209: Science-based Decisions for Climate Action in Vineyards

The phrases climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and carbon sequestration are common place in wine production. But what can you do make a science-based, and achievable impact? Brianna Beighle, Assistant Winemaker at Patz & Hall Wine Company explains scope one, two, and three emissions as they apply to the wine industry. Viticulturalists and winemakers can look at easy to measure practices like diesel fuel use, Nitrogen application timing, and light weight glass bottles to reduce their footprint. She explains that even small shifts in management can have a big impact. 


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Craig Macmillan  0:00 

And our guest today is Brianna Beighle. She is assistant winemaker at Patz & Hall Wine Company. And she's an MBA student in the half school, the UC Berkeley, and she focuses on sustainability. And she's been working on some pretty interesting things around science based decision making and climate change. Welcome to the podcast, Brianna.


Brianna Beighle  0:18 

Thank you. I'm so excited to be here in chat with you, Craig.


Craig Macmillan  0:20 

I am too. You've been doing quite a bit of thinking. And also communicating on the role of what we would call science based decision making regarding companies or firms, sometimes I call them and things like climate change, climate change. In particular, this requires us to draw some boxes conceptually, maybe from even a systems thinking approach. If you if you subscribe to that kind of an idea where in order to get a handle on talking about something, we're probably need to kind of define it. And sometimes it's just a question of where do you draw the lines around? What in what? So in the realm of business and climate change industries and climate change? There are some boxes have already been defined, that have been found to be useful. But they also have some limitations? What would some of those be in your mind is a good starting points?


Brianna Beighle  1:05 

Oh, goodness, I guess I'll just go first to where you're talking about some things that have already been established. And I'm just going to say, the first ones that everyone has out there is that the scope one, scope two and scope, three emissions. So those have been established to kind of bucket as you're saying where specific emissions come from. And scope one emissions for I'm sure most of you are familiar, are ones that are directly associated with company facilities, company vehicles. Scope two emissions are ones that are generated from electricity production for the facility. So that's heating, that's cooling, you may not be generating that electricity on site in some cases, but you're still claiming it because you're using the lab that electricity on site. And scope three is, as Craig, you know, it's kind of the catch all for everything else.


Craig Macmillan  1:58 



Brianna Beighle  1:59 

I would say that it's useful in some respect, where it taught us how to think about emissions and to pinpoint fossil fuels are where a lot of our emissions come from as a society on this planet. But I think that scope three is too general, where it lumps all these things together. And it makes us not claim anything as our own, which kind of inhibits us, as we say, What can I do to move forward?


Craig Macmillan  2:23 

Exactly. That's a really good point, in particular relate to the wind industry, would you consider for wineries Would you consider CO2 emissions from fermentation is scope one emissions?


Brianna Beighle  2:34 

I would I think I'd like to introduce another topic here. And that's modern carbon versus versus fossil carbon. And so what what that saying here is, fossil carbon is everything that we are drawing out from the earth, it's very deep in the ground, and we're excavating it out, and it's been there for years. And so again, that's fossil fuels really easy. And then we go to other types of carbon, which would be for what we've got with fermentation, in which case, that's carbon that's already naturally generated and already within the realm of the atmosphere. So maybe this, that was a silly way to explain it, but here, I'm gonna break it down. So what it is, is our plants are taking in carbon our vines are taking in carbon from the air, and then they're incorporating it into the trunk into the leaves and into the fruit. So that carbon was already in the atmosphere, whether I put it in a ferment and make it co2 And alcohol, or whether I dropped that fruit on the ground, it's just going to cycle back in to the atmosphere. So it's a cyclical process. So that's something that the earth is naturally balanced to. The carbon matters in my mind is the carbon that's not constantly cycling, and is not part of a natural process. And that's, again, the fossil carbons that were stored, and we're pulling out and we're admitting,


Craig Macmillan  3:47 

That makes a lot of sense. So there we are talking about boxes again, right? So I can say, hey, yeah, there's CO2 being released by my Fermat. Or there's some kind of a nitrous oxide or some other kind of a nitrogen based compound being released by sheep that are grazing my vineyard or by leguminous plants that are breaking down or whatever it might be. And there's those are naturally happening things is they're they're already in the environment, they're not being mined. How do I get a handle on what different processes are contributing how much they're contributing to greenhouse gas emission releases for things like my power usage, my scope two or my tractors or my farm trucks or whatever it might be? If I want to make decisions about reducing my outputs? How do I get a handle on that?


