When I tell people that our business model is based on being sustainable, I think about what that means to me and can only guess that it means many different things to my audience. To be ‘sustainable’ in the context of how I use the term, one must protect the soil, venerate the vines, and respect the people who work the business as well as the people who buy our products and understand at some level how they are all connected.
Our sustainable farming practices begin with keeping our soil on our farm. We achieve this is a number of ways. Foremost, we maintain a permanent cover crop in the form of grass between the grape rows to reduce erosion and to help manage weeds. The grasses bind the soil in place and contribute to a highly diverse soil microbial community making it possible for the vine roots to absorb water and essential nutrients.
All the materials involved in wine making and sales except glass, metal, and plastic end up in our composting program. Finished compost is spread onto the vineyard in the spring. Compost can replace the use of synthetic fertilizers, it builds soil and sustains a highly diverse microbial community which contributes to more healthy grape vines that tend to be more tolerant of pests. We derive a significant savings because we buy very little commercial fertilizer and use fewer pesticides.
The prevailing winds at our farm come from a Westerly direction so we laid out the vineyard rows in a North South orientation so the vines would be regularly ‘washed’ by the wind. The wind does a credible job drying off moisture in the form of morning dew and from rain fall. Vines that are dry require less disease management so pesticide use is significantly reduced at a cost savings to the business. The sun moves from East to West so vine rows aligned North South results in the grapes clusters on either side of the vine receiving about the same amount of sun light each day. This practice contributes to a more uniform ripening at harvest and higher quality wine grapes. We remove leaves around the clusters by hand and reduce cluster numbers which allows the wind to flow through the canopy which reduces bacterial and fungal infections making it possible to further reduce pesticide use. We minimize the use of insecticides and closely monitor the population growth of predator insects in the vineyard. Reducing insecticide application in our vineyard has resulted in an increase in the population of insect predators which is good for the environment and our operating budget. Happy Valley Vineyard is a cool climate vineyard growing mostly inter-specific hybrids, cultivars that are genetically suited to our local growing conditions. The decision to focus on growing hybrids and making fine wine from them has contributed to our sustainability.
Most of the “eco-glass” glass bottles we use to package our wine are made in Pennsylvania so the cost to the environment are minimized as compared to bottles shipped to the East Coast from California, Europe or China. The bottles we use contain fewer raw materials, and weigh less, so they require less energy to transport empty or full as compared to standard glass bottles.
Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery has made a significant commitment to renewable energy by installing two photovoltaic arrays on the property. The goal was to completely off-set our carbon foot print and to that extent, we have dramatically reduced it. One 9.8 KV system was installed on the roof of the winery by Envinity. That system provides about 85% of the power needs during those months when they are clear of snow. A second photovoltaic ground mounted array installed by ‘Sun Directed’ supplies the home, outbuildings and the wine storage complex with nearly 100% of the electrical requirements. There are solar powered charging stations in a shed at the home and one is available at the winery for the electric vineyard golf cart and select vineyard tools. The farm is fully committed to solar based power for our operation and we will continue to invest in this technology. The winery and tasting room utilize solar power for pumps, lighting, heating and cooling. Both structures are engineered for efficiency and were built facing South to take advantage of the power of the sun. Many, but not all the materials used to construct the tasting room were made in Pennsylvania.
Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery depends primarily on our locally grown vines for its wine. The 2016 grapes harvested were near perfect so we are expecting fine wine from this vintage.
At least 80% of all dollars spent on wine at the farm wine tasting room stays local in support of our staff and the community. The remainder goes to the Commonwealth and Federal Government for fees and taxes.