Ontario’s Sustainable Wineries

The spirit of sustainability in Ontario starts with VQA (see Selecting Canadian Wines from June 22, 2019) in that the wines must be 100% locally crafted with 100% Ontario-grown grapes.  This helps to reduce the environmental footprint.

There are now thirteen Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified (SWO) wineries.  These wineries have had to adapt a rigorous, comprehensive program of environmentally responsible technologies and practices.  Certified wineries are audited annually by a third-party in the following 3 areas:

Environment

  • Water conservation
  • Energy efficiency
  • Recycling
  • Reducing
  • Reusing

Economy

  • Production of VQA wines
  • Local material sourcing

Community

  • Community leadership
  • Social responsibility
  • Being a good neighbour

The wines produced by SWO wineries will display a green-leaf logo on the bottle.

Ontario’s SWO wineries are identified in alphabetical order below.

Cave Spring Vineyard (Niagara)

5-3836 Main Street

Jordan, Ontario, L0R 1S0

SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified

Cave Spring uses a mixture of grasses to control weeds and erosion in the vineyard.  They also encourage endangered species like the brown bat to inhabit the areas of the vineyard.  The bats help to combat the insect population, eliminating the need for chemical pesticides.

Indigenous yeast is used in the wine’s fermentation process and the winery’s main warehouse is powered by solar panels.

Château des Charmes (Niagara)

1025 York Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake

St. David’s, Ontario, L0S 1P0

SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified

Herbicides are never used at Château des Charmes.  Weeds are controlled by mechanically tilling the soil which chops them up and mixes them with the soil turning them into fertilizer.

The discarded stems, skins, seeds and unused grapes are returned to the land as a natural fertilizer.  Composted manure instead of chemical fertilizer is used to replenish nutrients in the soil.

Pest control is utilized only when necessary and, when possible, natural products like sulfur are used in the smallest possible quantities.

The cellars are temperature controlled using geothermal systems.  They are located 9 metres below ground and remain a consistent temperature and humidity throughout the year.

Gray water acquired after washing tanks and barrels is collected and pumped to a clay-lined lagoon onsite. This water is naturally filtered then used to water their lawns and gardens.

Natural cork is used because it is a sustainably farmed product and its production has a much lower carbon footprint than the production methods used to make aluminum screw caps.

The barrels are sourced from Programme for the Endorsement Forest Certification (PEFC) certified forests, utilizing raw materials that are often wasted during the stave milling process.

Flat Rock Cellars (Niagara)

2727 Seventh Avenue

Jordan, Ontario, L0R 1S0

SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified

Flat Rock uses geothermal systems to heat and cool the winery.  They make use of gravity wherever possible throughout the wine making process to minimize energy use.  Their Green Roof Patio is located on top of the barrel cellar and warehouse, which is built into the geological structure of the landscape.  This lets Flat Rock take advantage of the naturally insulated underground space to age and store their wine.

Henry of Pelham Family Estate (Niagara)

1469 Pelham Rd., R.R. #1

St. Catharines, ON Canada L2R 6P7

SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified

The winery has been designed so that the various areas can be heated or cooled independently, often using outdoor air.  The stainless-steel storage tanks have been wrapped in foil-coated bubble wrap.

Henry of Pelham takes part in wetland restoration, biofiltration, reforestation and water conservation.  They also have a community fund-raising program and accept fund raising applications.

Hidden Bench Estate Winery (Niagara)

4152 Locust Lane

Beamsville, Ontario, L0R 1B0

SWO Winery Certified, Certified Organic

Geothermal energy is used to provide heating and cooling for both the building and winemaking processes.  There are also solar panels on the roof of their storage building which help reduce the need for power from the electrical grid.

Hidden Bench was one of the initial consumers of Bullfrog Power, Ontario’s first green electricity company. Bullfrog Power sources its electricity from wind turbines, solar and non-interventionist hydroelectric power so there is minimal impact on the environment.

There is a complimentary EV charging station at the winery which allows their visitors to charge their electric cars while there.

