The Sustainable Winery
Operating on 100% solar power generation and bio-dynamic agriculture, Ampelos Cellars is located a few hours north of Los Angeles and operated by a married couple who left the corporate life to begin a new one as entrepreneurs.
A couple awakened to organics and ecology
When interviewing movie star Kurt Russell, I discovered that the winery he was collaborating with operated on 100% solar power and, intrigued, I contacted the owners who enthusiastically welcomed an interview and even offered accommodation. Ampelos Vineyard and Cellars is located in the town of Lompoc, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles, and managed by Peter and Rebecca Work. The couple were human resource consultants for a major accounting firm who later, along with others, started a highly successful independent business. With the profits, they decided to run a winery. In 1999, they purchased the land, built a home overlooking it, and hired a consultant to help construct the facilities.
The first few years were more akin to pursuing a hobby. However, when their lives were saved by the last-minute cancellation of a meeting at the World Trade Center on 9/11, they decided to concentrate on operating the winery. “Initially, like most other Americans, we had no interest in being eco-friendly or pesticide-free. But one day, we were relaxing at home with the windows open when we noticed the breeze coming in from the vineyard. Back then, we had been using pesticides, so we became alarmed by what we were inhaling. Pesticides kill living things, right? If we are breathing those in, it has to be bad for our bodies,” recalls Rebecca, explaining why they converted to organic farming. Peter adds, “When we went pesticide-free, I began thinking about ecology.
Water is essential for the cultivation of grapes. We were irrigating our vineyards with water pumped up through pipes, but electricity bills weren’t cheap and I began to question the use of power generated from means that impact the environment. When I contemplated what the best solution might be, the answer was solar power generation.” With that, panels were installed in 2009. Peter confesses that it proved to be a financially difficult year. “With a relatively poor grape harvest, the wine sales were not increasing as expected, so we ended up having to take out a bank loan in order to purchase solar panels.
We didn’t want to give up because we felt so strongly that we were doing the right thing. The pump was costing us about $600 each month in electricity bills. Not only have we done away with that, the electric company purchases our surplus power. Deducting equipment investments, we will start profiting this year, so not only is it easy on the environment, it’s easy on the wallet, too. We’re really glad we went with solar power,” Peter says, smiling.
Transitioning to bio-dynamic agriculture
After converting to organic cultivation, the Works decided to move further in that direction and began to incorporate ‘bio-dynamic agriculture.’ “It’s expensive and cumbersome so many farmers stay away from it, but it’s healthier for our customers and better for the soil, so we decided to try it,” says Rebecca. “It’s not just the ocean tides. We humans are also influenced by the waxing and the waning of the moon—plant life, too. That is why we farm by the lunar calendar.” The next morning, Peter guides us through the vineyard as he feeds the horses and chickens.
Pointing to an embankment just beyond the horse corral, he tells us, “Heap together grape skins and seeds, horse manure and weeds, and about one year later, you have compost for your vineyard.” Referring to the legumes planted between the rows of grape, he says, “When about 80% have flowered, we dig them up and bury them. That’s because they increase the concentration of nitrogen needed by the microorganisms that keep the soil healthy.
Chickens play a huge role in pest control and fertilization. Let them out of the coop and they flock to the vineyards.” After checking on the solar panels on the periphery of the vineyards, we return home where Rebecca serves breakfast. “I made these omelets using eggs from our chickens,” she explains. Licking my lips as I savor the golden omelet, I can taste the warm, permeating atmosphere of the region and its land.
Article from Solar Journal vol.03 2016 issue