CAWG and Grow West Team up to Elevate Winegrape Advocacy
Winegrapes are a massively important crop for a lot of Grow West customers. Their production is also highly regulated. Supporting growers in navigating the dynamic landscape of regulations, promoting sustainable production practices and ensuring access to essential resources — including labor — is where the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) comes in.
It’s why Grow West and CAWG partner on some of the biggest issues affecting the region’s winegrape growers. Collaboration between the ag service provider and trade association ultimately creates a straight line from the vineyard to the legislative chambers where regulations are assembled and enacted. Not all boots may be in the dirt, but CAWG and Grow West’s partnership helps ensure universal understanding of what works and how to best support the industry.
“What I admire about Grow West is their commitment to community involvement. It strengthens the industry as a whole,” said CAWG President Natalie Collins. “CAWG shares that motivation of connecting with growers in their communities.”
The association nearing its 50th anniversary was forged out of the need for a unified front on behalf of winegrape growers facing evolving regulatory pressures. Environmental sustainability has long been a common focus for many growers. Ensuring that message reaches the halls of the statehouse in Sacramento and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., has long been a major focus for CAWG.
“The impetus for creating CAWG was the real need for a collective voice,” said Collins, a Lodi native. “Doing business in California is challenging. But our resilient growers persistently strive for innovation and adaptability to stay ahead in this ever-changing environment.”
Mike Boer has been a big part of that voice for decades. The Grow West North Coast Sales Manager has served two nine-year terms on the CAWG Board of Directors — with another similar stint planned soon — and is the current chairman of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) board.
The wine industry veteran who’s been part of state and federal regulatory conversations since the 1990s works to inform policymakers of the practical implications of the regulations they enact. Most recently, labor and environmental sustainability have been the regulatory hot buttons. Boer is a vocal advocate for regulation that’s practical and feasible for growers at the vineyard level.
“You just need to take one trip to D.C. or Sacramento to get an idea of how the system works. If you don’t become a part of how things are molded, you’re going to get run over by the will of people who don’t understand your needs,” Boer said. “It’s not a flashy job, but the fact of the matter is it’s very important to be part of the regulatory process. You have to let your opinions be known so your needs are considered.”
State- and federal-level regulatory efforts
Supporting practical regulation is a battle CAWG fights on two fronts. Collins describes federal regulatory work as “bigger-picture issues” while state-level regulation focuses more on issues specific to California’s unique circumstances and regional considerations.
On the federal level, CAWG leaders have worked to address labor needs by connecting with lawmakers to support efforts to ensure businesses can navigate the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker Visa program to fill the vital vineyard jobs around the state. CAWG has been actively involved in securing federal funding for wildfire smoke research, driving funding for mechanization and automation research, and actively working to improve the federal crop insurance program for winegrape growers.
Such action helps ensure growers have the assurances they need to continue to optimally operate their vineyards. The resulting confidence enables growers to devote energy toward technology and things like sustainability initiatives that are skyrocketing in importance to consumers and wine sales. The commitment to create a sustainability program that garners support from both growers and wineries has contributed to bolstering the industry’s reputation and has aided in state-level legislative action work today.
“Sustainability has really mainstreamed. The CSWA sustainability certification program requires constant improvement at the vineyard level,” Boer said. “It’s about how you treat your neighbors and land, as well as what materials you use for pest control and how you manage the vineyards and your people. It’s very thorough and it’s one thing winegrape growers have been doing since the early-2000s to differentiate themselves as stewards of the land. Now that it’s become so popular, some wineries are paying vineyards a premium for being sustainable.”
Why CAWG and Grow West’s partnership is so important
Successfully contributing to regulation that doesn’t disrupt winegrape production has a range of benefits from the vineyard employee to the wine consumer. Winegrapes are a key crop for many Grow West customers, and sharing what will work — and sometimes more importantly, what won’t — with CAWG leaders who have direct access to the lawmakers behind industry regulation ensures growers have a seat at the table, according to Grow West Vice President and COO Lucas Schmidt.
“We’re trying to help lift up key associations like CAWG who are fighting for growers. These are the types of innovators who help move the industry forward by advancing key initiatives for growers,” Schmidt said. “But it’s also bigger than that for us. It’s a big part of our work to support communities by supporting not just our growers today but their families and others who will be the industry’s next generation. Whether it’s marketing or regulatory work, we are all aligned to support winegrape growers.”
In its unique perspective as a key partner to winegrape growers, Grow West is essential to CAWG’s work on the regulatory side in contributing to productive regulatory conversations, Collins added.
“We were created by the grower, for the grower. The stronger our voice is, the more successful we’ll be in advocating for the industry, and we need support in that effort,” she said. “Grow West is a trusted industry supplier and can influence a lot of decisions among growers, and they play such a huge role in what we do with their knowledge of what’s happening in vineyards every day.”
CAWG’s work moving forward
Labor will continue to be at the top of the list of issues facing CAWG and its constituents moving forward. With labor scarcity and an aging workforce creating a significant gap in new entrants, technology is rapidly becoming a larger part of the conversation to help mitigate the impact of this shortage.
Environmental sustainability will also stay high on that list, with growers adding more practices that both conserve resources and contribute to value-added, high-demand consumer wine labeling. Water management is another issue Collins said will continue to be on CAWG’s regulatory radar moving forward. Success in the association’s advocacy efforts on these fronts will continue to depend on grower engagement.
“Get involved. Have your voice heard. We’re only successful at CAWG by hearing what’s important to growers, their pain points and their challenges, day-in and day-out,” Collins said. “We’re an innovative industry, but we can only advocate for growers successfully if we know their challenges and successes.”