Taking Paso Robles on the Road to Japan and South Korea
2023 white blending trials suggest that we're looking at a truly special vintage: "each grape was clearly itself, but more so"

Solar Powered -- in Ways You'd Expect, and in Ways You Probably Wouldn't

[Editor's note: a couple of weeks ago, when I was on the road, Director of Marketing Ian Consoli put together a social media post about our energy use. I realized that it told a story that we'd never fully addressed on the blog. So I expanded it into this.] 

One way or another, nearly all the energy we use as a society comes from the sun. The question is just whether we’re going to harness its current output, or the past output as stored by ancient plants and turned over time into coal, oil, or natural gas. So, as a business which is concerned with its impact on the environment, you have to wrestle with two questions: how to use less energy, and how to choose the sources where that energy comes from. At Tablas Creek, we're trying to approach both choices thoughtfully.

Solar and green vineyard

Before even thinking about sources of energy, it's important to look at how you can use less energy overall. After all, there's a reason why the EPA warns you against solarizing your inefficiencies. Even renewable energy comes with costs, both in hard costs of manufacturing and installation, and in opportunity costs in other projects that don't get done. So, how do we use less energy overall? Here's a short list. Our winery and office are entirely outfitted with motion-sensitive lights. We use 100% electric forklifts and quads powered by our solar array. In 2020 we built a highly insulated night-cooled, solar-powered wine storage building to store our on-site inventory and reduce trips to outside warehouses. We forward-stage our wine club shipments so that they can be shipped ground rather than air and still get to customers with two days or less transit time. Our cellar is extremely well insulated and utilizes night air exchange. We have individual heating and cooling coils in most of our fermentation (and some of our aging) vessels, including the wooden upright tanks you see front and center when you come to our tasting room:

Upright fermenters from tasting room

Now for some things you might not expect. Packaging accounts for half the carbon footprint of the average winery. Carbon footprint is, essentially, a proxy for energy use. We’ve used lightweight glass for nearly 15 years, which alone reduces the total carbon footprint of a winery by between 10% and 20% depending on the weight of the glass that they were using before. We’ve sold our wines to restaurants and wine bars in reusable, zero-waste stainless steel kegs for even longer. Those kegs, even with the return shipment to California for washing and reuse, result in a 76% reduction in carbon footprint compared to glass. And, of course, over the last couple of years we’ve been putting our Patelin de Tablas wines in 3L boxes, in large part because they have an 84% lower carbon footprint than the same wine packaged in glass (photo credit to my wife Meghan, who brought one of our new Patelin Rosé boxes on a weekend trip recently).

Patelin rose box at sunset

As for the energy we do use, we've decided that solar is the way to go. If there is a resource we have in abundance in Paso Robles, it’s sun. Our 320 days of sun each year are a key part of why it’s such a great place to grow wine grapes. It also makes producing our own energy a great option, with an ROI of less than 10 years. We have four solar arrays, installed in 2006, 2015, 2019, and 2021. These arrays total 245kWp in capacity, and in 2022 produced 102% of the electricity we used to power our winery, office, and tasting room (we don't yet have the total from 2023 but expect to do even better given the more limited need for cooling in that cooler vintage). Using renewable energy, generated on site, means that you basically eliminate the 11% of the average California winery's carbon footprint that comes from energy use (chart below from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance): 

Carbon footprint of California wine

Finally, one last unexpected way we use the sun’s energy to power our operations. Don’t underestimate the power of photosynthesis. Every square inch of leaf is like a little photovoltaic cell. Our regenerative farming prescribes avoiding bare ground and using cover crops. The plants we grow, both the grapevines in the summer and the cover crops in the winter, capture the sun’s energy as the power source that turns atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. Our flock of sheep is the next stage in this energy transfer, eating grasses and ground cover and transferring 80% of that biomass to our soil, where it powers the vineyard without needing to bring in fertilizer or other inputs.

Sheep on New Hill March 2024

Our sun has been shining for some 4.5 billion years, and has another 5 billion years to go. There isn't a more reliable source out there. Leaning in and learning how to use it? That seems the safest, and most sustainable, bet we can make.