A premium winemaker discovers the business upside of solar-powered wine production
The winemakers at Staglin Family Vineyard have taken the old saying, "Wine is simply sunshine in a glass" to a completely new level.
This California winery has been making world-class wines since the mid-1980s with careful attention to the sun's ripening effects on their precious grapes. Over the last several years, solar power is being applied to the actual production of the Staglin family wines.
Organic - Before, During and After the Harvest
In June 2007, the Staglins made a significant commitment to solar energy, which was the natural extension of their earlier commitment to farm their land in a completely organic way. As Shari Staglin states, "We realize we are stewards passing through this land, and it's up to us to pass it along in better condition than when we first arrived on the scene."
Throughout the Staglin vineyards, sweet peas, native grasses, vetch and mustard grow in abundance. In the spring the Staglins, mow and spade these cover crops into the soil to release nutrients while decomposing and creating warmth for the vines. As you walk on through the vineyard, you might spot bluebirds, dragonflies, and ladybugs, signs of a vineyard in good health.
"That organic sensibility helps us produce the highest quality fruit now, and for centuries to come," explains Garen Staglin.
After the grapes have been harvested, the Staglins use solar energy to power the lights above the fermentation barrels, to run the equipment that crushes the grapes, and to power the energy in the house where the Staglin family lives.
Today, the Staglin Family Vineyard can be technically described as a solar-powered winery as it uses one thousand 200-watt solar panels to run the production process. Moreover, the 164-kilowatt solar array generates enough power to keep the winery self-sufficient throughout the year.
Brandon Staglin, Shari and Garen's son, says, "Our main motive in constructing the solar array was to reduce our carbon footprint. It's also great to know that our array has made a dent in our community's carbon output — equivalent to taking 300 cars off the road for an entire summer!"
The Staglin Family Vineyard Web site also includes a nifty, real-time visual rendering of how the solar array is performing on a given day.
Spotting a Trend in the Sun
Staglin's transition to solar also makes good business sense. The million-dollar expense of the array will be covered by the energy cost savings over seven years. Eventually, they will be enjoying life without an electric bill.
"It was a complete 'no brainer' for us to go solar," says Garen Staglin. "The combination of energy credits from the state as well as tax benefits made it an obvious move."
Indeed, many other wineries are following their lead. According to Wine Business Monthly, the economics of solar power make more sense in California than any other state in the nation due to the high electricity costs and state solar incentives. And because of this, many other wineries are going solar.
Garen estimates that the number of Rutherford wineries using solar power is significant. In fact, many in the solar industry consider Rutherford to be one of the most solar cities in California.
Does Solar Power Make the Wine Taste Different?
When asked if the solar production effort makes the wine taste different, Garen replies, "As it relates to our broader organic efforts, certainly the wine tastes different. Organic farming results in a purer expression of the grape. As it relates specifically to solar, there is no discernable difference at all. Solar power is a part of the overall organic effort, and we put the money we save back into investments that help us make better wine."
In fact, many believe that organic farming produces wines that are more complex and brings out the flavor traits of each different section of the vineyard.
As a delicious piece of evidence to support the point, the Staglins encouraged me to taste one of their current releases — the 2006 Staglin Family Vineyards "Salus" Estate Cabernet Sauvignon — for which the grapes were grown in a completely organic way.
As one would expect, this wine is arguably one of the purest expressions of the Rutherford terroir. One reviewer described it in the following way, "Plum and blackberry compote on the nose. Spiced with anise, pencil shavings, freshly tilled soil with a whiff of menthol."
Of course, one would expect black currants and ripe plums on the palate after tasting a carefully made Cabernet. But the dark chocolate and velvety tannins on the finish led me to the ultimate conclusion about the organic, solar-powered wine production: The Staglins are not only putting sunshine in a glass, they're inviting us to taste a wonderful – and sustainable - dream!
2006 Staglin Family Vineyard Salus Estate
Rutherford, Napa Valley, California.
Price: $90 per 750ml bottle.
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