Green Line Series | Deb Hatcher, Founder of A to Z Wineworks

Deb Hatcher

Our latest installment of the Green Line Series digs into the wine industry, sustainable practices and what it takes to become the first Certified B Corporation winery in the world. Deb Hatcher will be joining us at GoGreen Portland in October as a moderator for our closing plenary: Oregon Wine Industry Sustainable Showcase with Wine Tasting where she along with five industry experts will share their know-how as well as some of their delicious wine!

GoGreen Conference: Can you share some of the best practices you have put into action on the business side in the past year?

Deb Hatcher: One of the most exciting developments for us this year is that our Director of Viticulture, Ryan Collins, developed a unique Comprehensive Vineyard Summary we provide to many of our grower partners.  This report has helped us to improve our margin growth, cost controls and quality control by giving an accurate picture of the fruit we receive from their sites.  The summary covers chemistry and quality parameters (measurements of the water or various tannin content, for example), a general assessment of their soil breakdowns and a vineyard management scorecard that measures everything from canopy management to disease severity.  Importantly, they are also able to see how their fruit quality compared to their peers.  This tool is a game changer.

When we purchased REX HILL in 2007, we installed an Integrated financial and inventory system   At the end of 2014, we upgraded to their newest web platform introducing multiple features including an easy to use point of sale system for our tasting room that we helped to develop.  We continued our infrastructure expansion creating more efficiencies and economies of scale by adding 14,000 square feet of production space to be followed by an additional 20,000 square feet next year.   To continue deepening engagement at every level of the company,  we coach new presenters for our national marketing meetings.  At our spring meetings this year, we had 25 individual staff presenters.  These presentations help to build confidence and increase competency as we push authority down the ranks along with increased responsibility.

Last year we became the only certified B Corporation winery in the world.  We are working to help others certify and are pleased to welcome this year additional wineries including two from Oregon.  This year we have also been able to begin to support bee health research.  We added bees to the floral graphics on our Riesling bottle to indicate that we are donating a portion of the sale from every bottle to bee associated research.  We bought some specialized equipment for the Bee Lab at Oregon State University and contributed to Bee Girl’s research at Southern Oregon University into compatible vineyard flora for healthy bee population support.

GoGreen: Which example of sustainable best practices or innovation in the industry really stands out to you as cutting edge and leading the way for other wine businesses to follow?

DH: The Oregon wine industry developed the LIVE Certified Sustainable program for vineyards and wineries.  While being rigorous, LIVE takes a practical approach recognizing that trade-offs are sometimes necessary in agriculture.  For example, if in a wet year an excessive number of tractor passes in the vineyard are required because of mildew pressure, then LIVE allows a winery to improve even more in another area to compensate.  It is important to realize that if a business isn’t economically stable, then any other sustainable practices will be short-lived.  In some cases, growth and size can bring more opportunities for innovation and improvement.  We think more wineries should become LIVE certified and not just vineyards as more change can be made in the winery to not only ensure better quality fruit but also improve the treatment of natural resources and employees.

It also seems time to welcome improved technology which other countries long ago pioneered because they had no agricultural labor force.  Our recycling sprayer captures 98% of any excess spray and eliminates drift.  Our cross flow filter uses dialysis technology to clean the wine without stripping it.  Pulse air technology breaks up the cap in a large fermenter in seven minutes instead of having someone punch it down for an hour and ten minutes.  Finally, using state of the art robotic technology in the field can now deliver individual grapes from the vine to the press in as little as thirty minutes not only improving quality but greatly increasing efficiency.

GoGreen:   You are one of only a handful of wine organizations to be a certified B Corporation. Why did you decide to get certified? How has this certification been beneficial to your business?

DH: As certified Biodynamic farmers, it is a bit like applying Biodynamic principles to business: engage the whole business and examine ways everything is interconnected and serves the greater good.  We are not a “benefit corporation” so we don’t receive tax benefits but we have received media attention and have found more opportunities to inspire others through collaborations with other B Corps.  We hope the changes we made to our legal language, to take into account all stakeholders with our decisions rather than to be required to make the greatest return on investment for shareholders, may offer protection from a possible undesirable purchase.  We are more aware of the importance of documenting all of our practices as well as discovering more best practices.  Finally, it distinguishes us in the marketplace as customers are increasingly concerned with the origins of their food.

We appreciate having third party certification of our practices every two years.  Objective, documented measurements give us a legitimate way to measure our improvement and authenticate that we are being a force for good. Until our B Corp certification, we had few ways beyond modeling best practices that didn’t seem boastful to try to inspire other companies to review and improve the effect of their established ways on their staff, their community and the environment.


Event Details: The eighth annual GoGreen Portland, will take place Tuesday, October 6, 2015 at the White Stag Building. Tickets are available at portland.gogreenconference.net or via phone at 503-226-2377. Save 30% on tickets with promotional code GREENLINESERIES.

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