I spent a good portion of this week with the sustainability team at Jackson Family Wines in Sonoma. I know, sucks to be me, right?

I’ve been working with JFW, makers of well-known wines like Kendall Jackson and La Crema, as well as smaller brands like Cambria and Hartford, for almost four years. It started back in the Saatchi & Saatchi S days when we were brought on to help organize the JFW sustainability story for the sales team. Since then the work has expanded in really exciting ways, including the launch of the family-owned company’s inaugural Responsibility Report.

As an agricultural company, one of the most urgent issues JFW faces is water. The concern is heightened in California where we’re headed into year five of a severe drought. More than 80 percent of the country’s wine is produced in Northern California, so water conservation – and the opportunity that it presents – is often at the center of the sustainability discussion.

Jackson Family Wines, which has 50 wineries in five continents, was started by the late Jess Jackson in the 1980’s. Sustainability has been baked into the company from the start. The majority of the land owned by the Jackson family is left in its native state, for example, with just a fraction planted with grapes. Water conservation practices have been in place for many years, allowing for an enviable business stability when the drought got serious. And a long standing commitment to protecting native habitats has led to some remarkable projects, like the release of 2.3 million gallons of water into Green Valley Creek to help migrating Coho last year.

JFW is also known for innovation. It’s why Tesla tapped the company as an early pilot for on-site battery storage. It’s why JFW is constantly testing new technologies, like sap flow monitoring from Fruition Sciences, wind machines for frost protection, and rainwater harvesting using existing infrastructure.

Since 2008 JFW has reduced overall water use in the winemaking process by 31%, and water intensity – the number of gallons of water used to make a gallon of wine – by 41%. Today JFW uses 5.4 gallons of water for every gallon of wine, which is a third less than the industry average, and has a goal to reduce by another third over the next five years.

Communicating sustainability to wine lovers is also an opportunity for innovation. As we hear over and over, millennials want to actively engage with brands that share their values. One of those values is transparency, so brands willing to talk openly about big issues like water garner respect with millennials, many of whom are newly of legal drinking age and have not yet established loyalty with one brand or another. With a heritage of responsible business, environmental conservation and community stewardship, JFW has the creds as well as a willingness to share the journey.

The next five years will be exciting times for Jackson Family Wines – the company has set a bold list of goals set for 2021, including an exciting ambition to pilot at least one innovative project each year that helps advance the resilience of California’s sustainable wine industry.

So raise a glass – be it water or wine – to JFW as we honor the past, celebrate the present, and prepare for the future. 

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