Also: 'Sunburned' grapes spur market; Frazier Winery files Chapter 11; Tapp expanding
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Constellation Wines U.S., one of the world’s largest wine companies and operator of several North Coast wineries, last week unveiled a solar-electricity project at four California wineries -- including Clos du Bois and Ravenswood -- expected to be one of the largest such projects for the wine industry when completed by the end of this year.
The multimillion-dollar project will include 17,000 solar panels producing a total of 3.95 megawatts of direct-current power, according to Greg Fowler, senior vice president of operations. It is estimated to provide all the annual power needs for Estancia in Monterey County and Ravenswood in Sonoma, 75 percent of consumption at Clos du Bois in Geyserville and 60 percent of the Gonzalez winery in the city by the same name. The Gonzalez project was completed last year.
The project was paid for in part via federal and state incentives. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides a 30 percent tax incentive for solar projects this year. The California Solar Initiative provides significant energy rate incentives for solar energy projects through Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
[caption id="attachment_24929" align="alignright" width="320" caption="Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena)"][/caption]
Rep. Mike Thompson congratulated the wine industry for 19 solar projects in Sonoma County, producing 2.5 megawatts.
"As an organic grower myself, I know it's the right thing to do, but it's expensive," he said at the press conference Monday.
Constellation expects the solar installations to save the company $1 million a year in energy costs.
Company CEO Rob Sands said the project is one of several examples that sustainability is not a catchword for the world’s largest wine producer.
“It’s important that people who make their living from the land be good stewards of the environment,” he said.
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He noted that the company completed a carbon footprint analysis for its global operations in 2009 and this year. All 13 wineries and all eight vineyards totaling 12,000 acres are certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance and post-crush grape waste is converted to energy.
The company is looking at more large solar installations at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville and Franciscan Estates winery in St. Helena.
Constellation hired Southern California-based Genesis Renewable Energy, which has a project-management office in Sebastopol, to design, install, operate, monitor and maintain the systems. San Diego-based Silverwood Energy is the installation contractor. Local contractors used for the Ravenswood and Clos du Bois projects are metal roofer David Rodarmel Inc. and roof maintainer Wine Country Roofing, both of Santa Rosa.
The late August and early September heat spikes finally brought out buyers for North Coast wine grapes unsold through most of the year, but the activity is more about replacing "sunburned" grapes than betting on a pickup in bottle sales, according to market experts.
"For the market prior to the burn, there was very little activity," said Brian Clements, partner and winegrape dealer at Turrentine Brokerage in Novato. "The increased interest now is mainly just to replace grapes that were burned."
The full extent of the damage won't be known until harvest proceeds farther and the amount of damage is known.
Estimates of North Coast crop damage range from 10 percent to 30 percent overall, depending on whether the tally is by grape buyers or sellers. Some varieties in certain areas were affected more, such as about 10 percent of Russian River Valley chardonnay, up to 50 percent of some pinot noir crops and up to two-thirds of some head-trained old-vine zinfandel.
If 10 percent of Sonoma County's estimated 50,000-ton chardonnay crop were harmed there may not be enough bulk chardonnay wine to fill the void, Mr. Clements noted.
Following a season in which cool, damp weather dominated, temperatures in wine country soared from the 70s to around 100 degrees Aug. 23 through 25 and again Sept. 1 and 2.
Vine canopy management to allow more sun, wind and pest-control measures to reach the clusters to deal with mold, mildew and European grapevine moth problems earlier in the season left clusters exposed to the sun. Often sun damage affects just sun-facing berries on one side of a cluster, but Mr. Clements said he's seen a number of clusters with damage all the way through to the stem.