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Self-assessment workbooks: where are they now?


It has been 20 years since the first self-assessment workbook about the sustainable production of wine grapes was published in the United States. Since then, self-assessment workbooks have been written for and used by wine grape growers in California, Washington and New York, and by juice grape growers in New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Their use has had a significant influence on sustainable winegrowing programs, practice implementation and sustainability reporting. No other U.S. agriculture sector has adopted the use of self-assessment as much as the wine and grape industry. Because of the workbooks' widespread use and influence, I thought it would be interesting to contact the various programs using self-assessment workbooks to find out if use has changed over time and, if so, how.

But first, for those readers not familiar with self-assessment workbooks, they consist of a list of farming practices that a grape-grower reads and uses to record whether or not they are using the various practices. They can be used for reasons such as in education and outreach programs, encouraging growers to increase wine grape quality, stimulating them to continually improve, enabling groups to anonymously aggregate assessment results for use in sustainability reporting, benchmarking practice implementation and measuring wine grape-growing improvement over time. A great attribute they all share is that any and all growers can use them since they incorporate a broad range of wine grape-growing practices.

Beginning in the Central Coast

The first self-assessment for U.S. wine grape growing was the Positive Point System (PPS). It was published in 1996 by a group of growers farming in California's Central Coast region. They were helped by people from the University of California, Davis, as well as Robert Mondavi Winery. The group's idea was to use PPS as a tool to help growers identify strengths and weaknesses in their wine grape-growing practices in a systematic fashion. This was done by assigning points to practices. There were 1,000 possible points in the assessment. At the time, the Central Coast winegrowing industry was fairly young, and there was a desire by the group to improve farming practices and fruit quality. There was also the sense of impending community and regulatory concerns, so the growers wanted to meet these challenges proactively. The PPS self-assessment framework provided them with a way to talk about resource and winegrowing issues in an honest and active way.

Notably, at the time PPS was first published, there was no established organization to guide its use. However, a short time later the growers formed the Central Coast Vineyard Team and used PPS as a foundation of their education and outreach program. PPS stimulated the development of a Positive Points for Citrus and the Ranching Sustainability Self-assessment Project.

The next self-assessment workbook to be developed was the Lodi Winegrower's Workbook, published at the end of 1999 by the Lodi Winegrape Commission (LWC). I began working for LWC in 1995, and around 1998 our sustainable winegrowing program was looking for a way to encourage widespread adoption of sustainable winegrowing practices by Lodi growers.

As with the Central Coast wine grape growers, Lodi growers also wanted to improve farming practices and fruit quality as well as be proactive about community and environmental concerns. I heard about the PPS and studied it carefully. I had also come across Farm*A*Syst, in Madison, Wis., which had written self-assessments for dairy, several crops in Ontario, Canada, and for cotton in Australia. The model they developed was based on the plan, do, check process of environmental management systems and had come up with an interesting way of dividing specific practice topics into four categories, scoring them from 1 to 4, with 1 containing the least sustainable practice and 4 being the most sustainable. It enabled growers to see where their practices fell on a sustainability continuum and where they should be going in relation to every practice topic. In the end we chose to use the Farm* A*Syst model and contracted with them to help us get started.

Working with a committee of Lodi growers, the University of California Cooperative Extension and East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Lodi Winegrower's Workbook took shape. Within the first year and a half of its publication, 265 growers that managed more than 60% of the wine grape acreage in the Lodi region had assessed one or more of their vineyards using the workbook. LWC published a revised and expanded second edition of their workbook in 2008.

