SAN FRANCISCO – California wineries are not only committed to making outstanding wines but to doing so in a environmentally responsible way. Waste reduction, farming without the use of synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers, water conservation, use of bio-diesel for tractors, and solar and wind energy have become almost as important to the winemakers in California as the wine itself. This new green consciousness is most evident in the actual winery buildings.
Wine tasters say “straw” to describe a pale shade of yellow in a wine, but at several California wineries, they mean this literally as bales of straw are used to build environmentally sound and efficient wineries. At the Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs winery for instance, located in Sonoma County, the barrelroom is made with 8 meter high straw bale walls that provide excellent insulation. At Dominus winery in Napa, the walls are only a steel frame with large black basalt and no mortar. Cool breezes flow in, heat does not.
Designed by award-winning architect, William Turnbull, the Long Meadow Ranch winery, in Napa, has built its facility consistent with its sustainable philosophy. Using the soil left over from digging their caves, they have constructed one of the largest rammed earth structures in North America. Thermally efficient, the building requires no mechanical cooling or heating to perform its function. Even the wooden beams for the roofing system were recycled from an old building. The winery’s unique design earned it the prestigious international award for commercial interior design from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Solar, wind and geothermal energy is used by many of the California wineries to supply energy. Two hours north of San Francisco in the Mendocino wineregion, Fetzer Winery has constructed a solar array atop its winery bottling facility, capable of generating 1.1 million kilowatt hours of clean electricity annually – enough to offset more than 855 metric tons of CO2 emissions. Constellation, the largest US wine company is taking a a step further with the installation of the largest winery solar power energy system in the world at its ISO 9001:2000 certified Gonzales Winery, located in Monterey County. The one megawatt solar system will cover 17000 m2 of the main winery warehouse roof. Immediate environmental benefits from this project include a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and an annually reduced carbon footprint equivalent to planting 1000 hectares of trees or taking more than 2,000 cars off the road.
Frog’s Leap recently complemented its existing solar energy field with geothermal energy. Utilizing an underground loop system of 20 wells, each almost 100 meters deep, the system maintains a constant temperature of 14-15 degrees Celsius. In the winter, water circulating within the sealed underground system absorbs heat from the earth and carries it to the geothermal unit where it is compressed to a higher temperature to provide heat to the building. In the summer, the system reverses and expels heat from the building to the cooler environment of the earth.
The latest winery project that shows that design and green can go hand in hand is the new Hall winery in Napa, designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry and scheduled for opening in 2010. The project encompasses 12000 m2 of space that will include modern wine production facilities and the restoration of an original stone winery building, built in 1885. The winery buildings will also incorporate 4000 m2 square feet of solar panels. “With the artful combination of the historic and the new, the natural and the human-made,” Mr. Gehry said, “it is our intention that the new Hall Winery will be an experience that is harmonious with the beauty of the Napa Valley. We have a chance to make a difference, to create something that will stand the test of time”. The way a great California wine does.