Living wages, worms and drones help O’Neill Vintners & Distillers achieve B Corp status
At O’Neill Vintners and Distillers, the 10e largest wine company in the United States, they care for a population of 150,000 million worms. The worms can recycle 80 million gallons of wastewater per year and are just one aspect of O’Neill’s sustainability practices that has helped them achieve B Corp status. Other components include a progressive human resources system focused on living wages and ongoing training for 360 employees, as well as in-vineyard drones that drop scale insect killers on vines as a natural method of scale insect control, instead of using pesticides.
“Since our inception in 2004,” says Jeff O’Neill, Founder and CEO, “we have always focused on sustainability. We were first BRC and ISO14001 certified, then we achieved California Sustainable Winekeeping certification in our vineyards and cellar. We have therefore staggered all these certifications and are now considering organic and regenerative certifications. After accomplishing the others, it was easier to apply for B Corp status, which took us 18 months to get.
To date, only 25 wineries worldwide have achieved B Corp status. Certification is stricter than others in that it not only assesses environmental and social practices within a company, but also holds companies accountable for the policies and practices of the community, suppliers, customers and corporate governance. Additionally, with an emphasis on transparency, it makes this information publicly available on B Corp’s website.
Given that O’Neill Vintners and Distillers produces around 2 million cases of wine and 2 million cases of spirits per year, that’s no small feat. O’Neill and CMO, Christine Moll, discuss the process and its benefits in a recent online interview.
Challenges and Benefits of Obtaining B Corp Certification
O’Neill’s best-known wine brands include Line 39, Harken, Intercept, Rabble and Robert Hall, but they also produce private labels for many stores, as well as large-scale wines and spirits. Based in Parlier, California, they own over 870 acres of vineyards statewide and source grapes from independent growers who operate over 15,000 acres of vineyards.
“One of the most challenging aspects of B Corp certification,” O’Neill reports, “is that all of our growers and other suppliers must also be certified as sustainable. This means they must have incorporated positive environmental and social practices into their business and proactively demonstrate improvements. O’Neill says getting that kind of buy-in wasn’t a slam dunk with everyone, but eventually they achieved that status.
Another key part of their success, says CMO Moll, “was identifying a team within the company to lead the B Corp certification process.” The audit process includes rigorous documentation of all aspects of certification and communication with multiple stakeholders to gather information and ensure everything is being implemented correctly.
The champions were Caine Thompson and Alyssa Hall. “It was a two-person team that worked with our winery and vineyard operations teams, as well as human resources, marketing, sales, suppliers and many other departments,” Moll reports. “In the end, all the hard work paid off, as our employees and sales force are really excited about getting B Corp certification. It is a force for good.
Another key benefit, according to O’Neill, is responding to the consumer trend for increased transparency in the wine industry. “New consumers want to appreciate wine and know what’s in it,” he says, “and younger consumers appreciate B Corporations.”
Some of the other US wineries that have achieved B Corp certification to date include: Ron Rubin Winery, Sokol Blosser, Fetzer-Bonterra, A to Z Wineworks, Winderlea, Patton Valley Vineyard, Stoller Family Estate, Chehalem Winery, Brooks Wineryand Bainbridge Vineyards.
How the wine industry can help change the game with regenerative agriculture
“I think the key question,” says O’Neill, “is how can we grow grapes in a more carbon-neutral environment? Part of the solution is to first become sustainable, but in the long run, I think embracing regenerative agriculture can be a game-changer. »
Regenerative agriculture focuses on soil health and includes the use of cover crops, reduced or no tillage, reduced or no use of agrochemicals, and building a common ecosystem with nature. Many large agricultural companies around the world are exploring this possibility, as it also reduces carbon emissions. The challenge is the cost of implementing new practices and adverse weather conditions, such as hot, humid weather that can stimulate mold growth and cause farmers to rush to spray agrochemicals.
“Climate change is real,” says O’Neill. “One of us alone won’t make a big difference, but together we can. The movement to make this happen is bigger than what it took for the world to end WWII – but We have achieved this. Now it is important that everyone understands what we are facing and that by working together we can solve this problem.