On March 16 NVG hosted its 12th Ahead of the Curve (AOTC) seminar. AOTC is a cornerstone biannual event for NVG, where we take a 10,000 ft view of our industry; it’s meant to be provocative and promote a forward gaze. This year’s event brought viticultural excellence onto the same stage as climate resiliency, challenging our community to envision a climate positive future. Speakers addressed risks and opportunities related to climate leadership, policy, consumer perception, global standards and supply chains, and funding changes in practice. Between wildfires, prolonged drought, and now atmospheric rivers, we have all had direct experience with extreme variability in climate and weather patterns that have invariably affected farming and business strategies. To adapt, mitigate, and act there is not a single simple response but a myriad of more complex solutions. AOTC highlighted the fact that growers are creative problem solvers, and through an open exchange of knowledge and resources, Napa Valley can work to achieve resilience and longevity in the face of a changing climate.
A Fireside Chat from Land to Sea
Dr. Ayana Johnson, co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab and the All We Can Save Project, sits down with Professor Andrew Isaacs of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Hear from two great minds in the climate science field about the role that coastal waterways and vegetation play in absorbing carbon and how their protection will ultimately keep us safe from storm surges. In Napa, we are connected to these coastal systems via our river, streams, and riparian areas. Dr. Johnson emphasizes the connectivity between oceans and our farming practices that may not always be front-of-mind.
Included in this discussion is the importance of climate justice when addressing the disproportionate impacts of climate change on communities. Dr. Johnson also highlights tenacity, collective action, and remaining joyful when confronting the challenges brought by a changing climate. What role can a farming community, and more specifically, our wine community play in meeting these challenges?
Unlocking Soil Carbon Through Federal Policy
Senior Policy Advisor with Carbon 180, Vanessa Suarez, discusses key practices to promote carbon storage in soils, an opportunity to counteract the 1.5 degree Celsius warming threshold. Suarez encourages AOTC attendees to reframe their idea of carbon emissions to focus on the long game: net negative emissions. A concept Carbon 180 explores is agroforestry. How can we incorporate more biodiversity into our vineyards to promote the soil carbon holding capacity while improving wine quality and creating another path to economic stability for smaller wineries?
Marketing Our Wines for Change
Jamie Goode of Wine Anorak demystifies consumer perspectives and presents pathways for those in the wine industry to communicate and market environmental ethos and practice. While warning against the blanket term “sustainability” which he notes is well-positioned to promote greenwashing, Goode projects that future wine consumers will increasingly care about where their wine comes from. The audience is encouraged to share their innovative practices in narrative form through their labeling, marketing, and DTC channels to connect the consumer to the vineyard, farmers, soil, and ultimately, the wine. Illuminating the path forward for the wine industry, Goode shares, “Wine is the rockstar of agriculture and is ideally placed to lead conversations about climate change and green credentials.”
ESG Standards and Their Impact on Supply Chain Regulations
Elisa Turner, Founder and CEO of IMPAKT IQ discusses the rapid acceleration of global ESG standards in the pipeline for 2024, and how financial institutions will begin looking at ESG scores like credit scores. In the past, there was no significant framework for consumers to learn about a company’s brand ethics. Now, ESG reporting is becoming mandatory for some sectors, whether the push is from government regulations, or consumer demand to purchase socially responsible and environmentally friendly goods. Wine distributors and wholesalers will require that wine companies meet certain ESG standards soon, particularly public companies like large grocers and retail. Elisa dives deep into the impacts this could have on local businesses and shares how IMPAKT IQ was designed to help navigate this new age of our industry both for large companies and smaller growers.
Alan Lewis, VP of Natural Grocers, addresses the rapid state of transition in consumer demand for natural foods and the failure of regulatory bodies to keep up with what science now knows about the microbiome. When consumer trust erodes, how should companies respond, what changes in practices are expected, and how does this translate into market demand for Napa Valley wines? Turner & Lewis discuss the intersections of their work through a Q&A with the audience.
The Regeneration of an Industry and a Region
Anthony Myint, Executive Director of Zero Foodprint, highlights incredible pathways for growers striving for innovative change, and poses this thought experiment: Can Napa Valley become the regenerative wine capital of the world? In their 5-year plan to generate funds to support growers with climate-smart farming, Zero Foodprint suggests an inventive OPT-OUT ordinance of 1% tax on food and wine that could be given directly to farmers. 1% of the Napa wine industry is more than $70 million dollars. Imagine what the Napa Valley could look like in 10, 20 and 50 years with this emphasis on regenerative agriculture: lush landscapes, healthy soil microbiomes, and a new consumer market dedicated to Napa Valley’s forward-thinking wines.