Monday, June 16, 2008

Wineries celebrate solar power

Here comes the sun.

And it seems no one worships sunshine more than wineries in Rutherford. The Upvalley hamlet is ground zero for going solar: Three wineries are joining forces to celebrate solar power and are inviting the public to join them on June 21, at 5:30 p.m., until sunset — for the first ever “Solarbration” event.
It is also the summer solstice, the most hours of sunshine in a day.

Participating in this inaugural festivity is Honig Vineyard & Winery, Peju Family Estate Wines and ZD Wines. All three Rutherford wineries have gone solar and they want to share what they are doing with the rest of the Napa Valley.
The cost is $40 for wine club members and $50 for everyone else. Proceeds from the event go to the Land Trust of Napa County. Visitors can go to the three solar venues for wine tasting, appetizers, music, tours and a chance to learn about solar energy.

Also participating is Sunlight Electric, which installed the solar arrays at Honig and ZD; and Akeena Solar, which did the photovoltaic system at Peju.
Rob Erlichman, CEO of Sunlight Electric, citing stats from the NorCal Solar Energy Association, said that across the Bay Area’s 10 counties, the average watts per capita of installed solar is 16.7; but, Napa County far exceeds that at 51.1 watts per capita.

Erlichman’s research also shows “Rutherford is the most solar place in all the Bay Area.”

“With a population of 525, that means our work has generated 1,135 watts per capita, so it seems that our customers are largely responsible for putting Rutherford on the solar map.”

Sunlight Electric has completed five major projects in Rutherford — Frog's Leap, Honig, Long Meadow Ranch, Staglin and ZD Wines, totaling about 600 kilowatts.

According to Erlichman, Napa County wineries have adopted solar energy 42 times faster than California businesses overall.

“Within Napa, Rutherford wineries are at the forefront of this trend.”

Peju spokesperson Katie Lewis said the family-owned winery went solar in 2006 with 720 panels covering about 10,000-square feet, over the crush pad, cellar and administrative office. The system produces 126 kilowatts. “This accounts for 36 percent of our annual energy.”

“If we all do the little things like this ... it is going to help the environment for future generations ... we want to preserve the vineyards and land. We want this area to thrive for years to come,” Lewis said.

“Maybe (Solarbration) will help influence other businesses. We want to let everyone know that wineries are doing their part to preserve the land, air and water.”

Visitors will enjoy appetizers prepared by Peju’s own in-house chef, who will use many vegetables from the winery’s own organic gardens.

Outside they will be pouring white wine in the vineyard, while red wines can be enjoyed inside.

ZD is the latest Rutherford winery to adopt solar power, with the installation of a 125 kilowatt system in February, according to Brett deLeuze, president and partner in the winery.

The 712-module design supplies 100 percent of the energy used by ZD. The panels run about the length of a football field and is 18-feet wide.ZD produces surplus electricity. “We are trying to figure ways to use more electricity ... we have been looking at electric cars as a way to use it,” deLeuze said.

“We are trying to be as green as possible. We are trying to be good stewards of the land,” he said.

For Solarbration, ZD will offer an “open house type of feel to its event,” said deLeuze. “We encourage our guests to travel to all three wineries and see what each is doing.”

In ZD’s tasting room there will be a PowerPoint presentation. “People will be able to see how much power we are using,” deLeuze said.

Honig Vineyard & Winery has been solar since August 2006. Their system consists of 819 Sanyo 200-watt modules, mounted on the ground. The system is saving the winery about $42,000 a year on its electric bills.

Honig has one of the larger solar setups in the Napa Valley. It cost about $1.2 million.

Prior to going solar, Honig’s utility bill in June averaged $5,000 a month. After the system was installed the bill dropped to $1.19 the following June.

Regina Weinstein, director of marketing and retail at Honig, said the solar panels generate enough power for whole winery on sunny days and actually gives some back into the grid.

A monitor in the tasting room will let guests see how much electricity is being produced and how much is going into the grid.

Why tout the importance of solar?  

“I think what is happening with the planet right now is pretty critical ... Co2 has a lot to do with the problem ... so whatever we can do to reduce our impact is important,” Weinstein said. “This is the important thing to do.”