Real sustainability is never done. It’s an ongoing process of improvement, finding and applying the best new practices while not being afraid to break with the past. — Daniel Speck
We own 300 acres in the Short Hills Bench and 200 of those acres are under vine. Our basic viticultural practices include integrated pest management (advocated by the World Wildlife Fund). More significantly our vineyards have been farmed since 2004 in accordance with the world leading standards established by Sustainable Winemaking Ontario.
Our vineyards were the first to be accredited by Local Food Plus, a grant recipient of The Greenbelt, and we were one of the first wineries in a UNESCO World Biosphere, the Carolinian Climatic Zone protected by the Niagara Escarpment Commission.
Wetland restoration, with the addition of biofilters
This sustainable initiative was completed on our land in 2007 when we embarked on an ambitious project in partnership with the Ministry of the Environment. The bulk of our land is the catchment area for a much larger watershed. To help with excess water and to prevent soil erosion our entire vineyard is under-drained with tiles that link into a network. This provided a unique opportunity to improve the quality of the ground water that both enters and leaves our property by adding bio-filters to the choke points at our ponds. When completed all of our ponds and waterways will have bio-filters that remove organic materials from the water (the stuff you don’t want flowing into Lake Ontario). Essentially we are sending water off of our property that is cleaner than the water that comes into it from other people’s land, all the while encouraging native plants, fish, insects, amphibians, birds and mammals to return. This wetland will also act as a buffer zone to limit pests in the vineyard.
You can download a copy of the Twelve Mile Creek Watershed Strategy by clicking here.
Woodland preservation keeps the wildlife “wild”
Part of our land has reforested over time. By leaving these stands of trees we have preserved more than 11% of our total acreage as forest. Combined with the many acres of wetlands on our property we have been able to create very well traveled wildlife corridors that run between our forests and the Short Hills Provincial Park (as evidenced by paw and hoof-prints in the winter snow). These corridors particularly benefit deer, wild turkeys, pheasant, coyotes and foxes, some of which can be vineyard pests in the winter. Instead of fencing these animals out we have adapted our vineyard practices to include innovations like state of the art fine mesh netting to protect the plants but accommodate the animals. We also make it a practice to leave dead trees standing for raptors to perch, a side benefit being that the hawks scare off grape eating birds which are a pest at harvest.
Reduce, reuse and recycle. The leftover materials from winemaking are not waste.
Pommace (skins, seeds, stems etc) is organic matter which we compost and then return to the soil. Almost all other materials are reusable (eg. vineyard netting), recyclable (bottles, pallets, etc) or biodegradable (wood etc). Even barrels find a new life after we are finished with them.
Canada is water rich but we are as efficient as those in desert climates.
As determined by a recent water audit we were both surprised and pleased to discover that our winery (and even more so our vineyards) are at least as efficient as those in desert climates. Why? Because we’re not on city water the little we do use must be brought in from just down the road. We pay the true cost of water and so we are respectful of not wasting it. In practice this has lead to some other interesting innovations in the winery. For example, to prevent TCA contamination we de-chlorinate the water, ozonate it in lieu of using cleaning agents and then use it as steam for sterility and pressure. This reduces our volume used. Only pure H2O ever touches our equipment, which turns out to be the best thing to use anyways.
Energy efficiency is “low hanging fruit”.
We completed an energy audit recently and adopted significant but simple techniques to reduce our carbon footprint. Think of the winemaking facility as the best kitchen in the best restaurant: clean and functional. It may not be as glamorous in the fermentation room anymore, but wrapping all of those gleaming stainless steel tanks in foil coated bubble wrap has done a great job insulating them.
The winery is constructed in uadrants so that we can heat or cool each room separately, often passively, with outside air. We also like to keep the doors shut around the winery to minimize heat loss but we do need to be able to run hoses from room to room. Solution: we bored small re-sealable holes through the walls to run hoses when needed; and then, to make it really easy for everyone, we put electric openers on all of the big doors to encourage people to close them. Yes, the electric doors use energy, but not nearly so much as is lost when a door is left open in the winery (I think every parent can relate to this experience in their own home). On a visit you’ll notice that aside from our offices the winery has no windows, the main culprits for heat gain or loss. (The folks in the winery get to go outside a lot, but if you sit at a desk for 8 hours a day we believe you’re entitled to as much natural light and fresh air as possible, so you get windows that open!)
Hand-crafted wines are better than perfect, they’re beautiful.
Much of the work that makes wine of character – wine of quality that tastes like they came from a place and a time – must still be done by hand.
It’s been said that wine gets it’s character from the soil, it’s personality from the vintage, it’s quality from the influence of man. The winemaker is an assistant to the fruit; he nurtures it the way a teacher nurtures a student. The winemaker cannot draw out what isn’t there. Instead he brings out the best characteristics that the fruit has to offer without forcing it.
Perfection is not our goal. Between order and complexity there is beauty; that is our goal. Wine is a cultural art form based on the whims of nature but it is also an expression of man’s unique role in the world. The use of leading techniques and technology in both the vineyard and winery are central to allowing the terroir to express itself while also allowing our ever evolving house style to remain a contemporary classic. Tradition may run deep at Henry of Pelham but we are not static.