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Vineyard goes green to help its bottom line

Sandra and Kenn Oldfield make wine near Oliver, B.C. Ms. Oldfield's priority was cutting costs without laying off any of the 22 full-time staff.

Ever since Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth , businesses have wrapped themselves in the green flag. But last April, when the recession had hit hard, the environment wasn't the first thing on Sandra Oldfield's mind. As head of operations and winemaker of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards near Oliver, B.C., Ms. Oldfield's priority was cutting costs without laying off any of the 22 full-time staff.

A few months earlier, Ms. Oldfield had signed up for Vancouver-based Climate Smart's seminars on eco-friendly strategies for businesses. The program, which costs $1,500, helps businesses measure their carbon footprint and find strategies for reducing emissions.

As the start date for the program approached, Ms. Oldfield, worried about the costs of going green, became skeptical about attending.

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"It was at a time when we were really belt-tightening," she says of the winery she owns with her husband Kenn Oldfield, who is chairman of the winery. But she decided to go, partly out of curiosity. "We opted not to opt out," she says.

Fast forward a year. Thanks to boosting energy efficiency and buying carbon offsets, Tinhorn Creek is carbon neutral. Greening the winery didn't hike spending. It brought savings.

"It was the exact opposite of how I thought it would be," Ms. Oldfield says.

Calculating the winery's footprint "showed us all of our inefficiencies," Ms. Oldfield says. Climate Smart, and an energy audit, helped the winery identify a series of ways for fixing those inefficiencies. As a result, Tinhorn Creek instituted many changes from revamping the vineyards' watering system to implementing some simple green policies. The changes not only made the winery more eco-friendly, they helped its bottom line.

By far, the biggest savings came from switching the glass bottles that store wine. The new storage bottles are about 15 per cent lighter. Produced using less raw materials, the lighter bottles are more eco-friendly and less expensive.

The switch will save the winery a whopping $30,000 a year. "In better times, you could take that money and spend it on putting in some sustainable things like solar panels, but given the [economic]climate we're in right now, that money keeps us solvent," Ms. Oldfield says.

Other eco-friendly changes were less dramatic but also delivered savings. For example, programmable thermostats, which turn the heat down at night in Tinhorn Creek's main building, will shrink the winery's energy bills by $4,500 a year. "I'm sure most new places when they are built get programmable thermostats. You've got to remember we were built 15 years ago so a lot of the things we had to do involved retrofitting," Ms. Oldfield says.

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And changing old-school attitudes. Staff embraced a new policy, which requires them to turn off lights in empty rooms. (The policy will save $500 a year.) But they were less enthusiastic about setting the photocopier on its double-sided option, even though that will save about $100 a year.

"It just seemed like it would have been so easy but there was a lot of resistance for that," Ms. Oldfield says.

Tinhorn Creek composts grape seeds, skins and stems, but requires garbage pickup for other items. Until October, the pickup happened weekly regardless of whether the garbage container was full. Now pickups only happen when the dumpster is full. The truck comes by less frequently, especially during the off-season. Decreasing the number of pickups by 10 per cent reduces travel-related emissions and will slash the winery's bills for garbage pickup and depositing garbage by $400 a year.

To promote Tinhorn Creek's wines, which have won 250 medals worldwide, Ms. Oldfield, two sales staff and the winery's general manager host wine tastings in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Edmonton. The marketing trips boost the winery's profile, but also add to its carbon footprint due to the air and car travel involved.

In May, the winery will host its first Web tasting. Participating restaurants, with Tinhorn Creek wines in front of them, will log-in to the Web tasting where they'll see Ms. Oldfield, outside in the vineyard, ready to discuss the wines and answer any questions.

While there are thousands of videos online about wine, live virtual tastings are a recent development thanks to websites such as and Crushpad's Earlier this month, the LCBO hosted its first virtual wine tasting, which focused on three wines from Argentina.

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For Web tastings, Tinhorn Creek needs to buy a video camera, microphone and tripod, but the expenses, about $2,000, will pay for themselves within a year. Thanks to Web tastings, Ms. Oldfield will cut at least three marketing trips each year. That will reduce Tinhorn Creek's travel-related emissions and save the winery $3,000 a year. Some marketing trips will still occur.

"There is a certain amount that has to be done. You can't be virtual forever," Ms. Oldfield says.

With 130 acres of vineyards, it takes a lot of water to feed Tinhorn Creek's vines. That's why the winery turned its attention to water efficiency. Beginning this spring, Tinhorn Creek is switching from overhead sprinklers to a water-efficient drip irrigation system that puts "water right on the vines that need it," Ms. Oldfield says.

Installing the new system isn't cheap - it costs about $1,000 an acre - but the expense is worth it, Ms. Oldfield says. After the first 30 acres have been switched this year, the winery will save $1,600 in water bills. The savings will climb to $4,000 annually when all 130 acres have the drip system.

In total, when all the eco-changes have been made, Tinhorn Creek will save about $42,500 a year.

"It has been a good cost-saving measure to go through," Ms. Oldfield says.

Shrinking water and energy bills are two bonuses of going green. Marketing benefits are another. The winery's eco-initiatives are mentioned on its Website and at tastings. "We're tooting our own horn a bit," Ms. Oldfield says.

As a result, Tinhorn Creek is becoming a green landmark. Staff lead hikes through the vineyards and discuss the various conservation projects. The winery hosted a seminar on restoring vineyard habitat, which was organized by environmental organizations including the South Okanagan Stewardship program and the Land Conservancy. Winemakers in British Columbia and California have asked Tinhorn Creek questions about greening a winery.

"Some business owners may tune out when they hear the term 'green strategies,' but business owners love hearing about efficiency," Ms. Oldfield says. As Tinhorn Creek discovered, "the two are often the same thing."

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