Brianna Beighle  4:40 

I'd say an ag, it's somewhat complex to get a handle on where our emissions come from and how we reduce them because it's all bound up in natural processes. Like you said, Yes, we're, we understand when we burn diesel for our tractors, what nitrous oxide we produce from that because that's an equation that we know we know how that diesel gets converted, where it becomes really difficult. And what you're trying to get at here seems like is that our biggest emitter, specifically in the vineyard is coming from the soil, and it is coming from the microbes in the soil. And it depends on what type of nitrogen you have available. It depends on how much water you have in the soil. There are so many things that are tied into that, that means that I can't say like, Hey, you apply this much nitrogen, it's going to turn into this much nitrous oxide. It doesn't it doesn't work like that, especially and I'd say it gets hard to in grapes. Because the nitrogen that's available to grapes, that's so we've got we've got our two forms of nitrogen that we apply. And that's we usually apply nitrate, there's also ammonia that can be applied to the soils. But in grapes that's considered toxic. And we're unlucky in the fact that all the ag products that are out there commercially, to kind of help reduce your nitrous your nitrogen emissions, your nitrous oxide emissions are because they convert the nitrous oxide and they hold it as ammonia, which we don't want for our soils. So we can't use that in grapes. So I guess I kind of just like spun around in a bit to say, yes, the nitrogen cycle is all cyclical, we have to think about it sure our tractors, that one's easy for us to think about, we need to think about it in our cover crop, because all the length, legumes we put out like those have nitrogen, and those get converted by microbes. And those get released, like that's still a source of emissions, we need to think about it. You mentioned rumens, I mentioned that and talked on that really quick. But yeah, our rumens our sheep or cows, they're all belching methane. That's what they do. And they have a lot of benefits to us from a sustainability perspective, from from a soil health perspective. And we need to count those benefits. But we also need to put them in the context of like they have emissions too.


Craig Macmillan  6:40 

Because even though we're talking about it, here's where things get fun. So even though we're talking about things that were already in the environment, right, they're above the surface of the Earth, they're in the soil during this throw in the air, that animal, or microbial process, whatever it is, is converting it into a form that has a very significant greenhouse gas emission effect. So methane, for instance, is the big one was one of the big ones. So it wasn't methane before, but it's methane now.


Brianna Beighle  7:09 

Yeah, methane being 25 times more insular in terms of its climate impacts. And then we also have the benefit where methane converts to CO2. So that's why we extra don't want to make it if you're gonna make one or the other. So that kind of comes down again, me branching off to why composting is important. Rather than landfills, it's like, Sure, it turns into CO2 when it goes into the atmosphere and composting, but that's better than going methane in the landfill and then going to CO2.


Craig Macmillan  7:34 

How do I get a handle on this? How do I I'm a manager, I've been with the forces, the powers that be have said, okay, look, we need to take a look at our carbon footprint or greenhouse gas issues. Go tell me what we've been doing and then make some recommendations for how we change it. How do I Where do I get data? I'm How do I go about this?


