[caption id="attachment_42554" align="alignleft" width="350" caption="Kathleen Inman and wine club member Judy Van Kirk of San Rafael, owner of a Nissan Leaf electric car, connect the vehicle at the Inman Family Winery’s solar-powered charging station."][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- The Inman Family Winery is the first Sonoma County winery to install a privately-owned, publicly available, solar-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging station.

The system is installed at the firm’s tasting room that opened last September at the Olivet Grange Vineyard, located at 3900 Piner Road in Santa Rosa.

Visitors coming to the winery in EV’s are encouraged to “fill up on sunshine” at no cost while visiting the estate.

While other North Bay wineries in the Napa Valley, such as Hall Wines and Clif Family Winery in St. Helena as well as Cade Winery in Angwin, have EV charging stations, they draw energy from the local electric power grid rather than from the sun.

The presence of a charging station at a winery helps offset what has become known as “range anxiety” among EV owners who are reluctant to venture far without the assurance of a charge to get them back home.

Inman Family Winery owners, Kathleen and Simon Inman, believe in adhering to a strict eco-ethics regimen in every aspect of winery operations – from EV charging and 100 percent solar power for their building energy requirements, to all-electric fork lifts, heat pumps, appliances and other systems designed to use the greenest power possible.

“I weighed the pros and cons of applying an ethical approach to benefit the land, while minimizing our carbon footprint and seeing a positive ROI in the process,” said winemaker Kathleen Inman, who also heads Inman Family Winery operations.

“Today the facts and experiences of early adopters support such a program, and while the initial cost is higher, these practices pay for themselves over time.”

She has an MBA in corporate finance and held senior positions with Coopers & Lybrand and the executive search firm, GKR Group before devoting full time to the family winery in 2002.

“As we planned to develop the 10.5-acre farm in the Russian River Valley we bought in 1999, we wanted to implement sensitive, organic viticultural practices and natural winemaking. 

“Every decision was made with energy efficiency and recycling in view – including the recycling of wastewater, utilizing post-consumer recycled materials and buying local products to reduce the carbon footprint associated with trucking goods, materials and equipment from a distance.”

The ChargePoint EV charging station, made by Coulomb Technologies, Inc., of Campbell, California, was installed at Inman Family Winery at a cost of $5,000.

This system provides two levels of charge: Level 1, at 120 volts, can completely recharge a vehicle in 15 hours or less.  The Level 2 setting, using 240-volts, can do the same in six to seven hours. The system can provide a partial charge for shorter durations.

A larger EV charging station, also available from Coulomb, can deliver an 80 percent charge in 45 minutes.

The EV charging station pedestal takes less than a third the space as a standard gas pump and includes a power cable with a connector that plugs into a port in front of the EV.  The ChargePoint system is designed to scan most major credit cards when, and if, the Inman’s decide to assess a fee for the service.

“I guess you could say that we believe in the saying ‘fortune favors the brave’ when it comes to fully embracing solar and other sustainable practices.”

The solar panels, inverters and connections placed on the roof of the new winery, which has the same roofline and footprint of the 19th century barn that it replaced, cost $95,000 and were placed in a 160-degree azimuth look angle to the sun – close to the optimal 180-degree angle.

While the total cost of these solar projects may seem high for a small enterprise, the Inman’s expect to recoup their investment in five years, given federal and state cash rebates, tax credits and power company reimbursements.

They are currently making more power than they can use and anticipate receiving a check from PG&E as part of its payback program for power returned to the grid. 

The solar panels, obtained from Tennessee-based Sharp Electronics, produce 15 kilowatts of power and were installed by WestCoast Solar Energy of Rohnert Park, a former Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster firm that got its start at this non-profit business incubator.

“We could have purchased the solar panels from China at a lower cost, but we are committed to supporting U.S. businesses.”

The next public EV charging station is to be installed by WestCoast Solar at the Community Market in Santa Rosa.

According to Nate Gulbransen, president of WestCoast Solar, his firm has already installed similar solar systems at Merry Edwards Winery, Battaglini Estate Winery, Schug Winery, Kaz Vineyard and Winery, Arista Winery, Montemaggiore, Hawkes Winery and James Family Cellars.

The Inman family’s sustainability practices extend to everything they do.  

“We dismantled the old barn, originally built in 1883, that was torn down and rebuilt again in 1946. We rebuilt it for the third time by taking it apart piece by piece and reassembling it around a metal Butler Building with R-30 insulation in the walls and R-38 on the roof.

“This insulation, plus an air recirculating system bringing cool air into the building at night, keeps indoor temperatures at comfortable levels even on the hottest summer days.”

Light colored decomposed granite was used instead of dark asphalt pavement to reduce the heat-island effect and to minimize the impact of buildings on microclimates as well as human and animal habitat.

Recycled steel reclaimed from scrap automobiles was used in the building’s superstructure. Reclaimed aggregates were used for the floor and foundation, and recycled pottery was repurposed as rest rooms tiles. Countertops in the tasting room were crafted from crushed, recycled colored glass.

In back of the barn, the Inman’s installed and Advantex system that reprocess wastewater cascading through a series of aerator fountains and filters before being transferred to a 16,000 gallon cistern. This reclaimed water is used for both grapevine frost protection as well as irrigation.  

Low VOC paint, caulks and adhesives were used on exterior walls and interior paints were all zero-VOC.  

   Only organic fungicides and bio-fertilizers, comprised of worm castings from the Sonoma Valley Worm Farm rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, are used in the production of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris wines.

Permanent cover crops have been planted that produce higher quality grapes by forcing the vines to compete for water and soil nutrients, according to Ms. Inman, resulting in smaller berries with more concentrated flavors.

Without the tiling of the soil, the vineyard requires less use of fossil fuels for tractors, while also reducing soil erosion and providing a habitat for beneficial insects.

“We also deploy many biodynamic farming techniques but don’t have the acreage to raise our own cattle to produce manure for fertilizer that would complete the ideal objectives of biodynamic farming,” Ms. Inman said.

Kathleen Inman said there are several things that must be done to standardize EV charging plugs and equipment across the industry, but the greatest need is for more forward thinking people to install charging stations so that “range anxiety” is no longer part of the fear of investing in an electric vehicle.