Environmental Policy at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery is one of BC’s leading wineries, both from the perspective of the premium wines it produces, from the more than 100,000 tourists that visit the winery each year and from the leadership it has shown in embracing an environmentally responsible program from the top to the bottom of its operations.
“It has been the overriding
environmental philosophy at
Burrowing Owl to take the
long term view of our vineyard
and winery practices and on
a global scale we strive to do
Following on the initial leadership and vision of Proprietors Jim and Midge Wyse, their son and President Chris Wyse continues the winery’s commitment to environmental and ecological sustainability. The Wyse’s chose the name “Burrowing Owl” when the initial land purchase completed in 1993, after learning that the little owl may have lived in the area at one time, but had since become an endangered species. It is rarely found in the region today. 100% of the $3 tasting fee charged in the tasting room is given to the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC for their captive release program for Burrowing Owls and to SORCO (South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls). The wine shop alone raises close to $50,000 each year for these two organizations.
The commitment to the burrowing owl is only one of the many environmental practices that are inherent in the day-to-day operation at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. The following is a list of many of the other areas where a commitment to the environment and the surrounding ecosystems has dictated the building/construction, operational and farming practices here.
There are two principal buildings at Burrowing Owl. Construction of the building that houses the winery and restaurant began in 1997. The construction of the Guest House which also houses the tasting room and corporate offices was completed in 2006. Throughout the design, construction and operational phases of the two buildings, there has been a commitment to ensuring environmental sustainability as follows:
- The Building Design makes use of the steeply sloping hillside which is largely unusable for farming, by putting most of the production and storage facilities underground. This design feature has substantially reduced the building footprint, leaving more surface area for farm land and other wine-related uses. The total footprint of both buildings is only 14,448 sf whereas the usable area within the footprint and underground is more than one acre at 46, 887 sf.
- Solar heating: All of the hot water is preheated for wine-making, offices, the Guest House, pool and hot tub from solar panels that cover the roofs of both buildings, greatly reducing the need for onsite heat generation.
- Geothermal: All the Guest House & office HVAC, plus a portion of the hot water is generated from our extensive ground-sourced geothermal system.
- Underground cellars: We have built over 12,000 sf of underground barrel cellars that provide natural (ground temperature) cooling during the summer and natural warmth during the winter for aging the wine. This is ideal for wine making, without the need to heat or cool using electrical or fossil fuel energy as would be the case for an above-ground barrel facility.
- Gravity Flow Winery: A side benefit of this multi-level, underground plan is that the wine-making process uses gravity to move the wine through the various stages from top to bottom. By not using pumps to move the wine through the process not only is energy saved, but the process results in a higher quality wines as the juices are treated more gently, thus preserving their delicate flavours.
- Heat Exchangers: All make up air ventilation passes through heat exchangers so that heat (in winter) or cool (in summer) is not lost to the environment with each air change.
- Building Efficiencies: All buildings have been constructed to the highest level of thermal and electrical efficiency, and we believe that the new Guest House meets or exceeds the LEEDS standards for existing buildings, a new American measure of environmental efficiency.
- Low Flush Toilets: All toilets on the premises are certified low flush.
- Dark Sky Exterior Lighting: All of our exterior lighting is DARK SKY approved, reducing light pollution.
- Low Energy Light Bulbs: Throughout the winery, Guest House and Restaurant we have made a commitment to use low energy, long life bulbs wherever possible.
Vineyard and Farming Practices
Without compromising the grape or wine quality, every effort has been made by the Vineyard operators to ensure the sustained viability of the natural terrain and the plants and animals that live there. These measures include:
- Upgrades to Irrigation Systems: A complete replacement of our 40-year old irrigation pumps and pipelines costing about $1.0 million was completed in 2007. Early reviews indicate that this upgrade has improved our irrigation energy efficiency by a factor of approximately 2, as it allows us to use much less water for growing wine grapes, something that the old system was not capable of. This is a huge improvement in efficiency and promotes water conservation with a parallel reduction in our consumption of electrical power.
- Solar Energized Water Probes: Throughout the vineyard there are solar energized probes that automatically test the soil at root depth and wirelessly report the true watering needs of the vines back to the office. This ensures that we only use the water that we need.
- Use of Bio-Diesel Fuel: We use bio-diesel fuel in the 6 tractors that operate the vineyard. These fuels are cleaner burning and emit fewer less greenhouse gases than equivalent fossil fuels.
- Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a long way of saying that we try to use friendly insects to battle other insect pests. For example, spider habitat is boosted by simply not cutting the cover crops between the vine rows regularly. Instead, these rows are cut on alternating periods thus providing continuous habitat and encouraging a thriving spider population. In turn, spiders eat aphids and mites that are pests to the grapes.
- Organic Techniques: A variety of techniques have been invoked to bring the vineyard closer to the “organic” ideal. One such technique is the recycling of grape “pomace”, the material made up of grape skins and seeds that are expelled from the press after the juices and wines are extracted. The pomace is taken to a local feedlot where it is mixed with manure and returned to the vineyard in the spring, as a compost to enhance the organic material in our sandy soils.
- Sprays: Using environmentally safe, biodegradable fertilizers and chemicals, none of which persist in the soils. Long term sustainability of this beautiful farmland is our principal objective.
- Cover crops: Planting cover crops of mustard between each row of grape vines, which encourages the growth of preferred invertebrates and supports a natural mechanism of pest control. Interestingly, the cover crop also reduces the evaporation rate of irrigation water and puts essential nitrogen into the soil.
- Compost: Mulching all organic waste generated during pruning and vine maintenance and leaving it on the ground to compost naturally among the vines adds organic matter to the vineyard topsoil.
- Snakes: Helping to relocate the endangered western rattlesnakes and other creatures that are occasionally found in the vineyard, without harming them.
- Birds: If the nests of birds like meadowlarks that nest on the ground are spotted in the vineyard, the tractor drivers are instructed to rope off these rows until the new chicks have fledged.
- Education and training: Sensitizing and educating vineyard workers and visitors to the area’s unique ecological features is on ongoing program.
Guest House and Restaurant Operational Practices…
- Less than 100 km: Since the opening of the Sonora Room Restaurant in 2002, management has made a commitment to utilize local suppliers and farms for food and produce required for restaurant operations to reduce carbon emissions associated with transporting these items.
- Recycle: All staff is asked to participate in a winery-wide recycling program for cardboard, paper, bottles, packaging, office supplies, etc.
- Re-use: All wine bottles used in wine shop or restaurant operations are cleaned and re-used at the winery.
- Blue boxes: Guest rooms and offices are equipped with recycling blue boxes, and guests are encouraged to recycle at every chance.
- Linens: Towels and sheets are only washed at guests request and not on a daily basis.
At Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, alternative pest control systems are the standard.
- Bluebirds: More than 100 bluebird boxes and bat nursery boxes invite insect-eating guests to stay awhile and dine in the vineyards. Other native species like tree swallows benefit from these nesting boxes.
- Ground nests: Ground nesting birds like meadowlarks are protected by barriers in springtime to prevent farm machinery and vineyard workers from inadvertently destroying them.
- Snakes: A variety of snakes may be encountered in the vineyard, particularly during their spring and fall migrations. Any snakes found in troubling locations are safely retrieved and relocated.
- Large animals: Black bears, deer and California big horned sheep are discouraged from sharing the harvest but never harmed.
It has been the overriding environmental philosophy at Burrowing Owl to take the long term view of our vineyard and winery practices and on a global scale we strive to do no harm.