Brianna Beighle  7:53 

I think to start off with it's kind of just getting familiar with folks in the industry who have already benchmarked because it's really, it's expensive to create a lifecycle assessment. And I'd say that that's kind of a career that's just starting up. For example, we have the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, they put together a study in which they looked at all the emissions throughout the entire throughout the entire wind cycle that goes from vineyard that even includes which I'm really happy about that they included some scope threes, we'll put that in quotes of inputs that we get, and all the way to packaging and winery and transport. So I think going there and just everyone in the wine industry, understanding where our emissions come from, because I think they break it down in a really pretty package. Again, though, everybody has their own emissions, we all have our own individual choices that we make, that does deviate from that, for example, I know Tablas Creek, kind of down closer to your area, they've done their own assessment of their greenhouse gases, which is like, amazing. We need folks like that, who can show each of us how to think about it. So look at those of us who have already done these assessments, and use them as a market and go to their talks, like hear what they say is hard, because that's going to be hard for you too. And I see from this soil perspective, it's kind of it's impossible to really calculate out. I know, we can try and work on it. But someone will say, I don't know. We're not going to know we just reduce our nitrogen applications and be conscious that vineyards sequester carbon, yes, they do. But we also create greenhouse gases, like we said, in the form of nitrous oxides. As long as we have a holistic perspective, we can understand what our real contribution is. And that's important because if we want to make progress for our industry, and we want to try and ride the storm that's already started that's already coming towards us. We each need to own our part and and take the steps that we can to to help create be part of the solution, especially since in agriculture and food production. Were the kind of the first to be hit by it.


Craig Macmillan  9:51 

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I am familiar with the Tablas Creek project study that's being done by Charlotte DeCock Cal Poly SLO, San Luis Obispo, and Christina Lazcano at UC Davis, and it's really intense. I'm really looking forward to where they come out at the end of this project and what they find out. But they're looking at exactly the things you've been talking about, obviously, and Tablas has been making its own decisions based on that. But I think you have an excellent point that the best that we can do, probably from a practical standpoint, is we can do a little bit of our own work in terms of maybe experimentation or measurement or something like that. But collectively, if we can share what we find out, you know, that's better than nothing. You know, I get this comment all the time when I present research company research that I've done, or things that I've worked on, and it's like, well, yeah, but that's Spain, you know, or that's not Cabernet Sauvignon, or whatever. And it's like, well, this is as close as we can get right now. So yeah, I agree with you, I would love to have it be that specific. But why don't we can we at least start here, whatever we do have, and then we can improve upon as we go along? And of course, the systems are very complex. So it's always kind of a question mark, if I am a manager, and I'm now thinking about this, where do I start? We've talked about where I might find some data. But if I was going to start a project on this, where might I start? How might I prioritize my investigation into carbon footprint or greenhouse gas emissions?


Brianna Beighle  11:20 

I'm gonna say, let's start with a low hanging fruit. If we're if we're just getting into it, that would be again, I don't like to use go one adn two emissions. But those are easily calculated, will we know where energy sources are coming from, we know how much fuel we use, we get bills for those things. We know that's quantified already for us. So looking at that, and looking at what we can do to reduce that whether that's we're really lucky in California, where we have recent we have a lot of access to renewable energy, whether that's changing up our purchasing, so that we purchased 100%, renewable, I know some places that's not possible. us in the north coast, we're really lucky that that is possible in a lot of places, looking at those bills, trying to switch over to renewable when we can, investigating whether solar makes sense on site solar for our own energy generation, because there's yes, there's facility wide solar, there's also, you know, I know that there are grants out there currently for getting solar for pumps, for irrigation, like things like that, it doesn't have to be giant or nothing like little steps do count, especially since the price tags on some of the solar projects can be pretty large. So and then also, the easy, big bad guy, which is adjusting down the weight of our glass glass is 29% of the production of wine and the sale of wine. And so that's one that's easy, a lot of it, let's just say it's attitude, it's sometimes form over function. And I think that especially since consumers are starting to demand more climate conscious products, if they find out how big our glass footprint is just for ego, I don't think they're going to be happy. So I think that's something that we can easily do that will not sacrifice the product.


