Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tinhorn Creek's compost pile and other good deeds

  Photo: Tinhorn Creek's Sandra Oldfield

On your next visit to Tinhorn Creek Estate Winery, walk to the northern border of its Golden Mile vineyard and look over the edge. You will see the winery’s compost field.

While this is not the most photogenic feature at the winery, it is a key part to Tinhorn Creek’s focus on sustainable winegrowing.

During the past six years, the winery’s sustainability initiatives have been gathering momentum, part of its policy to reduce its carbon footprint. Some examples:

* In 2004 the winery began releasing beetles to control a particular weed (the beetles eat the stems), replacing herbicides.  Also in 2004, the winery became involved in a major project to restore the antelope brush habitat in the south Okanagan.

* A trial program with snake fences, begun at Tinhorn Creek, is now widely used in the south Okanagan to safeguard people from snakes – and to protect the endangered snakes from people. These are low fences, low enough to step over, that prevent snakes from slithering into the vineyards. There is one, for example, at the top end of the winery vineyard, ensuring that snakes stay in the grassland on the hillside.

* The winery is believed to be the first in the Okanagan to convert to biodiesel for its farm machinery.

Photo: Tinhorn Creek's compost field

* The winery – like a growing number of its peers -- has been ramping up a program to compost every residual, from spent grape skins and seeds to food wastes from its restaurant. The compost then is put back onto its 130 acres of vineyard, much of it on sandy soil on Black Sage Road that benefits from the addition of the compost.

“We have a never-ending supply of land that can accept the waste that we generate from the process of making our product,” says Sandra Oldfield, the winery’s president and winemaker. “It means we don’t have to ship our waste out.”

It is not always the easiest way to deal with waste. For example, it would be cheaper to take restaurant waste to the local landfill. Tinhorn Creek has developed a method of fermenting these wastes before mixing them into the compost. That eliminates the odours that could attract bears and also annoy winery visitors.

* The winery has numerous programs to conserve water in its processing and in its vineyards, water being a precious commodity in the dry Okanagan. Currently, the winery is well into a four-year $1 million conversion of its overhead irrigation system to drip irrigation. Drip is so much more efficient that it can reduce the amount of water put onto the vineyard by as much as 75%.

“There are huge cost savings in putting in the drip system from an operational point of view and an environmental point of view,” says Andrew Moon, the winery’s viticulturist. “Grape vines don’t like having water thrown on top of them. They start getting diseases. Converting to drip cuts down the opportunity of those diseases getting into the vines. We don’t have to spray as much.”

* The winery has an extensive health and safety program developed over the last two years by a committee of the employees. The employees actually identified 900 workplace hazards – everything from dealing with confined spaces to avoiding repetitive strains. This initiative has changed the entire culture at the winery, and for the better.

“Employees are where it is at,” Sandra says. “Wine is just a by-product.”

That is just for starters. The winery uses energy efficient light bulbs, paperless faxes, and recycled packaging products whenever possible. This is a winery that is truly serious about have a light footprint on the environment.

Tinhorn Creek is certainly not alone among Okanagan wineries in working to be green, but it seems to be in a leading position.

A bean counter might ask whether wine consumers will reward Tinhorn Creek’s laudable efforts by buying its wines. I don’t think Tinhorn Creek is engaged in good works in the expectation of gaining more sales; the management here is not  cynical. However, the rising green sensibility in society in general is certain to translate into better sales for those wineries making an effort at being good citizens.

Here are notes on current Tinhorn Creek releases. With the exception of the rosé and the new white blend, most of the Oldfield Series wines were released last fall and may have been reviewed here. I have another opportunity to taste them this spring, however. Oldfield Series is the winery’s designation for its reserve tier.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2011 ($17.99). In this vintage, the winemaker tweaked its most popular white by letting 30% ferment in small stainless steel barrels and putting it through malolactic fermentation. When assembled with the other 70%, this portion softened the acidity and broadened the palate. The wine is still a bowl full of fruit brimming with pears and apples. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2011 ($17.99 for a production of 3,640 cases). This is one of the winery’s drier Gewürztraminers, showing classic spicy aromas and flavours of grapefruit. This is a very good wine with seafood. 88.

Oldfield Series 2Bench Rosé 2011 ($22.99). The third vintage of Tinhorn Creek’s rosé, it is made in greater volume that in previous years because the vintage gave the winery more Cabernet Franc best suited for rosé. This wine is crisp and dry, with aromas and flavours of raspberry. It is a light, refreshing wine looking for a picnic. 88.

Oldfield Series 2Bench White 2011 ($22.99 for a production of 1,091 cases). This wine, which will be released June 1, is complex blend of 52% Chardonnay, 31% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Viognier and 3% each of Sémillon and Muscat. It begins with attractive citrus, herbal, grassy and tropical fruit aromas; it delivers lovely fruit flavours and has a refreshing, zesty finish. 90-92.

Oldfield Series Merlot 2008 ($27.99 for a production of 1,200 cases). This elegant Merlot begins with aromas of red berries and vanilla. It delivers flavours of blackberry, plum, chocolate and vanilla. 90.

Oldfield Series Syrah 2008 ($34.99 for a production of 528 cases). This wine begins with aromas of pepper, meat and plum and delivers flavours of plum, fig, game meats and pepper, all with a polished texture. 90.

Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2008 ($34.99 for a production of 731 cases).  This is 40% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and 20%, Cabernet Franc, aged almost 20 months in French oak barrels (a mix of new and used). This is still a wine for cellaring, with its backbone of grippy, earthy tannins supporting flavours of black currant and chocolate. 90.


At April 28, 2012 at 11:35 AM , Blogger Gillian said...

I enjoyed reading this article. I had no idea of the efforts Tinhorn Creek made toward sustainability. Who doesn't want to feel even better about the world while drinking Tinhorn's wonderful wines?!


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