TURNER, Ore., May 22 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- The Rainforest Alliance raises a glass to Willamette Valley Vineyards (Nasdaq: WVVI), which is set to become the first winery in the world to use cork stoppers harvested from responsibly managed forestlands certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The winery, based in Turner, Oregon, was recently awarded FSC Chain-of- Custody certification by the Rainforest Alliance. "Cork stoppers that come from responsibly managed forestlands are the only choice for wineries that want to have a positive environmental and social impact," said Jamie Lawrence, European Forestry Division Manager for the Rainforest Alliance. "Willamette's commitment to supporting responsible cork production in rural communities in the Mediterranean is commendable and progressive, fitting of a world-class winery that focuses on making sustainable choices." The Rainforest Alliance was responsible for awarding FSC certification at each step throughout the process, beginning with certifying the worlds first cork forest in 2005, later certifying the cork manufacturing facilities, owned by the Amorim Group, and now certifying Willamette Valley Vineyards to help achieve this global first in the wine industry. Carlos de Jesus, marketing and communications director for Amorim & Irmaos S.A., the world's largest cork processor and the first FSC-certified cork company, congratulated Willamette on its certification. "We would like to emphasize the unique role that natural cork plays in responding to the market demands for environmentally and socially responsible wine closures," de Jesus said. "The wine industry is responding to a demand by informed consumers that is resulting in the conservation of fragile ecosystems and the reduction of the industry's carbon footprint." The use of cork is essential to protect the environment as wineries are increasingly using plastic stoppers and aluminum screw caps due to concerns about tainting, oxidation and leakage. However, ensuring that forests are managed responsibly and are also economically viable plays a crucial role in conserving them and maintaining the culture of cork farming that has existed for thousands of years. Cork is renewable and biodegradable, and not a single tree is cut down to harvest cork. The bark of the cork oak tree renews itself and can be stripped off every decade to extract cork without damaging the trees. The wine industry plays a critical role in maintaining the economic value of cork and the cork oak forests. Unless the commercial value of cork stoppers is maintained, there is a risk that cork oak landscapes could face an economic crisis, loss of biodiversity and an accelerated desertification process. Cork oak landscapes cover about 2.7 million hectares of land in Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France. The cork forests in the Iberian Peninsula produce more than half the cork consumed worldwide. They are a biodiversity hot spot, home to endangered species and one of the last natural forest ecosystems in Western Europe. They also provide a vital source of income for tens of thousands of people. Willamette Valley Vineyards produces some 100,000 cases of principally Pinot Noir annually that is distributed throughout the United States, Canada and the Pacific Rim. Starting with the 2006 vintage Pinot Noir that will be bottled in July 2007, the winery will begin using FSC-certified cork stoppers in all its bottles. The corks will be imprinted with the FSC and Rainforest Alliance logo, and bottle labels will also bear both certification seals. The wine will be available to consumers in the United States starting in fall 2007 and with plans to distribute in the United Kingdom in the next couple years. "We think about every aspect of how we can walk as softly as possible in pursuing our goal of making world-class Pinot Noir," said Jim Bernau, founder and president of Willamette Valley Vineyards. "The question is: What is the best choice for the long-term health of the planet? The clear answer is natural cork that comes from a responsibly managed forest." Willamette Valley Vineyard's cork stoppers will come from one of four currently FSC-certified cork forests, three of which were certified by the Rainforest Alliance, the first of which being Fruticor -- a group of small landowners and managers -- that was certified by the Rainforest Alliance in early 2005 in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Why choose cork? Find out more here: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/news/2005/why_cork.html See photos of cork harvesting: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/news/cork_slideshow/cork_slideshow_5.html The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. For more information, visit http://www.rainforest- alliance.org Willamette Valley Vineyards, Inc. is headquartered in Turner, Oregon. The company is one of Oregon's leading Pinot Noir producers and the state's only publicly held winery. Willamette Valley Vineyards is the owner of Tualatin Estate Vineyards and Griffin Creek wines. Willamette Valley Vineyards common stock is traded on NASDAQ (Symbol: WVVI).
SOURCE Willamette Valley Vineyards, Inc.