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Shifting to sustainable at Ontario wineries

Renee Tratch
Digital Writer, theweathernetwork.com

Saturday, October 3, 2015, 2:31 PM - Fall is harvest time. And for Ontario’s 125-plus wineries across the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County, it’s the perfect time to taste the fruits (or grapes) of their labour. 

Last year, 23.4 million litres of VQA wine were produced in the province. And that journey from soil to shelf is becoming even more rooted in the earth with an ever-growing focus on sustainability.  

"Each winery is different and each grower is different but every single one of them see themselves as stewards of the land," says Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario, an organization representing 17,000 acres of processing grapes. "They have been given that opportunity to manage the land properly to ensure that it will be there for the next generation."

Being ‘green’ is more than water reduction and composting the leftovers. Wineries are looking at all aspects of grape growing and wine producing from adapting biodynamic farming techniques to partnering working with local farmers for their hospitality programs. And one of the newest additions – the wine route is supporting cleaner air. Earlier this fall three electric vehicle charging stations were installed at Niagara-area wineries Kacaba Vineyard and Winery, Stratus Wines & Vineyard and Reif Estate Winery. 

The Wine Council of Ontario has created the Sustainable Winemaking Ontario program to advance and assist with the integration of more environmentally-friendly practices. The first of its kind in Canada, it lays out best-practice guidelines. Currently close to 30 Ontario wineries are part of the voluntary program.  

“The industry is intimately connected to the environment. We are dependent on the weather, water and soil, and we are always mindful of how we grow grapes as well as produce and make wine,” says Richard Linley, President of the Wine Council of Ontario. 

“This (program) will give further credibility to the sustainable practices that Ontario wineries are adopting, as well as provide an opportunity to tell our ‘green’ story.”  

A ‘green’ vision was a founding factor for Stratus Vineyards in the Niagara region, which opened in 2005 as the world’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified winery.  

“From the day we opened, the single vision of this project was to produce the best wine possible from one singular estate and while doing so, be as gentle as with the land from which the grapes are grown,” says Suzanne Janke, Stratus’ Director of Retail and Hospitality. 

The entire facility – from the store to the production room – is heated and cooled through geothermal wells.  

“Geothermy is already a challenging system, but to couple that with managing the temperatures of fermentation made it even more of a pursuit,” explains Janke. 

The most sustainable practices are in fact the most traditional, such as a gravity-flow system. This, however, comes much easier in locations where wineries can be built into the hillside. Here where the landscape is relatively flat, Stratus built a two-storey facility linking an above ground 1,000-barrel cellar to a pumpless wine-flow system.  

They are continually looking for new green initiatives to add to their list of sustainable practices. Among them: grape pumace, stems and leaves are composted back into the vineyards, barrels are upcycled into platters and an electrostatic sprayer (used to avoid over spraying) has reduced water consumption by eight times. 

Celebrating the Harvest 2015:  

Explore Ontario wine country via these wine routes and planners and special events throughout the year.  

This weekend October 3-4, 2015, Ontarians can learn about the biodynamic process at Southbrook Vineyards, an organic vineyard in the Niagara region or participate in the harvest by grape picking at Sandbanks Winery in Prince Edward County. 

SOURCES: Grape Growers of Ontario | Sustainable Winemaking Ontario | Wine Council of Ontario | Stratus Wines | Wind Country Ontario | Southbrook Vineyards | Sandbanks Winery

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