Presumably there are still some Jay Leno types out there cracking wise about Bronx Beaujolais, somewhere in the world. But for just about everyone else who drinks wine — from your Wine Advocate super-prisses to those of us who exclaim “ooh, fancy” whenever a bottle comes with an actual cork — the truth is out about New York State wines. That truth being, with a few exceptions, that the Empire State produces more terrific wines than any cellar could hold. Many of these, such as Long Island’s mighty Channing Daughters winery, are biodynamic — which sounds like a green building term, but really just means that they let their grapes do their thing without bombing them with chemicals and so on. But only one New York winery can lay claim to a LEED Gold certification. That would be Red Tail Ridge, a Finger Lakes winery that won LEED Gold laurels late last month.
Red Tail Ridge gr0ws its own grapes — recognizable names such as riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir — on 34 acres outside of Syracuse, New York, but initially its wines were made off-site, at neighboring wineries. In 2009, they submitted plans for what was then a LEED Silver-hopeful wine-processing facility on-site; the facility opened in the fall of 2010, and in late February, Red Tail Ridge’s new and notably modern-looking winery earned LEED Gold certification. The design, which makes a stylistic nod in Frank Lloyd Wright’s direction as opposed to the rustic-barnery one expects from such a space, is by Rochester’s Edge Architecture PLLC. While the Red Tail Ridge building does most of what you’d expect a LEED Gold building to do — day-lighting, energy-efficient windows, FSC-certified wood and copious recycling — it’s worth mentioning that no one really knows what to expect from a LEED Gold winery because, you know, they don’t generally exist.
Much of what makes the Red Tail Ridge Winery exceptionally sustainable, too, falls well outside the usual LEED point spectrum. While many wineries use pipes filled with ethylene glycol in the fermentation process, Red Tail Ridge cools those pipes — using a geothermal system that winemaker Michael Irelan modulates through his laptop. “Traditionally, wineries have used glycol chillers to cool their stainless steel wine fermentation tanks, so the presence of glycol in the winery is not in and of itself unusual,” the Syracuse Post-Standard’s Don Cazentre wrote back in January. “‘Glycol is glycol,’ Irelan said. ‘Every winery does the process the same, the difference is how we achieve the energy needed for the process, how we generate the energy that goes into it.’” It’s a big difference — energy costs have been reduced by 50 percent, and co-owner Nancy Irelan estimated that the geothermal system would pay for itself in three years. Given how long winemakers usually have to wait for good news, it’s hard to argue that that won’t be quite an achievement. And given that we were looking for an excuse for a drink anyway… yeah, that seems like a reasonable enough place to stop.