Reds and Green
Vintner wants to build solar-powered winery.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Steve McIntyre has been growing wine grapes in a manner he calls “sustainable” since before that word became popular, mostly for other winemakers. Now he’s focusing on making his own wine—in the county’s first green winery.
The McIntyre Winery, with solar panels and windmills, would run on 100-percent renewable energy. Wastewater would be recycled, processed and used for irrigation. Ozone—rather than chlorine or other chemicals—would sanitize the winemaking and bottling equipment. McIntyre even plans to use recycled building materials to construct the winery.
Sitting in his pickup truck at McIntyre Vineyard, off River Road in the Santa Lucia Highlands, the would-be eco-vintner points past rows of Pinot Noir—he grows 60 acres of wine grapes on the ranch—to where the winery would sit.
“That reservoir was put in here in the 1940s,” he says, explaining that back then, it was used for erosion control and to irrigate row crops. A pipe runs under the vines and through the foothills, jutting out over the reservoir, which is dry. “Even in the El Niño years, we didn’t get any water in it,” McIntrye says. “We said, ‘Hey, let’s see what we can do to build a cavern.’ This will become a barrel room with a roof on top.”
McIntyre says he’s in the “planning phase,” right now, as he unrolls the architect’s drawings for a courtyard and two-story structure with a cellar, a barrel room, tasting room, kitchen and dining room, as well as an on-site processing and bottling facility. The winery would produce up to 20,000 cases. “We hope to have the use permit by January ’08, and to start building in last [quarter] ’08 and finish in ’09—a three-year project.”
McIntyre has been growing wine grapes in Monterey County for more than two decades. His vineyard management company, Monterey Pacific, produces fruit for several prestigious labels—Bernardus, Artesa, William Seylem and Marilyn Remark, among others. As managing partner in the Monterey Wine Company, he has also produced wines for Bonny Doon, Caymus, Smith & Hook and Hess. He bought what is now the McIntyre Vineyard in 1987, and produces wine under his own label from the estate vineyard. If all goes according to plan, in a couple years McIntyre will also process and bottle the wines on site.
At the McIntyre Vineyard, a horse-shoe shaped bench rises above the reservoir. “This is for the crush pad,” McIntyre says, explaining that it is where grapes will be de-stemmed and crushed. Because the crush pad will be located above the barrel room, gravity will transport the juice into tanks and then into barrels below. “Pinot Noir growers like to do everything without pumping,” he explains.
Of course, using gravity instead of pumps to move the wine also saves energy. This seems to be typical McIntyre: He wants to build a green winery not only because it’s a good thing, environmentally speaking, but also because it’s good for the grapes, for employees and for business.
“I take a very scientific, logical approach to sustainability,” he says.
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McIntyre says he has employed both organic and biodynamic farming techniques, tailoring his methods to suit the demands of whatever winery he is selling to. “I try to use a little technique from both of these systems,” he says. “If a farming technique really has merit, not only from an environmental standpoint but also socially, and it affects your bottom line, it will become conventional.”
McIntyre’s approach to watering, for example, is good for the grapes and for the watershed. Some grapes benefit from the stress they experience if they are watered less frequently during parts of the growing season.
“Red grapes like to deficit irrigate,” he says. “It forces the roots to grow deeper, and they’re more affected by the terroir”—the soil and climate unique to the piece of land. By monitoring the vines for stress, McIntyre conserves water, and improves the quality of the wine.
Another growing technique that hasn’t become quite so mainstream is a cover crop system, which McIntyre says he and other growers at Smith & Hook “discovered through serendipity,” some 14 years ago. “This really smart weed-man said, ‘You know, broad-leafs won’t germinate unless they’re in full sun.’ ” They let the native grasses grow on half the vineyard and mowed the other half. They found the unmowed cover crops to be beneficial to the grapes—and harmful weeds, just as the man promised, did not take root in the shade of the vines.
“This is not a common practice,” McIntyre says, pointing to the tall, brown grasses growing under his vines. “A lot of people will say, ‘Gee, why haven’t they mowed this?’ ”
The answer? “Irrigation. Soil control. The weeds act as a windbreak.”
He goes on to explain that the grasses that grow on these hillsides are “moisture-obligate and day-length-obligate,” meaning that they go dormant with decreasing water availability and shorter days. Once the grasses go dormant, they stop germinating and they no longer complete with the vines for valuable groundwater in the soil. “So we don’t do any mowing ‘til August to keep the cover crop from utilizing the moisture that the vines will use,” he says.
“You’ll notice, in most vineyards, people have mowed the cover crop, which, to our way of thinking, is just like taking the skin off your hands. Why?”
|THE WEEKLY TALLY||284||
The number of university and college presidents, including CSU Monterey Bay President Diane Harrison, formally committed to sharply reducing and eventually eliminating global warming emissions. CSUMB and Harrison joined the group Tuesday, June 12. Source: The American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, CSUMB.