Innovators

How Sokol Blosser Designed a Purpose-Driven Business

The Oregon winery is among the pioneers in the drinks space making environmental and social change part of their mission

Sokol Blosser
Photo courtesy of Sokol Blosser.

“The way my mom always describes it is that she and my dad were card-carrying members of the Sierra Club,” says Alison Sokol Blosser. “They always felt a calling to take care of and appreciate the Earth, but there was never a concrete definition of sustainability. It’s something that’s evolved as we’ve learned more.” To say that this motivation is something that Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol inspired in their children is an understatement.

Today, Alison and her winemaker brother Alex are co-presidents of the family winery, Sokol Blosser, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and have been leaders when it comes to looking out for the environment, their employees, and their grapes. The winery essentially possesses all of the most important sustainability certifications: It was the first winery in North America to be LEED certified, in 2002 (its barrel cellar is LEED silver), and the first ever to be certified Salmon Safe; Sokol Blosser’s vineyards are also USDA-certified organic.

“But there was nothing weaving a common thread,” Alison says—that is, until the family discovered B Corps. “B Corps really speaks to me,” Alison says. “It’s ‘Let’s do good in every part of our business. How we treat our employees, how we interact with the community, treat the earth, our energy usage, construction—it’s everything.’

The awarding body for B Corp Certification, B Lab, based in Wayne, Pennsylvania, was founded in 2006 by Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan, and Andrew Kassoy and is dedicated to harnessing the power of business—across all industries—to solve social and environmental problems. The three professionals created a protocol that evaluates businesses in four “impact areas”—governance, workers, community, and environment. Applicants for B Corp Certification complete an intensive, 50-plus-page assessment—which can take from six months to a year to document. Companies that reach 80 points out of 200 become certified—with the understanding that there should be improvement in future assessments. (B Lab recently changed its recertification requirement from every two years to every three years, in part to align with the three-year cycles from other major certifiers and standards organizations.)

Mobilizing Businesses as a Social Force

B Corp Certification has become more visible in the past five years. Articles about B Corps are plentiful in national business publications. High-profile companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Stumptown Coffee tout their B Corp status on packaging and marketing materials, as do Yogi Teas and the Northwest grocery chain New Seasons. The element that all these businesses share is that they’re driven to create benefits for all stakeholders (employees, the environment, and members of the community)—not just shareholders. Today, there are more than 2,614 B Corps in 50 countries—all certified by B Lab.   

But 12 years in, just 18 of them are wineries.  

In 2014, A to Z Wineworks in the Willamette Valley became one of the first wineries in the world to achieve B Corp status, and over the past four years, several sustainably minded neighboring wineries have become certified as well. When Sokol Blosser took B Corp’s B Impact Assessment in late 2014, despite all its environmental firsts, it scored a mere 80, just barely gaining certification. “We were like, ‘Wow, there’s so much more that we can do,’” says Alison. “It helped us add the rigor that we needed to be much more methodical about what we’re doing.”

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Laying a Road Map for Improvement

Sokol Blosser formed a Green Team, made up of staff members from its human resources, winemaking, marketing, and financial teams, that meets every month to track and document the work being done at the winery, using the B Corp Assessment as a road map for improvement. Some of the changes were small—for example, adding a question about sustainability to the winery’s annual employee survey—but other were more substantial, including creating a dedicated public recycling center for guests and implementing a water-tracking system, which has reduced water usage enormously. On the employee relations front, the company bought a short-term disability policy that will pay for six to eight weeks of maternity leave for women staff members. The company also now pays all full-time employees to do 20 hours of volunteer work per year. These changes have paid off: In the four years since Sokol Blosser got its original certification, its score has gone from 80 to 112. It was honored as a B Corp Changemaker in both 2017 and 2018.

A to Z Wineworks has also improved dramatically, most recently scoring 137 points—the highest of any B Corp winery. Oregon has five certified wineries, more than any other state—or country. In 2017, Stoller Family Estate gained joined the ranks. “Bill Stoller has been living the B Corp lifestyle philosophically through his company for many, many years,” says Stoller president Gary Mortensen. At Stoller, all full-time employees—including full-time vineyard workers—receive comprehensive health-care benefits. Leadership at the company is evenly split between women and men. And all employees who have been with the company a year are eligible for continuing education opportunities—including seminars and conferences.

This year, when Stoller purchased the Chehalem winery, one of its first moves was to secure B Corp Certification for the winery, which was accomplished this past July.



In California, Fetzer Vineyards is the only B Corp-certified winery. It produces 2.6 million cases a year and is by far the largest winery to receive B Corp status. Fetzer Vineyards COO Cindy DeVries says that applying for B Corp Certification was humbling. The winery, based in Hopland, features a portfolio of brands that includes Bonterra, 1,000 Stories, and Adorada and has a long history of commitment to sustainability. It was the first winery to operate entirely on green power [in 1999], has three Demeter-certified vineyards, and boasts the leading organic brand, Bonterra. “We were sure we’d score well,” De Vries says. But the company squeaked by, with 80.5 points. It was a wake-up call—and a source of motivation. In two years Fetzer Vineyards staff made significant changes, including restructuring itself as a benefit corporation and adding a paid volunteer day; in 2017, Fetzer Vineyards received a score of 95.1.

Compared with other sustainability certifications, B Corp is more demanding, says Mike Mercer, a B Corp consultant based in Portland, Oregon. “Because it’s so broad—your employees, practices, governing structures, impact on the community—it’s more rigorous,” he says. Stoller Family Estate hired Mercer to help the staff navigate the application and was able to get through the process in four months. The challenge posed by B Corp is one that Alison Sokol Blosser and her Green Team have embraced. “We always thought of ourselves as doing good and being good to our employees and good to our community,” she says, “but there’s never really been a definition of it. This is a third party saying, ‘Yeah, you are good to your community. You are good to your employees and to the environment.’ And it’s also showing us where we could be doing better.”  

Read our Q&A with Alison Sokol Blosser.

Hannah Wallace writes about food, wine, sustainable agriculture, health, and travel for CivilEats.com, Inc., Food & Wine, Vogue, Portland Monthly, and the New York Times.

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