California-wide assessment

The California wine industry became aware of the successes and influence of the PPS and Lodi Winegrower's Workbook in their respective regions, in part because some of the leaders in these two regions were also leaders in statewide industry organizations. In 2001 the Wine Institute, under the direction of John Deluca, and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG), led by Karen Ross, came together and formed a task force of winemakers and growers to develop a self-assessment for the California wine industry. The Farm*A*Syst model used by Lodi was adopted, and an agreement was signed with LWC to use the Lodi Winegrower's Workbook chapters as a basis for the viticulture chapters; new chapters were drafted for winemaking practices. The California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) was published in 2002, and a nonprofit organization, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), was formed by CAWG and the Wine Institute to implement a statewide winegrowing program with CCSW as its foundation. CSWA launched a web-based CCSW in 2006, published a second edition in 2011 and a third edition in 2013.

On the other side of the country, the effects of agriculture on groundwater quality were becoming a concern on Long Island, N.Y. To address these concerns, the Long Island Cooperative Extension viticulture farm advisor worked with the winegrowers to publish a sustainable winegrowing practices workbook in 2003. Two years later the grape and wine industries of New York came together to develop VineBALANCE, a self-assessment workbook for both juice-grape and wine-grape production using a slightly different version of the four-category Farm*A*Syst model used in the Lodi Winegrower's Workbook. It was published in 2007.

Washington goes web-based

Meanwhile, the Washington Wine Grape Growers Association (recently rebranded as Washington Winegrowers) published Vinewise in 2005, also using the Farm*A*Syst four-category self-assessment model. Up until this point, all previous workbooks had initially been published in print form. The Washington Wine Grape Growers launched theirs as web-based self-assessment.

How have these self-assessment workbooks been used over time, and what is their status today? Probably the one with the most visibility is CSWA's CCSW. Since its inception, 1,616 vineyards representing 68.6% of California wine grape acres have participated in the Sustainable Winegrowing Program self-assessment. In 2004 CSWA published their first sustainability report based on anonymously aggregating the self-assessments and bench-marking the level of implementation of each practice in their workbook. In 2009 CSWA published their second sustainability report, in which they compared the level of implementation of each practice with the benchmarks established in 2004. A third major sustainability report was published in 2016. CSWA has also used self-assessment results to identify workshop topics for growers and winemakers. Since the start of their program, they have held more than 550 workshops attended by more than 14,000 participants.

VineBALANCE continues to be used most extensively by the juice grape growers who are members of the National Grape Cooperative, which requires all of their New York and Pennsylvania members to do the self-assessment and devise action plans for improvement based on the assessment. The cooperative also worked with Michigan State University to develop Grape*A*Syst, a self-assessment workbook for juice grape production, in Michigan. It is estimated that VineBALANCE has been used to assess between 30% and 40% of the 10,000 acres of wine grapes in the Finger Lakes region. I have been told that VineBALANCE was used as a model for a self-assessment workbook recently published in Maryland and Quebec, Canada, where parts are being translated into French.

Last fall the Washington Winegrowers convened a strategic planning meeting focused on the future use of Vinewise. It was attended by grower members, staff from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (SMWE) and researchers and farm advisors from Washington State University. Past use of Vinewise was reviewed and its possible future use discussed. SMWE reported they encourage their grower suppliers to do annual assessments, and their viticulturists meet with them to discuss the results and where improvements might be made. The attendees then brainstormed how to increase the use of Vinewise and what can be done to enhance the self-assessment. They agreed to revise the workbook in the coming year, adding educational content, and recently installed it into a new, userfriendly web-based platform.

Impact on wine community

Clearly, the creation and use of self-assessment workbooks has had a significant impact on the U.S. wine community. The biggest challenge faced by all the programs using them is first how to get growers to use them and then continue to use them. I believe all the groups mentioned have been very successful at meeting these challenges.

Cliff Ohmart, Ph.D., is senior scientist for SureHarvest and author of View from the Vineyard: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Wine Grape Growing. Previously he served as research/IPM director at the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission. He has been writing about sustainable winegrowing issues for Wines & Vines since 1998.
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Title Annotation:Vineyard View
Comment:Self-assessment workbooks: where are they now?(Vineyard View)
Author:Ohmart, Cliff
Publication:Wines & Vines
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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