About 20 years ago, California vineyards and wineries were the innovators in turning to the sun to tap solar energy. Today, about 90 wineries in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Mendocino, Paso Robles, Santa Cruz, and other West Coast vineyards are harnessing the orange-yellow blob to offset energy costs.
Page Springs Cellars and Vineyards is the first winery in Arizona to harness solar power in the wine-making process.
Arizona’s abundance of sunshine not only ripens grapes but can provide power to wineries as well, says Eric Glomski, Page Cellars’ vineyard owner and winemaker. He has waited a full decade to make this solar dream come true at his 23-acre site in Cornville, located southwest of Flagstaff in northern Arizona.
“I’ve been making wine for 18 years now, first in California, and over the last decade in Arizona,” Glomski said.
While in college, he discovered a need to be socially and environmentally responsible in the process of making a living.
“I would have loved to go solar from the get-go, but early on it was a hand-to-mouth existence to survive, Glomski said.
“Solar is expensive and we needed to build the business to a point where there was enough money to pay to support our early ideals. We didn’t lose track of our ultimate goal - it just took time to get there.”
Glomski added, “I’m a planner, but time changes plans, and you have to be able to adapt. We did so until we could implement this organic part of our process.”
State and federal funding of about $100,000 in incentives - about a quarter-to-a-third of the solar system cost - will help provide up to 85 percent of the winery’s annual power needs.
Harmon Solar in Phoenix installed the panels and estimated today’s solar systems would save the vineyard far more money than original costs.
Harmon Solar President Dan King said, “This is clean, stable, low-cost, emission-free energy for a smaller carbon footprint, long-lasting (maintenance-free for up to 25 years) with a return on investment in as few as eight years considering available tax credits, depreciation, and energy inflation.”
The system contains 365 solar panels (255 watts each) for a total system size of 92.8 kilowatts. King says the solar installation is estimated to produce 156,000 kWh of energy annually.
Vineyard manager Jeff Hendricks adds that the panels will serve a dual purpose, not only providing solar energy for the winery, but also providing covered parking for customers to avoid the intense Arizona summer heat.
“We have a 50-car parking lot and the panels - about 300-yards long and 40-feet wide – which cover more than half of the spaces,” Hendricks said. “It’s a pretty big awning, but we only lost one row of vines on the downhill side of the parking lot due to the shading of the structure.”
Quality over quantity
Page Springs is one of the larger vineyards in the Grand Canyon State. Winery leaders have consciously decided not to grow much larger in volume (acreage wise).
Glomski said, “I want to maintain the artistic and quality side of what we do - a simple lifestyle of living off the land instead of chasing the almighty buck.”
He added, “Our definition of success is broader than growing larger and making more money. Having two or three kids is a whole lot different than being responsible for raising a dozen. I know all of my vines and like the size we’re at now.”
Page Springs grows many varietals, but the core wine grapes are the classic southern French-grown varietals, including Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre.
“We’ve had some failures,” Glomski says, “but these varietals grow well here with the climate and soils and I’m happy with what we have.”
Other reds include Cinsault, Counoise, and Cabernet Pfeffer. The few white varietals are Viognier, Rousanne, and Marsanne.
“While you may occasionally see us blending with Cabernet Franc, Barbera, or Sangiovese - the flavorful grapes of the Rhône will always be our focus,” the grower-winemaker said.
Eyes on Arizona
As the sun glimmers off his newly-installed solar system, Glomski sees a bright future for wine grapes and wines in Arizona.
“We’re experiencing a renaissance in the state right now with a marked improvement in the quality of grapes grown and the wine produced over the last five years.”
Glomski predicts Arizona will become the wine-grape industry to watch – “the new, up-coming hot area to watch.
“Arizona has huge potential since we can grow just about any type of grape on the planet. We’re poised to explode on the wine scene.”
Keep an eye on what we’re doing since the sky’s the limit in this diverse state,” Glomski concluded.