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SANTA ROSA -- Elated Sonoma County Winegrowers announced a double-header achievement for the environment at a press conference on Thursday at their Santa Rosa headquarters. Not only have the more than 1,800 members reached 99% certified sustainable vineyards, but they will build on their sustainability leadership by becoming the first wine region to participate in California's pilot Climate First Certification program.

Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winergrowers, said they had made a commitment in 2014 to become the nation's first 100% certified sustainable wine region. 

"No other wine region has been able to achieve this," she said as she announced they have come within 1% of the goal.

"Other wine regions are following suit, but our secret sauce is our farmers. Historically, (Sonoma County) has been a collaborative community."

Kruse noted that achieving sustainability covers a range of issues that include reducing waste and carbon footprints, saving water and energy as well as  being good employers and good neighbors.

"We have a list of 140 Best Practices," Kruse said. 

As their next step, the Sonoma Winegrowers will become the first participant in the California Land Stewardship Institute's Climate Adaptation Certification Program, which is "the first program of its kind available in the world for agriculture."

"When our leadership realized that 99% of the vineyards in Sonoma County were going to be certified sustainable, they began looking ahead and identified climate adaptation certification as the next natural step," Kruse said.

"Climate change is a critical threat, yet there is little information available on the role agriculture can play," Kruse said.

"We decided to work with Sonoma County Winegrowers (for the pilot program) because of their leadership," said Laurel Marcus, from the Land Stewardship Institute, which is based in Napa, where it has led the Fish Friendly Farming Certification Program. 

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Marcus said the Climate Adaptation Certification uses COMET-Farm, a site-specific detailed model developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado State University to calculate greenhouse gas emissions for each farm's current and revised practices. 

They will work individually with farmers to evaluate their current practices and make changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increases in carbon sequestration. These farm plans will be certified by regulatory agencies, audited annually and be re-certified every five years. 

According to Marcus, nitrous oxide has 298 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Methane is mostly associated with livestock.

They will also calculate carbon sequestration through "planting of hedgerows, grass filterstrips and native trees as well as the carbon in the vines.

The California Land Stewardship Institute notes that although California agriculture produces only 8% of total greenhouse gases in the state,  (78% come from transportation, industry and energy production), farms offer an opportunity to sequester carbon while producing crops.

"Farmers have always adapted to changes in climate," Marcus said.

Glen Proctor, a fourth-generation farmer from Puccioni Ranch in Dry Creek, said that while farmers may not be the cause of climate change problems, they are glad to participate in solutions. "We're here to help," Proctor said. "It's the right thing to do. Our goal is to be around for many, many years."

Brad Petersen, who was chair of the Sonoma County Grapegrowers in 2014 when they set their 100 percent sustainability goal, and Mike Haney, president of the Sonoma County Vintners were on hand at the press conference to praise the "tremendous, voluntary support" for the programs.

Kruse meanwhile added one more fillip to the Sonoma undertakings in the form of statistics that show consumers -- and millennial in particular --  strongly support sustainable practices. "Consumers say they are willing to pay up to $8 more for a bottle that has a certified sustainable label."

According to the Napa Green website, 55 percent of Napa Valley vineyards have been certified sustainable. Korinne Munson, director of communications for Napa Valley Vintners said that 75 percent of their membership are either certified or working toward certification. 

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Features Editor

Sasha Paulsen has been features editor at the Napa Valley Register since 1999. A graduate of Napa High School, she studied English at UC Berkeley and St. Mary's College and earned a Masters in Journalism from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.