When it comes to eco-friendly products, it can be hard to determine exactly what “sustainable” means. For Honig Vineyard & Winery in California’s Napa Valley, sustainability isn’t just a buzzword but the foundation of a decades-old family business.
A grandfather’s legacy
Michael Honig, president of Honig Vineyard & Winery, can trace his business acumen and love of wine back to his grandfather. “He fell in love with wine after working with wineries at the family advertising agency. In the early sixties, hoping to make wine himself, he bought a 70-acre parcel in Napa Valley. A few years after his death in the mid-70s my parents’ generation decided to memorialize his dream and start making wine.”
Despite their enthusiasm, the fledgling winery struggled with low sales for several years. Eventually, some family members wanted to sell the land. But Honig couldn’t let his grandfather’s dream fade. “I was 22 at the time and didn't know anything about wine, but I had great memories of visiting the vineyard when I was growing up. So I asked my dad if I could leave college and get involved. That was 33 years ago.”
Since Honig restructured the company, the once struggling family business has become an award-winning brand that sells in all 50 states and nearly 30 other countries. What’s the secret of the company’s success? Turns out it has deep roots.
A healthy planet for future generations
Honig credits the nature of the wine industry for giving him a long view on business planning. “When I put a wine grape in the ground, I don't get a grape for four years. So we're always making long-term decisions.”
Earth-friendly practices are natural extensions of Honig’s broad perspective. Sustainability also fits the company’s focus on family. “I think farmers, particularly farmers that are family businesses like ours, understand that to leave something for future generations, we have to create an environment that’s healthy.”
The company weaves sustainable practices into every aspect of the business. It was one of the first California wineries to earn the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing certification — Honig himself helped write the Wine Institute Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices.
In addition, in 2005 Honig partnered with the Assistance Dog Institute (now known as Bergin University) on an innovative “sniffer dog” program. Several golden retrievers were trained to root out vine mealybugs, a destructive vineyard pest that is difficult for humans to detect. By using dogs to discover the insects prior to mass infestation, winegrowers can treat isolated areas of their vineyards without the broad use of pesticides.
Honig’s commitment to the earth is always evolving. “Sustainability is an ongoing, dynamic process, and there are many elements to it,” he says. He talks about how they’ve “made a million-dollar investment” in water conservation, soil management and solar energy, but explains that being sustainable also includes little things, such as using lightweight glass bottles for the wine.
“Our bottles take about 10 or 15 percent less energy to produce, so that benefits the planet,” he says. “Lighter-weight bottles cost less, plus they’re less expensive to ship because they don't weigh as much. These cost savings benefit our business and our customers.”
From vine to table
If sustainable winemaking is complex, shipping wine presents even more complicating factors1. “Wine is a living, breathing organism,” Honig says, explaining that because it has to be kept at a specific temperature, the containers and length of time the bottles are in transit are constant concerns. Plus, the weight of the shipment makes it expensive to package and ship. And because it’s a highly regulated commodity, all wine deliveries must be signed for by an adult over the age of 21.
To meet these challenges, the company uses a variety of FedEx® services, including FedEx 2Day® service, Hold at FedEx Location and FedEx® Cold Shipping Solution2. “We've used FedEx since 2003, when we started our wine club,” Honig says. “Today, we use FedEx exclusively to ship to all our customers, including the nearly 3,000 wine club members.”
The company uses a unique combination of FedEx Express® and FedEx SupplyChain® services to ensure their wine is in peak condition when it arrives on their customers’ doorsteps. “Temperature fluctuations can cause a significant degradation of wine and speed up the aging process,” explains Ron Phillips, Honig’s FedEx account executive. “Customers, such as Honig Vineyard & Winery who choose our ‘cold chain’ program, enjoy temperature-controlled transportation. The wine is kept at an ideal 55 degrees Fahrenheit right up until the last mile of delivery.”
Honig sees FedEx as an integral part of the company’s success. “I can make the best wine in the world, but it doesn’t mean much if I can't get it out of my warehouse to the customer’s front door quickly. That’s where FedEx comes in. Because of their shipping expertise, our wine reaches customers in a timely manner without freezing or getting too hot or sitting in a rail yard for too long.”
Phillips, a self-professed “wine geek,” notes the importance of having a temperature control transport option for Honig’s year-round success. “It used to be that when May arrived, wineries stopped shipping to places like Texas, Arizona or Florida until September or October. Today, by enrolling in the FedEx cold chain program, wineries can ship all summer, and customers can get in reorders of summer whites and rosés before the season ends,” Phillips says.
The 100-year plan
Given Honig’s perspective that longevity drives the business decisions, it’s no surprise that the goals of Honig Vineyard & Winery extend far into the future. “What’s going to happen this year, next year, those things are important to us,” he says. “But we're really looking at a 100-year time frame. Everyone has made the commitment to my generation and to my parents’ generation before that to keep the property in the family. That’s what we’re focused on.”
While some might feel burdened by a family legacy, Honig draws daily pleasure from his job. “In 33 years of doing this, I've never not woken up excited to go to work. I make a family product, and my name is on something I'm very proud of.”
Sustain your business
Contact your FedEx account executive to learn more about integrating services like cold chain transportation and Hold at FedEx Location into your business model.
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1Please note that wine can only be delivered to consumers where allowed by state law.
2Hold at FedEx Location is available at 1,700-plus FedEx Office locations across the U.S. FedEx Express® shipments can also be held at more than 600 eligible FedEx World Service Center® locations nationwide.