that going to this day. The B Corp certification was a big accomplishment for us, because it finally lent some credibility to all of these claims that we've been making for the past 50 years.

Fetzer is also a part of this larger community of like-minded businesses who value sustainability just as much as we do. There's a lot of best practice sharing that goes on between B Corps, as we’re all going after the same goal. It's great for us to be a part of the sustainability movement. It's powerful and growing.

Elizabeth Drake, Fetzer Bonterra Sustainability Specialist

What’s the Next Sustainability Frontier?

Regeneration. Historically, sustainability has focused on minimizing the impacts of your operations. Doing less bad. Making less waste. Using less energy. The idea of regeneration, however, is about creating positive impacts. Revitalizing environments and communities. That's the direction we're trying to move in today.

We're part of a project called ‘The Net Positive Project,’ which is a group of businesses and coalitions that have set a goal to become net positive. The goal is to stop creating negative impacts and only create positive impacts. That's the direction that we're moving in with the idea of regeneration.

“The idea of regeneration, however, is about creating positive impacts. Revitalizing environments and communities. That's the direction we're trying to move in today.”

Is Regeneration Achievable?

The goal is lofty, and somewhat hard to measure. It's not really a super tangible idea. People ask me, ‘What does that really mean?’ One tangible example might be carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, with a goal to sequester more carbon than you emit. But overall, The Net Positive Project is working on developing a framework and methodology for what this actually looks like in real life.

What Does All of this Mean to Consumers?

The organic food movement has really take off in recent years and our organically grown wines are a big part of that consumer interest. We are using organic wine making as a vehicle for explaining environmental benefits of organic agriculture to consumers.

From a consumer messaging standpoint, we have this idea that we like to share that, when you buy a bottle of Fetzer wine, you can help make the world a better place. Framing it this way gives consumers the sense that they’re not simply buying another bottle of wine, but instead contributing to something greater and having a positive impact on the world.

Bonterra and Fetzer wines are an important part of the Breakthru portfolio, and we are proud to partner with them in bringing organic, sustainable and delicious wines to your customers. Talk to your Breakthru Sales Consultant about how your business can take advantage of this new chapter in winemaking.

Elizabeth Drake, Fetzer Bonterra Sustainability Specialist

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