After a couple of months of adjusting to a new day job, this past weekend I took a jaunt toward Leesburg to attend the wedding of a dear friend. The location of the wedding provided for other interesting distractions as well. As I have mentioned before, some of my favorite Virginia wineries are in the Leesburg area — Hillsborough, Corcoran, Breaux, and Willocroft, for example. On this trip, however, I decided that I wanted to try some new and different producers. While I will write more about the wines that I tasted soon, one winery in particular deserves special mention, not just for its wine, but for its environmentally friendly approach to its product and its business: Barrel Oak Winery.
When I clicked onto the Virginia Wines site, this new name appeared at the top of the alphabetical listing of wineries in the Northern Virginia region. I was intrigued by what I read on Barrel Oak’s website, especially a note that it will be Virginia’s “newest and greenest hand-built winery.” Being almost as into the environment as I am into wine, I decide that I wanted to learn a bit more about Barrel Oak’s “green” efforts. Former vice president and 2007 Nobel Prize winner Al Gore recently praised the wine industry for being at the forefront of the fight against global warming, so I wanted to see how this local Virginia winery was contributing to this trend.
Brian Roeder, co-founder of Barrel Oak Winery, greeted a couple of friends and me on a sunny Saturday morning atop a small hill overlooking a beautiful green ridge. He invited me in for a tour of the winery as his wife and co-founder, Sharon, and their team worked below us in the cellar and production area. This close to the winery’s grand opening, every day is a week day.
While a work in progress, it is already evident that Barrel Oak Winery will be a beautiful building. Brian has overseen and undertaken the work himself, having been in construction in his prior life. Features of the tasting room are a huge fireplace and long, elegant tasting bar as welcoming as any I have seen in Virginia. The Roeders have taken a “start big and grow into it” approach to the winery, with high expectations that are sure to produce strong results.
As we meander through the tasting room, Brian begins to tell us about what makes his winery environmentally friendly. Interestingly, he explains that the decision to go “green” was a practical, business decision rather than an environmentally motivated one. With energy prices soaring, Brian saw an opportunity to keep his future costs as low as possible by building his winery the right way from the beginning. His marriage of practical business considerations and environmentally conscious design are a model to be emulated.
Barrel Oak’s environmental efforts started with material conservation. The vast majority of the rock used to construct the winery was obtained on-site during construction. Furthermore, the flooring is made entirely from recycled wood, providing a beautiful foundation for the tasting room while conserving trees. All of the equipment being employed in assembling these components into a world-class, hand-built winery are new and efficient, minimizing the fuel used and the carbon emissions during construction.
To use the recycled building materials to their fullest, the entire winery is protected from the elements by extra insulation and state-of-the-art windows. Large glass doors and windows are carefully positioned so that they can be opened on hot summer afternoons and allow the refreshing ridge breezes in to cool off the winery’s patrons.
The Roeder’s also used the winery’s hill for more than its beautiful views. While the tasting room on the upper floor is open to the air on all sides, the cellar and production areas on the lower floor are built into the hill, and are open to the air on only one side. While cooling units will be installed in the cellar, it is evident from a quick walk downstairs that the power required to keep the temperature down will be minimal. Barrel Oak’s wine will age gracefully in this naturally cool environment.
Sunset Over Barrel Oak Winery
Perhaps the most impressive “green” feature of Barrel Oak Winery, however, is its state-of-the-art geothermal energy system. The system consists of a giant heat pump that uses the ambient temperature of the soil (appx. 58 degrees) surrounding the winery to heat or cool the winery, depending on the season. For example, if it is 20 degrees in the winter, and the winery needs to be 68 degrees, the winery only needs to use enough power to make up the 10 degree difference between the soil and the desired temperature, rather than the 48 degrees between the desired temperature and the ambient air temperature. Hence, the system uses much less energy, dramatically decreasing the carbon emissions of the winery, as well Barrel Oak’s energy bills.
Oh, yeah, and then there is the wine. The Roeder’s ultimate goal is to produce about half of the 200 tons of grapes that they will require on site. Rather than rush their first vintage to bottle, however, and sacrifice quality in the process, they have sought wines from several other well respected Virginia wineries and blended them with their own unique style for this first vintage. (You can learn more about these wines from Dezel at the Virginia Vine Spot and John at Anything Wine.) The winery’s Grand Opening on Memorial Day Weekend (May 23-26) promises to be an outstanding event.
The Barrel Oak story is proof that business and environmental concerns do not have to be at odds. In building their “green” winery, Brian and Sharon Roeder acted as smart, conscientious businesspeople, not as environmentalists setting out solely to save the world. Our society has reached the point where we do not have to choose between comfortable living and environmentalism. From compact fluorescent bulbs for the home to energy efficiency for businesses, If we are smart and forward-thinking, we can start down the path toward having both.
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