Traverse City News and Events

Local Wineries Look To Sustainable Future

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 13, 2017

A local winery has become the first vineyard outside the state of California to earn a Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certification – the latest in a series of efforts by area wineries to go green, convert to renewable energy sources, and make their farming operations as environmentally friendly as possible.

Launched in 2008, SIP Certified is the “most in-depth sustainability program available for vineyards” in the U.S., according to nonprofit Vineyard Team, which administers the program. While over 2.6 million wines carry the SIP Certified seal, Kewadin’s WaterFire Vineyards is the first Michigan winery to obtain the designation.

“To achieve SIP Certified for a vineyard, growers must farm in a way that protects both natural and human resources,” according to Vineyard Team. “Their third-party evaluation process assesses a variety of items that go beyond organics to include (but not limited to) biodiversity and habitat, farm management, soil conservation, integrated pest management along with water conservation and quality, energy conservation, air quality, fruit quality, continuing education, and social and community responsibility.”

Chantal Lefebvre, WaterFire’s co-owner and manager, said in a statement that before opening the winery in 2008, she had “over a decade of experience in environmental science collecting information and making observations on the different ways water gets polluted.”

“Farming was and still is the number one culprit, so finding a sustainable way to farm to minimize pollution was a natural extension of who I was,” Lefebvre said. “SIP Certified not only authenticates our experience, but goes above and beyond what we were looking for here in Michigan to help us differentiate our wines from other wineries.”

While WaterFire is the latest local winemaking operation to be honored for sustainability practices, other vineyards have long sought to integrate environmentally friendly practices into their businesses.

In 2013, seven wineries on Old Mission Peninsula – including 2 Lads Winery, Black Star Farms, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, Chateau Chantal, Chateau Grand Traverse, and Peninsula Cellars – were recognized by Governor Rick Snyder for becoming verified in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). To earn the designation, wineries had to implement pollution prevention practices on their properties, reducing their reliance on chemicals and improving irrigation, nutrient and pest management systems. Leelanau wineries including Shady Lane Cellars, Brengman Brothers at Crain Hill, 45 North Vineyard, Chateau de Leelanau, Aurora Cellars and others have also obtained MAEAP certification.

With wineries consuming large amounts of power – including for lighting, heating and refrigeration, tasting room operations, and electrical costs to run crushers, pressers and other processing/bottling equipment – multiple businesses have turned to renewable energy sources to improve efficiencies and cut down on costs. In August, Bowers Harbor Vineyards announced its tasting room would be entirely powered by new solar panels installed on its property going forward. Harvest Energy Solutions – a Michigan-based solar energy distributor – installed the winery’s 18kW rooftop system. Proprietor Spencer Stegenga says the array was the “logical next step to our commitment to green and friendly energy solutions” at Bowers Harbor.

“We have been committed to the most environmentally friendly practices in our vineyards since we opened in 1991,” Spencer says. “We compost, recycle, carpool, and create habitats for numerous creatures on our property.”

Brengman Brothers states it became Michigan’s first 100-percent solar-powered commercial winery in 2013. Leelanau Solar installed a three-panel solar electric system at the property; the system is capable of producing 30,000 kW-hours of clean energy offsetting 30 tons of CO2 each year. Mari Vineyards, meanwhile, utilizes wind power and an underground system for winemaking and aging designed to reduce the winery’s carbon footprint.

President & CEO Marie-Chantal Dalese of Chatau Chantal says a 148.5 kW solar array installed by Harvest Energy Solutions at the winery in 2015 – the largest of any Michigan winery – has helped reduce the company’s electricity bill by 40 percent. “(The system) is weather dependent…but it has been working great for us,” she says. In addition to using solar power, Chateau Chantal works with a soil scientist to create custom natural “compost cocktails” for each section of the vineyard, tailoring mixes to varying soil conditions while eliminating chemical fertilizers. “The winemaker has noticed he doesn’t need to add components like nitrogen to the winemaking process now, because it’s naturally present in the soil,” Dalese says of the program.

Despite the cost and complexity involved in obtaining sustainable certifications and integrating environmentally practices into winemaking operations, Dalese says area wineries pursue such measures because it’s in their best interest long-term to preserve and protect their land.

“One of the reasons for pursuing these renewable activities is that our natural beauty helps us produce wine and attracts people to us…tourist dollars are a very important source of our income,” she says. “Being a natural steward of our environment is important. And we want the fruit to be as delicious as possible. So using fewer chemicals, having more biodiversity in your soil, pest management, all of these sustainable systems…they’re all driven by the fact we want to preserve our landscape."

Pictured: Solar array at Chateau Chantal. Photo credit: Harvest Energy Solutions.

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