Hidden Bench uses recycled materials wherever possible in its product packaging.

Malivoire Wine Company (Niagara)

4260 King Street East

Beamsville, Ontario, L0R 1B0

SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified

Sustainability has been a core pillar of the winemaking and wine-growing philosophy at Malivoire since their inception. They see the winery and vineyard as a wholistic system. They promote biodiversity and a healthy living vineyard that protects wildlife habitat by working to eliminate synthetic inputs.  Soil stability and fertility are important to them.

Pelee Island Winery (Lake Erie North Shore)

20 East West Road

Pelee Island, Ontario, N0R 1M0

SWO Winery Certified

Pelee Island uses a protocol for integrated pest management developed with support from World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF). They are committed to the use of ecologically responsible pesticides and ‘all natural’ island grown fertilizer.

The winery has established a stewardship for a Red Cedar Savannah Forest that is unique to Pelee Island. Restoration efforts have saved this forest from extinction and allowed for new growth, as well as the acclimatization of dozens of unique habitats.  The winery plans to engage a in five-year study that will facilitate the total rehabilitation of this forest.

With investments in renewable energies, such as solar and wind power, recycling, water treatment facilities, composting, bio-dynamic sewage systems and organic farming, Pelee Island Winery plans to lead the way as an environmentally safe community.

Pillitteri Estates Winery (Niagara)

1696 Niagara Stone Road

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, L0S 1J0

SWO Winery Certified

As family farmers, Pillitteri know the importance of buying quality and locally sourced products. They support the economy of their local community which provides the best opportunity to purchase a quality product at the best price.  That is why Pillitteri Estates Winery has chosen to produce 100% locally grown wines that come from grapes grown in their community.

Reif Estate Winery (Niagara)

15608 Niagara Parkway

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, L0S 1J0

SWO Winery Certified

There are no details regarding sustainability practices provided on Reif’s website.

Southbrook Organic Vineyards (Niagara)

581 Niagara Stone Rd.

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, L0S 1J0

SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified, Certified Organic, Biodynamic, & LEED Certified

Southbrook understands the importance of organic and biodynamic viticulture and focuses on the soil, water and ecosystems for producing their wine.  Their certifications include Demeter, ECOCERT Canada, LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Sustainable Winemaking Ontario, and VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance).

Organic agriculture uses natural inputs. It uses less water, less energy, no synthetic pesticides, no chemical fertilizer, no bioengineering and no genetic modification. Organic agriculture results in more biodiversity, conserves more water and improves soil health. The entire 150-acre property is certified organic and biodynamic.  

Southbrook’s hospitality pavilion became the first winery building to receive the Gold level of LEED.  Natural light prevails in the hospitality pavilion, while the floor-to-ceiling double-glazed windows control temperature transfer. The walls are thoroughly insulated, while deep roof overhangs give added shade to the building. Indoor water usage is controlled by automatic and low-flow fixtures. Externally, there is a bioswale with native wetland plants to break down pollution from stormwater draining off the access road and parking lots.

Southbrook gives back to the community through donations of facilities, labour and wine.  They have committed tens of thousands of dollars to charity.

Stratus (Niagara)

2059 Niagara Stone Rd.

Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, L0S 1J0

SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified, LEED Certified

In 2005, Stratus was the first winery in Canada to earn LEED certification (see my post on LEED Certification in the Wine Industry from October 23, 2021).  They recycle vine trunks and cuttings using a technique called pyrolysis, which processes green matter into biochar by heating it in an oxygen-reduced self-contained chamber.  The biochar is then added to the compost pile and eventually circulated back into the vineyard.

Strewn Winery (Niagara)

1339 Lakeshore Rd.

Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0

SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified

Strewn’s web site indicates that the winery is a certified sustainable winery but provides no other details.

Vineland Estate Winery (Niagara)

3620 Moyer Rd.

Vineland, Ontario, L0R 2C0

SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified

Vineland’s sustainability efforts have included switching from conventional to LED lighting.  Timers and motion sensors have been installed. Equipment has been upgraded to be more energy efficient.

