Winemakers look to double-down on impact to state with sustainability efforts
– By Gabriel Pietrorazio
New York and wine go hand-in-hand. A recent study commission by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, which was conducted by John Dunham & Associates identified New York as the nation’s third leading wine-producing state.
With an annual economic impact of $6.65 billion, New York state is home to more than 470 wineries across an expansive 35,000-acres.
Even with a clearly undeniable economic impact, winemakers like Paul Brock at Silver Threads Winery has remained openly conscious about contemplating their ecological footprint in an effort to promote greater sustainability practices at his vineyard in Lodi.
Last Thursday, Brock spoke at Waste Not Shop located on Exchange Street in Geneva about their industry specific practices and how the company has championed sustainability initiatives as an agricultural producer of grapes.
At the “Wine Talks” event, Brock unveiled two brand-new bottled wines from their 2019 harvest season that patrons tasted in addition to two others.
For Brock, sustainability takes many forms, even when it comes to the packaging.
At Silver Threads, no capsules are used on their bottles.
“There’s no capsule here. So, this is kind of something that I go back to over and over again as winemaker and vineyard manager is that we can always improve on our sustainability,” Brock said.
Rather than single cuts from bark, the corks are recycled but still do not distort any flavors or aromas from the bottled wine.
Beyond capsules and corks, Silver Threads has reimagined how they present their brand through the bottles that they fill.
“When you buy a bottle at the restaurant, they come up and present it to you, right? How often have you been impressed with the size and girth of the bottle? This is one of my pet peeves. Like, why does more glass have to impress anybody because we know that making something with a higher massive glass is going to cost more energy and more resources and it takes more energy to recycle,” Brock asked.
As a result, Brock has invested in eco-glass, which is 15 percent thinner than most other wine bottles.
While the wine industry indirectly dictates that glasses are supposed to sell consumers as a marketing schema, Brock is less interested in impressing his customers with how their product looks whether it rests inside a wine cellar or sits on a store shelf.
“It’s not impressive. I don’t ever want to impress my customer and if that’s what they care about maybe they’re not the right customer for Silver Threads. I care about having the least footprint getting the glass to you,” he said.
Aside from aesthetics, Brock considers the financial and environmental costs that are incurred by producers and consumers alike when shipping a two-pound bottle across the country.
As for the vineyard, Brock mentions that if you’re driving past a row of vines that are cleared, this is may be caused by spraying pesticides or through a specific cultivation.
However, Brock claims that the picturesque scene of a wine vineyard in the Finger Lakes or elsewhere may not be as healthy for the vines that bear fruit.
“Turns out that neither of them is very good and there’s actually research showing that when you start growing things in your vines, vines become healthier,” he said.
Essentially, this means that “the grapes are going to be different,” more specifically the flavors and aromas change the characteristics of the wine itself.
As a result, Silver Threads is currently in their fifth year where the vineyard has stopped using herbicides and started growing fescues as an underground cover crop to protect the vines and their root systems.
While the fescues grow between 12 to 18 inches tall, Brock explains that they must control the weeds by clearing the space a couple times each year, which usually takes two workdays to seven-acres alone and sometimes even a week or two for a second pass with only one person on-hand.
Using a small tractor engine that may use upwards of 10 gallons, Brock looks to the future to cutdown fuel consumption as he awaits for the advent of the electric tractor to reach the market.
“I’m waiting for Elon Musk come up with the electric tractor that I can afford. So that maybe we have that option someday. So, I’m hoping in my lifetime to have electric tractor, which would be nice,” Brock said.
As for the building itself, the entire Silver Threads facility where the wine is produced on-site is solely powered by electricity.
“That’s all solar generated over we generate over 100 percent of our energy in the winery and we installed that system the fall of 2015,” Brock added.
Aside from solar energy, Silver Threads aims at sequestering the most amount of juice from each yield.
“So, we have invested heavily at Silver Threads to make sure that we actually get as much juice out of the grapes as we possibly can and recover that juice,” Brock said.
As a horticulture professor at Finger Lakes Community College, Brock conducted a study a few years ago after asking different winemakers about their yields.
“Would it shock you shocked to hear that 20 to 30 percent of Riesling goes down the drain in some wineries every harvest? I lose about 5 percent. It makes you sad. It makes me really sad,” he explained.
Cumulatively, based on Brock’s study, the total loss of grapes is equivalent to five-acres of grapes.
Brock then questioned, “Now you were to throwaway five acres grapes every year how many people would consider that sustainable right?”
Instead of throwing away those leftover grapes, Silver Threads composts them on-site and spreads the pile onto the fields each year.
After the event Waste Not Shop owner Marilla Gonzalez did not shy away from nodding to Silver Threads’ Paul Brock for taking sustainability seriously within the region’s wine industry.
“Despite the weather, I’m thankful that Paul and some of our faithful customer base and community members showed up. People are interested in learning what people are doing to take care of the planet and how we can help. Paul talked about some important topics that we were all curious about, especially when sustainability in the wine industry is starting to come up in current conversations more and more. I’m thankful that the Waste Not Shop is becoming not only a place to shop, but a place to gather and learn. That’s a huge goal for us,” Gonzalez added.