Craig Macmillan  13:01 

So this is a big conversation. Two things. Number one, I believe that the marketing research has been done has demonstrated, at least within the last five years pretty, pretty conclusively that folks are willing to pay more for a heavier bottle of wine, they recognize, oh, this is important. It's good enough, even if they think or they know that it's the same product. At the same time I face this regularly, where I people get my face, you know, they say, you know, this is a heavy bottle. I don't like it. Why do wineries not just just the whole span at Why do wineries do this and not do bag in a box? Or why don't they do lighter glass or whatever. And it's, it's it's a difficult conversation in terms of like weighing what is going to work for you as a company in terms of like, what your packaging is going to look like I and I agree with you. And I think this is an important one low hanging fruit, we know that that's the biggest contributor is the is the packaging. So focusing on that's a good idea. Now, how do I get accurate information, good quality information about the carbon footprint of the glass that I buy. And I say this because in my own work, I found that I could make something in France in a super ultra modern state of the art factory with the lowest emissions per metric ton and I could ship it halfway across the world on a boat and it would have lower emissions than something that was made in Mexico and then trucked to Fairfield for those of you who are not familiar with California, the Benicia, Fairfield etc in the Bay Area are big suppliers for wine, all kinds of wine stuff, including glass and then chuck it back down to me at nobody was really given me this information. I was you know, I was looking at it and I'm having to guess what advice do you have on these things? Because because it's easy to say you know, lighter glass in the story, but it's lighter glass, it's got to be made on the moon and then you know, flown in a spaceship you know, might not work out like we think.


Brianna Beighle  15:00 

Exactly. And again, like, that's when the we'll just say like the academic and conceptual realm meets the reality of a real business. That's actually a big part of how we can all work towards creating solutions. And it's one of the things it's going to be really hard about this is communication between suppliers and service providers. Like we said, scope three, that we mentioned, that I think is a little bit of a bag of everything. In order to break that down and understand where emissions come from our suppliers, we need to have open communication lines, and we need to, we need them to be open. But we also need to incentivize them to be open with us too. And to maybe adjust things to fit what we see the market is. And I'm not saying that's easy, you're probably more more apt to handle that with your psychology background than I am, Craig. But it's not easy. And again, the numbers say lighter glass. But in reality, that means working with our partners having accessibility to lighter glass, where the energy comes from for that glass, because we know a lot of the glass is made in other places that don't have as clean of energy sources, I hate to say like, I don't know, the perfect solution to that. And it all just comes down to people. And all of us being open with each other and passing, I'm gonna say passing the buck, but in a good way. Like we know, as wineries, our consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. And so we need to take some of those gains that we have, and transition that money on to our suppliers for supplying us with more sustainable products, because it's more expensive on their end, to pay for renewable energy, it's more expensive for us and for our suppliers. So we can't just say we want this other product make it the same price, like we have to be putting voting with our dollar and showing that we care about the relationship at the same time.


Craig Macmillan  16:41 

What has traditionally been kind of and this is true for for a lot of stuff, not just wine or glass. You know, you have a manufacturer, they say, Hey, this is what we think you want. And this was what makes us different than our other competitors. What do you think, by it, here's why it's good. We haven't had as much of the other direction where we go to a supplier and say, hey, look, this is what I need. I need this, I need this, I need this. This is what I'm looking for. And a lot of times we do that, when we're talking about specifics in terms of like, I need a certain kind of mold, I need a certain kind of, you know, look, or I need certain kind of price. But we go back and say hey, we also need some assurances about, you know, what the carbon footprint of this is? Can you tell me where it came from? Can you tell me how it was made? You know, can you give me something so they can make some comparisons? I think is really is a really good point. on your part. We just talked about glass wood, what's maybe the number two area you think that people could put some energy into, pardon the pun,


Brianna Beighle  17:37 

Put some renewable energy into it.


Craig Macmillan  17:40 

Out some renewable energy Exactly. Yeah.


