By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. — Wineries produce red, white and rosé, but not many offer a green. Thanks to a nearly complete multi-million-dollar renovation of Newport Vineyards, green, as in environmentally friendly produced wine, will be a big part of the visitor experience.
The term “experience” is fitting because Newport Vineyards — the largest vineyard in New England — provides more than tastings and tours. Like other wineries, as well as farms and breweries looking to attract day-trippers and vacationers, Newport Vineyards offers a full-service restaurant, space for weddings and clambakes, live music and a year-round farmers market.
Owner John Nunes calls the back-to-the-farm trend “agri-tainment.” A growing segment of this crop — pun intended — of visitors also expects sustainability, he said.
“It’s smart and makes sense economically,” Nunes said.
A new rooftop solar array highlights the green transformation at the family-owned winery on East Main Road. This year, the grape harvest was a bumper crop, and, as Nunes said, “We’re making juice both in the bottle and on the roof."
Scott Milnes, of Econox Group, designed and installed the solar system. Other farms in Rhode Island, he said, are making more money from solar arrays than some crops, such as hay. "They can triple their income and keep the land in their family,” he said.
Here is a look at the new green elements at Newport Vineyards:
Wood pellets.This year, about 100 tons of the grapevine trimmings will be converted onsite into pellets for a new outdoor pellet furnace. The system provides supplemental heat for a new highly-efficient heating and cooling system. The pellet boiler also can burn corn and traditional wood pellets.
Solar.Wine making requires a lot of energy for chilling and indoor climate control. A 53-kilowatt rooftop solar array will offset the winery’s energy use by about 25 percent. Although this project is one of the smallest to qualify for the state’s distributed generation (DG) program, the state wants more small-scale solar projects to join the program. This project sells its electricity to National Grid at a fixed price for 15 years. The payback is about five years, according to Milnes.
Boiler room.It’s never sexy, but energy-efficient heating and cooling systems are big energy savers. Re-circulating excess heat and cool air to where it’s needed cuts energy demand during the winery’s fermenting process. The heat generated from a "chiller" compressor is captured in heat recovery water tanks to heat-process hot water and radiant floor heat.
Winemaking. Extra-insulated tanks and reused oak casks cut down on energy use and raw materials. Local apples and pears are used to make specialty cider and wines. Hand-pruning of grape vines reduces pesticide use. Grape skins are composted and used as fertilizer for 18 varieties of grapes.
Open space. A walking trail runs the perimeter of the vineyard, as part of the 10-mile Sakonnet Greenway Trail. In all, 75 acres in and around the vineyard are protected.