Wineries in New York Using Solar Energy Inspire Breweries & Farms to Join Them
March 12, 2021
Last updated on March 24, 2021.
When you travel as much as I do, you tend to think about your impact on the environment around you. And as a nature lover, this is particularly important to me. We need to protect our environment so that it is here for future generations to enjoy. So whenever I find out about businesses that are doing their part to be eco-friendly, I am encouraged to visit them. That’s why I’ve been so excited to learn about wineries in New York using solar energy. And they aren’t alone! Breweries, farms, and other businesses are joining in their sustainability efforts. With agriculture being our state’s number one industry, it’s incredibly important that we do our best to keep our environment safe.
Why are Wineries and Breweries Switching to Solar Energy?
When solar energy first became popular, it was very expensive, and people didn’t understand how it worked. Of course, over time the technology has gotten better, costs have gone down, and solar energy has become more mainstream. But there is still a long way to go.
Through longer solar panel life spans, tax incentives, and grants for businesses, more and more people are considering going solar. Plus, there has been increasing interest and concern about sustainability efforts. It shouldn’t be surprising that businesses who base their success on the natural environment are invested in environmental conservation.
Yes, solar energy does take a bit of a financial investment to install. The cost is about $3 per watt. For residential homes, that means an average of $12,000 – $24,000 as an initial investment. More for businesses, who use more energy than your average house. But that’s all before HUGE federal and state tax incentives! And if you do the math, it pays for itself after a few years. Solar users benefit from financial savings, produce less pollution, and can feel good knowing they are contributing to a healthier environment!
What Wineries in New York are Using Solar Energy?
The Finger Lakes area is proud to be home to some of the best wineries in the world. New York wine has become increasing popular, and for good reason! The wine growers and wine makers know what they are doing. Years and years of farming and harvesting experience has helped them to achieve this. So it should come as no surprise that wineries are interested in preserving, and even improving, the environment that produces their grapes.
Let’s dive a little deeper into one of the wineries in New York using solar energy. I was able to get a tour of the grounds and hear more about the story of Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery yesterday. Alex Jankowski, Marketing and Public Relations Manager at Wagner, explained the importance of wineries being sustainable. It also exemplifies the winemaking traditions and passion of the Wagner family. He said wineries in the region “take their role as stewards of the land very seriously.” So it’s no surprise that they grouped together to become more environmentally friendly.
Wagner Vineyards sits on a total of 600 acres of land, 225 of which are filled with grape vines. 22 varieties in fact! And they are home to more than just the winery. The property includes Wagner Valley Brewing Company and Ginny Lee Café as well. Add on the buildings used for production and storage, and that’s a lot of energy required!
When asked about the decision to go solar, Alex talked about the importance of the sun in growing their grapes and maintaining their land. “It just makes sense to power the inside with the sun too.”
When John Wagner made the initial decision to go solar, the plan was to install 770 panels able to produce 250-kilowatts. They were so happy with the results, they added additional panels three years later for a total of over 800. Now, their solar energy system produces 2/3 of the energy the company needs to operate.
The Solar Awning at Ginny Lee Café
One of the most unique pieces of the solar energy system at Wagner is their solar panel awning. That’s right. The deck at the café has an awning made of solar panels. What a statement piece! While most solar panels can go unnoticed by visitors because they blend in with the roofs, these panels stand out. It’s a great way to remind guests that they are supporting an environmentally-conscious business. Plus, it’s just super cool.
Other Ways Wagner Vineyards is Sustainable
Solar energy is not the only way Wagner Vineyards is sustainable. Every single aspect of their operations is well thought out. They are no amateurs! Some of the other things that Wagner does pertains directly to the grape vines.
Hilling & Unhilling Vines
Because some of the vines, like the cabernet franc, come from Europe, they need to be grafted to American vines to help them live in the New York climate. But in order to protect the grafts from the harsh winters, each vine is hilled, and then unhilled in the spring. That means the dirt around the base of the vine is piled up, and then pulled back out. By protecting the vine, they are ensuring that the vine stays healthy and continues to produce grapes. Preventing the vineyard owners from having to deal with replacing dead vines.
OVN Ground Cover
Winemakers used to think that vineyards should grow grapes and only grapes. But years of experience have taught them otherwise! In fact, mixing up the plants growing keeps the soil nutrient-rich without depleting what the grape vines need. Wagner uses an OVN ground cover in between the rows of grapes. OVN stands for “Orchard Vineyard Nursery”.
Organic Hay Bailing
The hay that Wagner grows on their property is also organic, and dried on premise. The hay is laid out between the rows of grape vines, providing valuable ground cover. This helps prevent the soil from drying out too quickly in the sun, and gives lot of space for the hay to dry.
Pattern Drain Tiles
While wineries in California need to install irrigation systems to water their vineyards, New York does the opposite. Because summers can be particularly rainy, PVC pipes are installed at the root ends, about four feet below ground. These pipes collect excess water in the soil and drains it down into Seneca Lake.
Ithaca Beer Company Goes Solar
Wineries are not the only ones in New York using solar energy – breweries are getting greener too! Take Ithaca Beer Company for instance. Being based in Ithaca, New York, a very environmentally-friendly city, it’s not surprising to hear that they recently installed solar panels.
The brewery partnered with Renovus Solar in 2018 to install a 200-kilowatt system on their roof. The 666 panels work together to offset more than 25% of the brewery’s energy needs. And for one of the biggest and most popular craft breweries in New York State, that’s saying something!
Critz Farms Goes Solar
Critz Farms in Cazenovia has been a long time favorite of mine and my family. Their farms are operational year long. While they began as a Christmas tree farm in 1985, they’ve evolved to include crops for every season. Apples, pumpkins, evergreen trees, blueberries, and maple fill out their calendar. The Critz family also has a brewery and cidery on premise where visitors can enjoy the drinks they produce!
Of course, running a farm as busy as theirs requires a lot of energy. A little over 5 years ago, the family decided to install solar panels. Matt Critz, owner and president of the farm, said the decision was an easy one, “I’m 100% happy.” The panels fill as much space as possible on the southern-facing roofs of the main building and barn.
How much energy is produced by Critz’s solar panels?
While the solar panels do not make the farm entirely free from the electricity grid, it has made a significant impact on their energy consumption. Matt explained the process to me, detailing how one of the buildings on the farm was using so much energy that it required a demand meter by NYSERDA. That meant that he was being charged additional fees on top of his normal energy bill due to the amount of energy being used. And a second building was in danger of needing a demand meter as well.
After installing the solar panels, they were able to produce enough energy to remove the requirement for the demand meter. Matt adds that during the summer months, they produce enough energy that the electricity bill is completely eliminated. How incredible is that?!
Plus, they’ve saved enough money on their electricity bills that they’ve already offset the investment they made to install the solar panels. And they will continue to operate for another 20 years!
Are You Inspired to Use Solar Energy?
Good! Mission accomplished. To learn even more, don’t forget to get your FREE guide to solar energy from Vote Solar and Solar United Neighbors.
But don’t worry if solar energy isn’t in the cards for you just yet. Small, eco-conscious actions help lead to a better environment too. And supporting businesses that are environmentally conservative helps too! So what are you waiting for? Enjoy some farm festivities with your family. Or treat yourself to a drink at these breweries and wineries in New York using solar energy.