"I CHANGE by responsibly making wine that helps people connect with their environment."
—Shannon Brock, Co-owner and manager of Silver Thread Vineyard
During middle school, I became passionately concerned about the environment. With help from a couple of influential teachers and a little book called 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth, I was a conservation and ecology advocate by age 13. I volunteered at a recycling center, planted trees and began spending more time in nature.
While I have never been overly evangelical with my environmental ethics, I have tried to lead by example in my adult life. In my previous career as a teacher, I took city kids camping and taught science units about energy conservation. In my personal life, I eat mostly vegetarian, drive a fuel-efficient car, chose to renovate an old home, and limit my purchases of consumer goods. As a parent, I regularly take my children hiking, and teach them gardening and cooking with seasonal foods.
To me, the best way to fight climate change combines connectivity and conservation. The will to conserve comes from a deep connection to the natural world. We will only take steps to protect it if we understand the consequences of our actions and love the earth as a part of ourselves.
It is natural that my personal environmental ethics extend to my professional life. As a wine farmer, I have had the opportunity to lead by example to a larger audience. Since taking ownership of Silver Thread Vineyard in 2011, my husband and I have made great strides to reduce climate change in many aspects of our business.
In the vineyard, we have established a low-growing under-vine cover crop that eliminates the need for chemical herbicides, prevents carbon release to the atmosphere from tilling, and improves soil health by adding back organic matter.
Our wine production and sales operation is 100% solar powered thanks to a 28kW photovoltaic system that was installed last year. This level of efficiency is possible thanks to well-insulated buildings, high-efficiency lighting, air-source heat pumps used for heating and cooling, and a conservation ethic (ex: turn off the lights!) that keeps our energy use down.
We use light-weight glass bottles that reduce the energy needed to transport wine to market. We also use corks made from renewable cork bark. In the tasting room, we use fine crystal stemware that is made in the USA at a glass production facility with the lowest carbon emissions of any in the world.
Sustainability goes beyond energy conservation to include the people around us. Our small team of employees are paid a living wage and we donate time, product and money to local organizations such as Seneca Lake Pure Waters, Gas Free Seneca and Food For All Community Pantry.
Despite all the strides we have made, we see sustainability as a process. The more we learn, the more connected we become to our land and our community in the Finger Lakes, the more ideas we generate. For instance, we still use diesel fuel in our tractor and would like to begin using biodiesel or modify the engine to run on electric (so we could plug it in at the solar array). We continually evaluate our pest management program in the vineyard to reduce our need for chemical use, or to allow us to use lower impact materials.
While many customers concern themselves only with the quality of wine we produce, a growing number look to us as environmental leaders. It was a wonderful and unexpected benefit when several of our customers installed solar panels at their homes after learning about our system. It is gratifying when Cornell University researchers and other vineyardists come here to observe our vineyard practices and decide to adopt them, too. It is a true joy to spend my days working hard to make a product that brings happiness to people’s lives while producing little negative impact on the planet. Wine’s unique flavor provides a connection to the land it is grown on, which hopefully cultivates a will to conserve our beautiful Finger Lakes among all who taste it.
For more information about our vineyard and winery visit our Silver Thread Vineyard site here.