On California’s Central Coast, the Merrill family can trace their winemaking heritage back to at least eight generations ago, to even a grape arbor that was planted in the 19th Century. After 30 years of growing grapes at other wineries, Dana and Marsha Merrill and their son Matthew now exclusively produce Sustainability in Practice certified wine at Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery. What started as a 40-acre operation in 2002 has grown to a 91-acre production estate.
In 2012, Pomar Junction decided to take their commitment to sustainability to the next step, by applying to USDA Rural Development to install a roof-mounted solar photovoltaic energy system. A $33,810 Rural Energy for America Program grant helped the Merrills build solar panels to offset the cost of keeping their winery’s inventory cool and operating their lab and offices. They got a little more help, too, from PG&E’s California Solar Initiative, which provides financial incentives to residences and businesses that build or retrofit solar energy systems in the PG&E service territory.
The Merrills’ new panels produce about 43,000 kilowatt hours annually, enough to cut their winery’s electricity costs by half to three-quarters during the busy months—and enough for them to receive a credit of several hundred dollars during the slower ones. They’re as sustainable as ever now, producing roughly the equivalent of annual greenhouse gas emissions from 11 tons of waste sent to a landfill or the annual carbon sequestered by 24 acres of US forests. That alignment with their values, and the peace of mind from knowing the significant energy savings that will stack up in their future, enables them to focus on their vines, on the leafhoppers that need keeping out and on the ladybugs that need coaxing back in.