I Heard It Through The Grapevine: Lessons for Home Performance

Posted by Alana Shindler on July 30, 2013
I Heard It Through The Grapevine: Lessons for Home Performance
Five generations of the Kunde Family have farmed their 1,850 acre-estate in the heart of Sonoma Valley. Their forward-thinking vision of land stewardship and sustainability began 100 years ago.

How is a vineyard like an energy efficient house? Not a trick question…I found out when touring in Sonoma County last weekend during a 4-hour, 4-1/2 mile hike and 500-foot elevation gain through the Kunde Family Estate over hills, dales, roads, trails, fields, and vine rows overlooking the beautiful Sonoma countryside.

Over time, Kunde’s holistic winegrowing approach has shown increased efficiency in energy savings and environmental impact. During the tour, we learned about some of the sustainable vineyard practices, like building multiple ponds to collect rainwater during wet months for use in California’s dry summers; use of drip irrigation to target precious water to the vine roots, and inserting fungicides into the drip irrigation instead of spraying to reduce airborne substances dangerous to insects and birds; erecting owl nesting boxes throughout the property as a natural means of pest control; mixing grape chaff discarded during the thinning process and other plant detritus with chicken manure to be composted, creating mounds of rich dark loam used to fertilize the soil the following year; planting vine rows horizontal on the hillside to avoid soil runoff during wet months, and building canals around the hillsides to collect whatever does roll off; use of solar panels to light the wine caves built beneath the hills, cooled naturally without air conditioning to a temperate 62 degrees; and partnering with scientists at research institutions to help develop new solutions for grape diseases as they develop.

I couldn’t help thinking about parallels to the whole-house systems approach to residential energy efficiency, something we’re more familiar with around here. One difference, however, is the extent to which a single vineyard nurtures a whole natural community of bees, birds, soil, air and water, as well as reducing waste production in Sonoma County to make wine sustainably and productively, not just for the next harvest but for decades. How far into the future do we think about our homes and our future needs in them? How connected are our homes to the health of the greater community? Every time another home is retrofit or built to optimize reasonable resources, our communities are better off, but think of what we could achieve with whole-community strategies to optimize our communal resources—limited energy resources, clean air and water, plants and animals. Healthy and vibrant homes, neighborhoods, communities, geographic regions…what a harvest that would be.

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