125 Years and Counting
Founded in 1883, Wente Vineyards is the country’s oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery. In 1998 the Wente family added an 18-hole Greg Norman designed championship course to complement its wine portfolio, fine dining restaurant, and summer concert series. Located just east of San Francisco in the historic Livermore Valley, Wente Vineyards is recognized as one of California’s premier wine country destinations. The winery blends tradition and innovation into its winemaking practices and wine country experiences and draws from approximately 3,000 acres of sustainably farmed Estate vineyards to create an outstanding collection of fine wines. The Course at Wente Vineyards, currently working toward Audubon Certification, follows the winery’s tradition of sustainable practices through an environmentally integrated approach to innovative golf course management.
Golf rounds are trending in the wrong direction for many facilities. To stem that tide we are working diligently to differentiate our product from our competition by implementing, into all of our business units and maintenance operations, sustainable cultural practices consistent with our company’s operating values and strategic plans. By developing best management practices to stay ahead of industry trends we hope to position our business for future success by outpacing competitors through better management of current resources and by developing new ones.
In this constantly evolving industry, it is important for our business to be able adapt to changes in order to stay a step ahead of competition and to exceed customer expectations. Drivers affecting change in our business include the economy, consumer demand, and government regulation. It has become increasingly necessary to develop business strategies designed to ensure we are viable and competitive in our market in the future. In the past 10 to 15 years we have experienced increased regulation and restrictions related to pesticide application, water use, energy use, and equipment fleet management. By developing innovative cultural practices and strategies geared toward improving the environment, we are positioning ourselves ahead of the curve with regard to increased regulation.
Sustainability Strategies for Success
As a company, we are constantly working to increase brand awareness and enhance our image. We recognize the importance of a consistent corporate theme and have developed a long-term vision, mission, and set of operating values consistent with our business culture. Our mission is to Create and deliver outstanding wine and wine country experiences, and our values are: Respect, Integrity, Sustainability, Excellence.
Sustainability has become a cornerstone of our operating values and to support this idea the course began participation in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses in 2008. Since then we have used the program to incorporate innovative management practices for The Course and highlight management practices we have used since its inception. The course is an extension of the winery and is positioned in a unique setting surrounded by 93 acres of vineyards, rolling hills, and natural grasslands. It shares adjacent working rangeland with the family’s herd of cattle and borders the local parks and recreation department. For these reasons it has been important for the golf course to consider our neighbors when deciding on management practices, communicate well with them, and stay in tune with their special needs.
Upon initiation of the Audubon program our initial environmental assessment provided us with a to-do list of environmental projects targeted at the six key environmental components outlined by Audubon:
Wildlife and Habitat Management
Chemical Use Reduction and Safety
Water Quality Management
Outreach and Education
The focus of our Environmental Planning efforts after completion of the initial site assessment of our property was to conduct a thorough inventory of plant and wildlife species on property. We determined the types of birds, mammals, reptiles, grasses, plants, and weed species present on the property. In the process we engaged customers by creating awareness about the uncommon biological diversity present on and around our golf course and vineyards and received a huge amount of support with identifying unfamiliar species. The result was a reference text filled with full color photos and complete descriptions of over 225 different species. The text is available for reference use by guests and employees in the clubhouse, business office, and retail tasting rooms across property and helped generate interest about Audubon Certification early in the process. Many of the photos in the reference book were taken by volunteers. To address the other key components of the program we formed an Advisory Committee to help plan environmental projects. Volunteer members of the courses Audubon Advisory Committee include our local park ranger, a county agricultural inspector, a representative from our vineyard team, the course general manager, the VP of operations, our VP of human resources, and the golf course superintendent. Each of these individuals brings a unique perspective to the group and we work together to drive the projects shaping our Audubon program.
To address the Wildlife and Habitat Management component of the program we started by mapping our property into environmental map units using GPS and ESRI software. We identified wooded areas, grasslands, sensitive habitat, lakes, streams, property lines, vineyards, turf areas, no spray zones, and infrastructure areas. The map was then used to train employees, in English and Spanish, about the different types of habitats on site. We then developed a nesting box program targeted at barn owls, to control squirrel populations, and at blue birds and bats, for their insect feeding habits. We also created habitat for hummingbird and butterfly populations by adding five organic gardens using drought tolerant plants designed to attract them.
Chemical Use Reduction and Safety programs were evaluated by looking at past practices to see if there were opportunities to change our chemical use. Lake management was an area where we had an opportunity to make some positive changes. Since the inception of the program we have reduced chemical inputs to control algae blooms in our two lakes greatly by implementing a biological control program and through the use of an electronic impulse devise that disrupts cellular division of algae. Next year we plan to reduce use of fairway applied fungicides by implementing a bi-annual inter-seeding program that will replace disease susceptible poa annua with disease resistant perennial ryegrass varieties.
Water Conservation is constantly a consideration and at the forefront of our irrigation management practices. Our goal with this component of the Audubon program was to develop a conservation strategy we could confidently implement during times of drought. Availability of water has been a concern in California in the recent past so we created a drought plan to save 10%, 20%, 30%, and 40% of our annual irrigation budget if necessary. To deal with Water Quality Management we take monthly samples monitoring potential changes in quality, map “no spray zones,” and train employees to be able identify local water sheds in order to protect them from unwanted fertilizer and chemical runoff.
Outreach and Education has been the most rewarding aspect of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. Through internal training I have had the opportunity to share all of the knowledge I have gained during the certification process with over 100 of my fellow employees. All frontline and field employees participate in an Audubon training program, in English or Spanish, covering the key components of the program, why we as a company are pursuing certification, and what we hope to achieve as a result of our efforts.
This fall we will work with students from a local community college discussing our sustainable management practices integrated on the golf course, the vineyard, and throughout our restaurant and vineyard facilities. We believe the program will create positive awareness about our operations, demonstrate our commitment to the environment, and bring to light the effectiveness of the cultural practices we use.
The ultimate goal of our involvement in the Audubon Certification program, as a company, is to increase environmental awareness among staff, guests, and our surrounding community while demonstrating long term commitment to the overall health of the lands we manage. By making environmental management part of our corporate culture, dedicating resources, and making a pledge to improve and conserve natural habitat we are positioning ourselves as leaders in our community and industry. In the long term we see value in this strategy and believe it will help us gain the respect of our competitors and in the process it will become clear to our customers we operate with integrity and strive for excellence.