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Winery Raises a Glass to the Environment

The St. Catharines Standard –

There’s a shower to encourage employees to bike to work.  Only native trees and grasses will be grown on the grounds.  And most of the walls are windows to cut down on electric lights.

It’s a lot of little things.  But that’s usually what innovation is made of.

Stratus Vineyards has become the first building in Canada, as well as the world’s first winery, to be certified under LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the international standard in sustainable architecture.

Winemaker J.L. Groux said owner David Feldberg made it an early priority that his winery be best friends with the environment.  Large investment now will also greatly reduce operating costs in the future.  “You can look at green things as social concerns, but here, we are not philosophers.  We are still making money,” he said.  “The objective is to make a better environment for us and for others, but eventually we also want to make more money than we would if we had not done it.”

Touring the multimillon-dollar Niagara Stone Road facility with Groux, it’s difficult to spot what makes the building unique.  He points out details as if they’re subtle flavours in a Merlot.  Most of the production area is galvanized steel that doesn’t need to be painted.  Any paint that is used is non-toxic.  Almost all of the light is natural.

The movement of grapes and juice will mostly be done by gravity, cascading naturally to the next stage in the process.  But Groux said that is mainly for quality rather than ecology.  “Gravity is a very expensive way to move things,” he said, laughing through his untamed beard.  “It just goes down.”

Stepping outside, work crews are busy with some finishing touches in preparation for the grand opening next month.  The bicycle racks have yet to be installed.  All the plant life will be extremely low maintenance.  The indigenous breed of grass will only have to be cut a few times a year.  Grape waste will be spread on the vineyard as compost.  Exterior lights point down to reduce light pollution.

The centerpiece of the design is even harder to pick up, hidden 70 metres below the parking lot.  A geothermal system based around 23 wells that heat and cool the 22,000-square foot building, slashing hydro bills by 80 per cent.

Groux said he jumped to Stratus from Hillebrand Estates because of the wine itself, but he likes knowing his craft is possible.  “It feels better,” he said.

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