Brianna Beighle  17:43 

It would also be like we talked about kind of reducing your site energy and making that more renewable. That'd be the next again, low hanging fruit. But there's also a lot of other things that we can try and incorporate that are a little bit easier. I've got like this like flow of of some aspects in my head that we can all do. And again, some of these are kind of conflicting hard and easy, like another one is leaving as much green as you can on your properties. If you're if you're a vineyard owner, or if you're a winery, because any biomass that you have out there, there's growth as much well, depending on the plant, there's growth in the ground, just like there is up top, and that growth eventually will be incorporated into the soil. I'm not saying that that's their solution for everything. Like we have to do more than plant trees, because we've torn down trees, and we pulled from the ground. But that's one thing that we can all do. But again, that's kind of conflicting for folks who till everything, like that's a hard change for them. For those of us that are already into thinking about cover cropping and you have your sheep, that's easy. So that's something that's a hard and easy. Another one is how we think about, like we said, our nitrogen use, that's again, that's it 17% of the emissions for is from the vineyard. And again, that's a supplier and buyer issue, depending on your your company structure as well, if you're in the vineyard, or if you're in the winery and you're buying fruit, it's a conversation about about nitrogen use. And I will say from a from a crop standpoint, we're actually very good compared to other crops. Most everybody does. Bloom petiole samples, verasion petiole samples, and we use that to guide our applications. At the same time, there's still new products out there that could really help us to narrow this down. Because even though I know some of you do your samples, I know you also just add some canned 17 or cn nine to the amount that you think feels right.


Craig Macmillan  19:37 

It's true. I mean, there is a gut feeling thing that's also involved, you know, I mean, you're you're right, we are very lucky that grape vines are not super nitrogen hungry, like other crops, which gives us the opportunity to have that as a lower risk, but still an important one.


Brianna Beighle  19:55 

To branch off of that too. We also do a good job in the fact that we apply our nitrogen at different points. So the we're not doing one big shot. So if you are someone who does like one big shot and I turn, you get your big fat fertigation, I would suggest evening those out because you are giving a lot at one time for the microbes to break down and your plant isn't going to be able to pick it up in a good rate. So if you space it out, what you do is it takes the microbes a second to like get themselves going, and it takes your vine a second to get going. So like, let them do that in balance. And also, if you kind of break things up, then you don't get as much soil saturation. And that's when our nitrous oxide microbes really forced. So I'd also like to point out too, that Davis is developing a remote multi spectral sensing tool, which I believe right now is targeted more towards table grapes. I don't know if they've really branched out and that's to check the nitrogen status of our field to see where we can make those applications. And I know that there's also kind of remote sensing going in sprayers too. So this is me just like imagining something in the future where we've got our spectral and it says like, right now what we apply our nitrogen via one irrigation line, I'm not saying put polyline out everywhere, and we've got 20 Polly's just to get nitrogen out. But like, we can do foliar applications of things based on that with the sprayers that are calibrated in to be spatially recognized. Like, I'm not the trickiest of people. But like that does give me jazz a little bit. And it's not going to be the solution for everybody. But it's going to be a solution for some and that matters.


Craig Macmillan  21:24 

Yeah, resolution, and targeted. Where do I go to get the science I need to make intelligent science based decisions? We've been talking about things a little bit in the abstract. But let's say I'm really serious about a topic. So where did where do you go? What what do you think are sources that are useful? On any go on any topic, you could go any direction you want, we're gonna.


Brianna Beighle  21:47 

I'm one of those I say proudly, one of those nerds who really like scientific papers. And I'd say right now one of my main sources is actually one of my professors who's at Haas, he, he lives here in Napa Valley, just like I do, his wife have their own property. So we kind of like geek out on really, he sends me a lot of papers. And I've actually recently found some of my own, so we exchanged those. So I'd say we're so lucky in this age that we live in where we have access to so much research at our fingertips. So I would implore everyone to just look for a qualified paper online. I know that's not everyone's bite sized little morsel that makes things easy, but that's what I do. For example, I'd really like to call out an article done by the Journal of cleaner production. So this article is called, it's a long one. So hold on, hold out with me, soil organic carbon sequestration rates in vineyard, agro ecosystems under different soil management practices, and the important part a meta analysis.


Craig Macmillan  22:51 

Oh, my God, I am, my heart is pitter patter, like, I need I want that I need to read that. I'm not being silly. I mean, like, that's, I've been waiting for that. Right? You know, we were talking about what was only done in Italy, and there was only done a greener building, or it's like, Well, how about this, you know?


Brianna Beighle  23:07 

Exactly. And that's, that's what makes it important is like, the fact that it takes all these locations and then distills down, like, what's location specific to what actually matters. So I'd really recommend everyone to read that paper. Outside of that, like I said, I've really just, I've just been googling, finding all that I can, there's so many resources out there that were unaware. I know that, for example, the IWCA has some resources out there.


