Winery with a Mission:
Fetzer Vineyards Husbands the Earth's Resources
- We are an environmentally and socially conscious grower,
producer, and marketer of wines of the highest quality and
- Working in harmony and with respect for the human spirit,
we are committed to sharing information about the enjoyment
of food and wine in a lifestyle of moderation and responsibility.
- We are dedicated to the continuous growth and development
of our people and business.
There are mission statements, and there are missions. Fetzer
Vineyards, whose mission statement is reprinted above, appears
to have converted what might be just a piece of paper into a
real program of action where ethical considerations help guide
Fetzer President Paul Dolan comments, "When the first words
of your mission statement are environmentally and socially conscious,
it opens up new perspectives on how to operate the entire business."
Environmentally conscious? Fetzer's own acreage is 100 percent
certified organic. Under the Bonterra label, the company produces
wine made entirely from grapes that are grown without chemical
pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or fertilizers. In addition,
the winery's energy-conservation efforts have been so successful
that Fetzer won recognition from the White House in 1994.
Socially conscious? As one example, Fetzer offers English
as a second language to its Spanish-speaking workers as part
of a comprehensive employee education program.
The ESL program is typical of the way Fetzer operates. Last
year, a lab technician with a background in ESL began a pilot
project with employees in the winery cellars. The group met
twice a week, half on company time and half on their own time.
The project was so successful that a team was set up to assess
the ESL needs of other departments, and the winery is now putting
together a companywide program.
Many divisions at Fetzer have initiated their own socially
and environmentally conscious programs. One makes polylaminate,
fully recyclable capsules, allowing Fetzer to eliminate the
lead capsules traditionally used to cover corks. And Fetzer's
Valley Oaks Farm, with its experimental organic garden, regularly
donates surplus produce to Plowshares and the Ukiah Food Bank.
Besides instituting socially and environmentally conscious
programs in its own facilities, Fetzer has encouraged other
companies to go the organic route. Through its Club Bonterra
project, Fetzer shares information with its outside growers
about organic techniques.
If all this sounds a little too good to be true, the reasoning
behind it is hardly warm and fuzzy. Andy Beckstoffer of Beckstoffer
Vineyards, a member of Club Bonterra, explains, "It's good business
to preserve your land; it's good business to produce a healthy
product. We think the more alive the ground and fruit are, the
better the varietal character of the wines will be."
Fetzer, the sixth-largest premium winery in the United States,
has profited from taking ethical responsibilities seriously,
according to Dolan. "That's the way the industry will go, and
we'll have been there first," he says.
"The impetus is coming from consumers. In most surveys, 60
to 80 percent of the public says they're interested in the environment."
As for Fetzer's social commitment, the company's director
of human resources, Barbara Wallace, says those programs also
help the bottom line. "With corporate downsizing and reorganization,
many companies are not getting the same sort of loyalty they
used to. But our company feels that developing people's capabilities
strengthens the organization. It's a way of creating loyalty."
Not that social responsibility is always profitable. Dolan
likes to use the word sustainable. "The big question," he says,
"is, Will the consumer pay for environmental changes? If we
take a position that we will only buy organic fruit, that can
be touchy because we don't know what the costs will be. We may
have to pay more for the grapes." This would make the product
"We need to figure out how to make the changes sustainable,"
he says; "that is, to make decisions that are both environmentally
conscious and economically viable."
Sometimes, the environmentally conscious policies save money.
Organic farming, for example, has meant fewer "inputs," according
to Dolan. "We don't have to use as many chemicals. We don't
have to keep driving through the vineyards to check on the chemicals."
Other environmental programs are more of a wash economically.
Composting, for example, saves the company money in landfill
dump fees, but it exacts more time from employees.
On the social end of things, employee-education programs can
be very cost-effective. "The more educated the work force, the
better decisions they make," says Dolan. "Our education programs
allow us to push decision making down to where it should be
to the fields or the bottling plant or the sales force.
That allows us to respond quickly to the needs of the marketplace."
But Fetzer, and its parent company, Brown-Forman, are also
committed to social responsibility for its own sake, according
to Wallace. "It does help us in the workplace," she says of
the English-as-a-second-language program, "but there are so
many areas where communication is important - in the family
and in the community. Shared understanding between people is
important to us."
Miriam Schulman is the editor of Issues in Ethics.