Water usage has been reduced as a result of changing their cleaning procedures and changing to low-flow water taps where possible.  They have also taken other measures to reduce wastewater and waste in general.

From a community perspective, Vineland supports fair wages and working conditions.  They also support several charitable organizations through their Legacy and Game Changer programs.

Final Thoughts

Although the number of sustainable wineries in Ontario is increasing, the vast majority are still not sustainable.  Given the seriousness of our environmental challenges, the wine industry, like so many others, still has a long way to go before we begin to see a real positive impact. 

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Dry Times Ahead

North America is now said to be entering the early stages of a Champagne shortage which could last for several years.  There are a number of reasons why this is happening.  First, there are the supply chain issues that I discussed in my December 31, 2021 blog, Wine Shipping Delays. This problem was caused by the effects of COVID-19 on the shipping industry, which has resulted in deliveries taking two or three times longer than normal.

Photo credit: https: TheGrapeGeeks.com

Complicating things further has been the fluctuations in the demand for Champagne.  Because of the COVID-19 related lockdowns of 2020, demand fell by about 25% but rose back up again by the end of that year.  The upward trend continued throughout 2021 with demand returning to pre-pandemic levels as consumers were willing to spend more to wine and dine at home since they were often prevented from dining out at fine restaurants.

However, the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), who regulates how much Champagne may be produced each year, in response to the initial reduction in demand, reduced Champagne output but did not react to the resurgence in demand at the end of that year.  The effects of the reduced Champagne production won’t be felt until this vintage reaches the market in a few years’ time. Ironically, the organization whose purpose it is to protect the Champagne industry inadvertently caused significant financial damage.

While consumer demand for Champagne was expanding throughout 2021, France’s Champagne region was experiencing extreme weather issues.  In March there was scorching heat that burned many of the vines.  This was followed by frost that destroyed about 30% of the vines.  Finally, there were torrential rains during June and July that resulted in mildew coating many of the remaining vines.  As a result, the 2021 grape harvest was the smallest in many decades.

Champagne production won’t be returning to normal anytime soon.  Shortages are expected to last through until at least 2025.

These availability problems will provide growth opportunities for producers of other sparkling wines including Italy’s Prosecco, Spain’s Cava as well as many North American varieties. Canadian options include, among others, 13th Street Cuvée Brut Sparkling Rosé, Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling, Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut VQA and Château des Charmes Brut Sparkling.

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LEED Certification in the Wine Industry

Many Canadian vintners and wineries are working to reduce both our carbon footprint and reduce negative environmental impact.  They are finding ways to reduce energy consumption, lessen dependency on pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, as well as lessen the need for water.

Stratus Vineyards and Tantalus Vineyards

In the past I have discussed the impacts of climate change on the wine industry but today I will talk about the actual buildings and their design.  Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED, is the most widely-used green building rating system in the world, available for virtually all building, community, and home-project types.  In Canada LEED is a proven path to addressing climate change, and to creating buildings that are more resource-efficient, healthy and resilient.

LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health. This includes location and transportation, sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

There are two wineries in particular that have been leaders in adapting change.

Stratus Vineyards, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Stratus was the first winery in Canada to earn LEED certification.  In order to qualify for LEED certification, the winery had to meet numerous criteria that reduced the negative impact on the environment both during construction and on a permanent, operational basis.

The facility was designed in a way to minimize the amount of equipment needed and where possible it is designed in a way where it can be reconfigured in response to the need. Even the table where the grapes are sorted can be set up in at least 17 different ways.

The winery was built using recycled materials where possible. The building also includes a super-insulated roof and geothermal heating and cooling.  There is a resource and energy efficient electrical and plumbing system as well as a toxin-free waste management program.

They also chose native plants and flowers for the landscaping because they can thrive without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Even the pavement for the parking lot was made of stone that reduces light-reflected heat.

