Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW)


The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) developed a third-party certification program related to the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP) to increase the sustainability of the California wine industry by promoting the adoption of sustainable practices and ensuring continual improvement.  The goals of the certification program, Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW-Certified), are to enhance transparency, encourage statewide participation and advance the entire California wine industry toward best practices in environmental stewardship, conservation of natural resources and socially equitable business practices.

SWP Background

Building on major trends and successful regional efforts, Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) launched the SWP in 2002 to give growers and vintners educational tools to increase adoption of sustainable practices and to measure and demonstrate ongoing improvement. 

The SWP is based on the concept of a “Cycle of Continuous Improvement,” as illustrated in the graphic below. Participants assess their operations using a comprehensive California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook, interpret their results using customized reports that benchmark their practices relative to statewide and regional averages, attend targeted education workshops to learn about best practices, develop Action Plans on areas they want to improve, implement change, and reassess, beginning the cycle again. Wine Institute and CAWG formed CSWA in 2003 to help implement the SWP.

We solicited and received valuable input from a broad range of stakeholders during the development of the Code, and continue to leverage expertise and resources with our government, academic, and non-governmental partners.


Given the market and regulatory climate, CSWA determined that an option for third-party verification of SWP participation was an appropriate next step in the evolution of the program and to maintain the California wine industry’s leadership position and commitment to transparency. Certification can serve as a tool to speed adoption of sustainable practices, communicate with stakeholders that are increasingly interested in sustainable business practices, and increase transparency and ensure confidence of progress on these activities.

CSWA’s certification program aims to advance the industry as a whole. It is intended to be a catalyst for continual improvement and to support the entrance of members at all stages of the sustainability journey to participate and benefit from the program, while enhancing the credibility of the program through third-party verification.

Because optimal economic, environmental and social performance differs depending on region, product, business size, and other issues, measuring continual improvement to one’s own baseline performance is a highly efficient and effective way to advance an industry towards sustainability. Through certification, participants at various levels of achievement would be able to receive third-party verification that priority areas for improvement are being identified through self-assessment and subsequently acted upon. 

Requirements for the certification include:

  • An annual Self-Assessment on the 138 Vineyard & 103 Winery Best Practices using the California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook and supporting evidence to demonstrate accuracy of category choices (1-4) or non-applicability for SWP criteria during a regularly scheduled third-party audit
  • Meets all prerequisite criteria (50 vineyard pre-requisites and 32 winery pre-requisites) by scoring a 2 or higher for specific criteria, or have an action plan in place to improve performance*
  • Demonstration of a process for identifying the key sustainability issues for their company, prioritizing areas for improvement, and establishing Action Plans that are implemented and updated annually
  • The ability to demonstrate practices that maintain or improve category choices (1-4) for SWP criteria and methods to correct any items identified internally or by an auditor as inconsistent with SWP Self-Assessment categories
  • Demonstrates continuous improvement over time

* In order to fulfill the spirit and intent of the SWP certification program, some SWP self-assessment criteria are prerequisites and require that certain practices are in place prior to certification and require the demonstration of improvement for certain prerequisites within the first or subsequent years in order for the organization to be certified. The prerequisites were established to help achieve an appropriate balance between ensuring the integrity and rigor of the certification program, while enabling broad participation of the California wine industry. The rationale for the prerequisites includes legal requirements, significant stakeholder concern, environmental and social impact, economic feasibility and potential risk to the company.

There is also a complementary project that identifies key sustainability performance indicators for the industry (e.g. energy and water efficiency, GHG intensity, and applied nitrogen) in order to baseline the industry and set targets for improvement. The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops helped to inform the final set of metrics. The California wine industry has several active representatives involved in this related project. In the future, participants in the certification program will be required to consider industry-wide targets when creating their own Action Plans for continual improvement.

We believe that a certification program in which all California wineries and vineyards may participate – coupled with the publication of progress reports of assessment results and performance-based targets for industry-wide improvement – will uniquely position the state’s wine community by credibly demonstrating adoption of sustainable practices, continual improvement, and positive economic, environmental and social impacts.

CSWA also helped develop a competitive sustainability award program, the California Green Medal, to acknowledge leaders in sustainable winegrowing. Visit www.greenmedal.org for more information.