Agricultural Innovation in a Water-Scarce World

Katie Jackson is the Vice President of Sustainability and External Affairs for Jackson Family Wines. In her role, Jackson co-manages the Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs Department and leads the company’s innovative sustainability program. Jackson directs the development and management of projects related to water and energy management, greenhouse gas reduction, and social equity. Jackson is the family’s principal voice in promoting Third-Party Certified Sustainable Agriculture programs as a means to incentivize responsible management practices and achieve regulatory certainty.  Under her leadership, Jackson Family Wines launched its first-ever Family Social Responsibility report in 2016 to highlight the family’s decades-long sustainability journey and to establish ambitious goals for 2021.

Christopher P. Skroupa: What are the biggest challenges facing the California wine industry with regard to water? How is Jackson Family Wines turning those challenges into opportunities?

Katie Jackson: In California, most people would agree that water is one of the defining issues of our time. It is certainly the defining issue for agriculture. At my family’s wine company, Jackson Family Wines (JFW), we have always operated with the belief that a stressed vine produces the highest quality grape. Because of this, we have historically limited our water use to achieve our quality goals. However, that approach does not negate the need to think about what else we can do to increase our overall efficiency.

With an eye toward the future, and in an effort to protect competing resources, including human demands, my family embarked upon an ambitious program beginning in the 1990s to build rain capture reservoirs on as many of our vineyard properties as possible. The goal is to capture water in times of plenty, so we can leave water in the streams to protect aquatic resources—including endangered fish populations—when stream flows are not plentiful. These reservoirs contribute to water quality issues as well, reducing the potential for flooding and sediment delivery into streams. Our reservoirs have made us more resilient as we faced the last four years of drought. For example, as we entered the growing season last year, most of our reservoirs were full enough to take us through another year and a half. This was due to the provisions that were captured during the 2-3 big atmospheric events during the winter.

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