Tantalus Vineyards, Kelowna

Tantalus takes great care in everything they do, from farming to winemaking. Riesling is the real focus but their Pinot Noir shines as well. 

Being a successful winery and needing to increase production, Tantalus found themselves in a situation where they needed to replace their original building. The new facility earned them the distinction of being British Columbia’s first LEED-certified winery. 

The building is environmentally friendly and energy efficient. There are natural sky lights, an unpaved driveway and parking area to avoid heat reflection and a highly efficient dual-exchange heating and cooling system.  The wine shop features custom handcrafted wooden cabinetry sourced from native Alder and the landscaping surrounding the winery has been planted with bee-friendly flowers and shrubs.

The wastewater treatment system processes the winery’s effluent and domestic sewage. It is the first of its kind for a British Columbia winery and allowed them to be completely non-reliant on municipal or private waste disposal providers.

Final Thoughts

LEED certifications is just one way of helping preserve and protect our environment. Both of these wineries, along with many others, are also following sustainability practices and some are even aiming to convert to dry-farming.  One thing for certain is that the wine industry is helping to lead the way to improve our environmental health.

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Dry-Farming Vineyards

Dry-farming or dryland farming occurs when the vines are not irrigated. Natural rainfall alone provides the necessary moisture to promote the growth of the vine and ripen the grapes.

Photo credit: WineMag.com

This practice is particularly common in Europe. It is how vineyards have always been cultivated in Burgundy, Bordeaux and other European wine growing locations. The only allowances for irrigation in areas of France, Italy, Germany and Spain would be when starting young vines or when there are extreme drought conditions and the health of the vines is threatened.

Advocates, such as California’s Frog’s Leap and Moss Wood in Western Australia, maintain dry-farming yields higher-quality grapes with more fruit and aromatic intensity. Dry-farmed grapes are typically smaller in size compared to ones that have been irrigated, which means more concentration and character in the resulting wine.

Members of Oregon’s Deep Roots Coalition, which include top producers such as Evening Land, Eyrie Vineyards and Trisaetum, believe irrigation prevents wineries from capturing the true essence of their vineyards.

One of the major benefits of irrigation is the ability for grape growers to increase yields. Many of the value-priced wines from Australia, Argentina, Chile, California and South Africa couldn’t exist without a high volume of fruit.

Technological advances and research means it’s not as simple an equation as decreasing quality to increase quantity. A considerable amount of highly collected, top-scoring wines come from irrigated vineyards.

Some wine regions couldn’t exist without irrigation. Grape vines need water. Vineyards surrounded by trees or containing other crops need to compete for water.  Some grape varieties are more dependent on water than others. The water holding capacity of the soils is also a significant consideration for whether the yearly average rainfall is enough to sustain the vineyards.

Dry-farming practices have become more common as climate change and the need for water conservation force the hands of wine growers to become more sustainable, especially in arid areas prone to drought conditions. Some producers now use their irrigation systems only in extreme circumstances. Irrigated vines have shallow roots as they have never needed to develop root systems in search of moisture below the top layers of soil, making it a risky venture.

Montes Winery in Chile’s Colchagua Valley began to embrace dry farming in 2009. By 2012, Montes curtailed irrigation across 300 hectares, including vineyards responsible for its flagship M, Folly and Purple Angel labels. However, the irrigation lines have been left in place in case they are needed.

Owner Aurelio Montes has said that the vines produce half of the crop compared to the expected yields when they were regularly irrigated. Irrigation continues for the vineyards that provide the fruit for Montes’ more affordable wines.

Further south, in Maule, Chile’s oldest wine-growing region, a large number of family owned vineyards never introduced irrigation and have unwittingly found themselves ahead of the trend. The local Vigno movement, an association of producers looking to market the robust red wines made from old Carignan vines, displays “dry-farmed” on all of its labels.

The meaning of ‘dry-farming doesn’t necessarily have the same meaning to all producers, so “dry-farmed” on a label can lead to confusion. It is certainly a factor to consider as you look at the range of wines available, but it should not be interpreted as an indication of the wines quality.

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