By Mike Straus
At Off The Grid Organic Winery in West Kelowna, sustainability trumps convenience.
“We planted our first organics about 12 years ago,” says co-owner Nigel Paynter. “We don’t use any chemicals or pesticides on the property. If you turn over a shovel of earth in our vineyard, it’s teeming with insects. You can see the life in our vineyard.”
Paynter, who co-owns the winery with his wife Hayley, brother Travis, and sister-in-law Sheri, chose to take a long-term view when farming the land. Non-organic vineyards often have dead patches along the vines, he says, and it’s a result of vineyard owners bombarding the earth with chemicals.
While chemical pesticides are effective at removing pests like cutworms, the Paynter family—who have farmed land in the Okanagan for over 100 years—chose to manage pests organically.
“When we first started, we had cutworms that would eat the leaves of new vines and kill the grapes. So we went plant to plant and put a tablespoon of cornmeal at the base of each vine. The cutworms eat the cornmeal, swell up, and explode.”
Off The Grid’s pest management system also includes the use of the natural element sulphur for removing mildew and killing aphids.
In addition to natural, organic pest management, the winery also makes use of passive energy principles to power the winery and insulate the tasting and storage rooms. The tasting room’s straw bale construction—insulated by three inches of stucco on all sides—provides an R-rating double that of a standard wine cellar with just a fraction of the energy use.
But Paynter says that getting the building approved was a significant challenge.
“The city doesn’t have much experience with approving straw bale structures,” he says. “They have to cover their bases to make sure the building doesn’t collapse. The city was good to work with, but it wasn’t an easy process. Luckily the City of Nelson helped us out, because they have far more straw buildings out in Nelson. We also had a great local engineer, Joseph Sarcoir.”
Paynter says that part of the rationale behind the switch to energy-efficient measures was that it would prove to both business owners and homeowners that energy-efficient construction and renovation is possible. While solar panels have become significantly more affordable in the last several years, they remain prohibitively expensive for a number of households. But Paynter says that the long-term savings more than offset the upfront costs.
“If it were free to put solar panels on your roof, everyone would do it. Price is usually where green energy runs into objections. But in the last year we’ve saved about $5,000 in energy costs. It costs about $15,000 to install the solar panels, and we expect the panels to pay for themselves in about eight to 10 years.”
Paynter is currently setting up a remote monitoring system that will allow guests to see how much energy the solar panels are producing at any given time. While he originally wanted the entire winery to be fully independent of the public electricity grid, he ran into opposition from city officials and instead registered for net metering with BC Hydro.
“All the power we create goes into the BC Hydro grid, so everyone gets to use it. Whenever we need power, we pull what we need out of the grid. Our annual plan is to be net zero.”
Off The Grid sold out of its wine supply and is closed for the season, although they continue to work the land. You can find out more at http://www.offthegridorganicwinery.com/index.html.