“Trail Voices” highlights the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, walking and bicycling movement is too big or too small–dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.
Left: (Left to right) Kyle Morgan, Mike Haering and John Tichenor, part of Fetzer's crew on the Sojourn.
Mike Haering lives in Louisville, Ky., and has always been an active outdoorsman and hiker. “I’m not going to say I’m a recluse,” he says, “but I could have a very happy day if I’m alone on the top of a mountain and watch the sun come up on the east, the sun go down in the west, and I don’t see anyone else the whole day.”
In the office, Haering works as the brand director for Fetzer Vineyards, makers of the “Earth Friendly Wine” in Hopland, Calif. After 18 years in the wine industry, Haering still marvels at the process and lifestyle of winemaking. “First thing I really noticed, being in wine and wine country, is the sense of community,” he says. “It’s a farming environment, and you feel like you belong to something close to Mother Earth. I’m fascinated by the winemakers and the magic they can do with the fruit, and give us a great glass of wine at the end of the day.”
Starting in 2009, Fetzer began a partnership with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) to help support the Trail of the Month program and the 2009 Greenway Sojourn, which wrapped up this past July on the Pine Creek Rail Trail in Pennsylvania. Haering and the Fetzer crew were active and popular participants. Several members of the official Fetzer Bike Team came along for the four-day ride, and Fetzer poured wine at several overnight stops and meals for the 250 riders. “The wine pouring was a huge success,” he says. “Not only were we able to share a taste with those so inclined, but we got to share Fetzer’s sustainability story with them.”
We caught up with Haering after the ride to learn more about the Sojourn, the partnership with RTC, and about Fetzer’s long-recognized commitment to sustainable winemaking.
What makes Fetzer’s sustainable wine production unique and so important?
Everything we do, we look to make sure we minimize the impact to our community. The first place you do that is with the environment. We have a concentrated effort not to throw anything away. Since 1990, we have reduced our waste to landfills by 96 percent, while doubling production. We don’t even go to recycling right away; we reuse first, so we’re doing more with less. We were also the first winery that went to 100 percent green energy for its winery operation. We put solar arrays on the roofs of various buildings, and sometimes we generate so much energy that we can sell it back to the electric company. Also, by lowering the weight of our wine bottles by an average by 16 percent, we have saved the equivalent of 70,000 trees a year.
There’s always this perception that when you’re doing something sustainably, you’re not doing it well. But we don’t compromise quality. Simply stated, we make great wine the right way.
Right: The Fetzer team joins Sojourn riders on the first morning of the four-day ride.
How did the partnership with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy begin?
Fetzer seeks to partner with likeminded organizations in order to connect with people who act with long-term, sustainable practices. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was a perfect fit. Their commitment to establishing trails for years to come is fantastic, and their vision of having 90 percent of the population within three miles of a trail by 2020 is truly inspiring.
What about the Sojourn in particular made the event such a great opportunity for Fetzer?
The Sojourn fits well with Fetzer because we know Fetzer consumers enjoy the outdoors and are active in a variety of pursuits, including cycling. This ride provided Fetzer a chance to connect with riders in their environment, and hopefully connect in a fun way.
What did you think of the Pine Creek Rail Trail?
Absolutely gorgeous. You know, I’ve traveled many places around the world, and before you get there you always have this perception of what it is or could be. Well I went into [Pine Creek Gorge], and the canyon walls, the river running through it, watching the peace of the fly fishermen, just enjoying nature—it was pristine, just beautiful. The trail fits the personality of the place; it felt like a natural trail next to that river.”
What did you find most memorable about the Sojourn?
The ride and experience exceeded our wildest dreams. Everyone was so friendly and they accepted us warmly. I’d say the biggest memory we will leave with is the sense of community everyone on the ride shared. Although it rained several times, people came together and we believe they bonded closer. We were blessed to be part of it.
To learn more about Fetzer, visit www.fetzer.com.