Make wine while the sun shines

The winemaking tradition of the Grier family began in the 1970s with cousins Jeff and Simon Grier, whose pursuit of excellence in wine production found a home in 1983

Simon Grier

with the purchase of Villiera Wines, in the Stellenbosch Region.  

The innovative team made a commitment to lessen its impact on the environment and become pioneers of the green revolution in wine production when they made the decision to reduce their carbon footprint, and reliance on the national energy grid, by covering three of the roofs at the Stellenbosch-based winery with 539 solar modules.  This project won them a runner-up prize in the 2011 eta Awards Energy Champion” Industry category most recently.

Now generating enough electricity to supply one third of the entire requirement of the farm during harvest – including staff housing, offices, kitchens, processing and bottling facilities, cellars and even its cooling and irrigation systems – the system also supplies much of the electricity requirements for the remainder of the year.  The 900 m2 of solar panels, capable of providing more than 132 kW of power per day, were installed at a huge cost to the winery, but will pay for themselves within seven years, according to Simon Grier.

“We have also installed innovative solar domes which allow natural light into the store rooms and the cellar, substantially reducing the reliance on electricity to generate light in these environments, as well as replacing most electric geysers with solar water heaters.

“Not only is Villiera a proud member of the BWI, but the farm also recently had its sustainability efforts rewarded by UK supermarket giant Marks & Spencer, when the farm was recognised as the “International Plan A supplier of the year” for 2010.”  Through “Plan A” the UK supermarket chain plans to “work with their customers and suppliers to combat climate change, reduce waste, use sustainable raw materials, trade ethically, and help their customers to lead healthier lifestyles.

Says Simon:  “We have to make sure that our green strategies also make good economic sense, keeping ourselves affordable both on local shelves and in the export market and storing surplus power would double the cost, so at night and during the harvest season we continue to rely on Eskom.  As far as I know, this is the biggest roof-mounted solar power installation in South Africa at present.”

The project at Villiera Wines is also creating interest around the effectiveness of solar energy in a manufacturing environment and particularly the agricultural sector, which are typically energy intensive.  Investing in a solar solution can empower an enterprise to secure its profits in the long term, while providing a clean, renewable source of power.

“All our staff have been educated about the project and its significance,” says Simon.  “One of the greatest benefits is the enhanced awareness that it has created.  We have a new perspective on how we use our energy and are making a conscious effort to conserve this resource even further.  It just feels like the right thing to do; for the environment and marketplace.”