Craig Macmillan  23:35 

Who's the IWCA?


Brianna Beighle  23:36 

International wineries, for climate action. Sorry to throw acronyms without defining them down?


Craig Macmillan  23:42 

No, that's all right. That's one that a lot of us haven't heard.


Brianna Beighle  23:45 

They are a collection of wineries that are coming together to try and create a membership tiers for kind of emissions. And based on the amount of onsite energy production that you have, I'd say I'm not the expert in these guys. I'm really actually not an expert in any of the certifications. I'll say that flat out, like we kind of talked about, I'm coming from the kind of science analytical side and these folks are too. So I say use them as a resource. But also take a grain of salt if you see a study that only mentions one property, and that property seems really out there. That's why things like this meta analysis are really are really important and, and look at kind of like the scientific, I like to use universities and research institutions. That's just me because I know that there is a peer reviewed process for their research. And so I have a lot of trust in those. So while a lot of these websites for sustainability certificates, have good references, they may have a lot of resources. I always go to the hard science, but again, that's just the way that my brain works. For those of you who might need bite size, I'd say I had to maybe maybe SIP, Sustainability in Practice.


Craig Macmillan  24:57 

Thank you. Yeah, and I would like to kind of underline that there's, there's amazing amount of stuff that's out there. That's really good quality and is not necessarily expensive. There's ResearchGate, a lot of folks will put their work up on there some things on Science Direct or free, others are not. 


Brianna Beighle  25:15 

I think of that. So meta analysis, I believe that's on Science Direct. And


Craig Macmillan  25:19 

Then something that I've learned again, because we kind of get I kind of opened my mind. This is a while back. But you know, farming in Texas might have more to do with forming California than one might think. And the research that somebody is doing in the Finger Lakes region may have more applications to your your vineyards in Italy than you might think. And so there's really great extension services around the United States that have enology and viticulture specialists. Now, there's nothing wrong with going outside your home area, as not just California, if you're working in New York, you can look all over the place. Those folks not only are they doing, I mean, they're doing the science, but they're also doing applied science. So they're looking at things that growers or, or winemakers are dealing with. But they're also part of their mission is to translate it to an audience that needs it. So you don't always have to find yourself in the weeds knee deep in technical jargon. But it is good to follow that stuff. The other thing I would encourage folks, if you're afraid of reading a scientific paper, which I hope that you're not, if there's a word that you don't know, just keep reading, that's how I learned how to do it. Just don't stop read, just keep going and then get to the end, or read the introduction and read the conclusion and then go from there.


Brianna Beighle  25:28 

Even the nerd that I read the introduction in the conclusion, sometimes it might be cheating, but I think it puts you in the context to think about and think about it in the right way.


Craig Macmillan  26:36 

Yeah, when I when I got my training that was we were taught to write that way. Write the introduction in the conclusion first, and then write the rest of whatever it is that you're working on. Seemed a little backward, but it was like no, this is this is what people are gonna read, first of all, and secondly, you need to know your starting you need to know where you're going. Most of these academics are trained to write like that. So you can get a lot of information without having to get too crazy. If there's one takeaway, if there's one thing, one piece of advice, or one resource or one idea, one thing that you would tell growers and winemakers and managers have all sorts around this topic of carbon footprint greenhouse gas emission reduction, what would it be?


Brianna Beighle  27:13 

The one thing that I would say is we have all created climate change. We are all part of climate change, whether that's in our personal lives, whether that's in our business lives, that doesn't mean that we should run away with it with fear. That means we have the power to create progress, and we just need to make the decision to do it. So I will leave it on your hands to find the way that you can make an impact.


Craig Macmillan  27:41 

That's fantastic. Thank you so much. Our guest today has been Brianna Biegley. She is assistant winemaker at Patz & Hall Wine Company and she's an MBA student in the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, working with a focus on sustainability. Thank you so much for being here.


Brianna Beighle  27:54 

Thank you. This was wonderful.


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