he Central Coast wine industry has adopted more sustainable, environmentally sensitive agricultural practices in the last few years.
That is the conclusion of studies by the Central Coast Vineyard Team, a group funded by a Department of Pesticide Regulation grant, which has for the last three years quantified vineyard farming practices in Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Team members include Paraiso Springs Vineyards, Robert Mondavi Winery, Fetzer Vineyards, J. Lohr Vineyards, Mesa Vineyard Management, Monterey Pacific, San Bernabe Vineyard and Valley Farm Management.
"Our mission is to promote environmentally sustainable growing practices," said Kris O'Connor, the program's executive director.
Using a detailed questionnaire and the assurance of confidentiality, O'Connor and her team analyze information culled from about 50 different growers in the three counties, representing about 10,500 acres of vineyards.
Each county is given a score out of 1,000 possible points, which are broken down into the categories of pest control, soil, water, viticulture, wine quality, and continuing education.
"This year, we've seen an increase in pest management scores. They show more monitoring in the field. There's more cover cropping," O'Connor says.
For 1998, Monterey County's score of 813 showed steady improvement over the two previous years' scores, 774 and 730 for '97 and '96, respectively. San Luis Obispo had the top overall ranking of 837, up from 823 in '97; while Santa Barbara County dropped to 791 from a score of 804 in 1997.
Monterey County was strongest in water usage and wine quality, while San Luis Obispo County posted strong scores for soil management and viticulture, and Santa Barbara County bested the rest in continuing education.
"The mere taking of the test and going through it with me makes them aware of what is going on," says O'Connor, noting that the program was last year given the Integrated Pest Management Innovator Award from the Department of Pesticide Regulation.
Going into its third year, O'Connor is currently in the process of modifying the test protocols to reflect the impacts of vineyards on wildlife habitats.
"The vineyard team is very conscientious of the environmental issues specific to this region," she says.
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