Green building, green business, growing grapes

Photo by Madeline Hughes
Ken and Gail Albert own Shelburne Vineyards.

Nearly 12 years in the making, the building at Shelburne Vineyard is officially certified for having been sustainably built and energy efficient.

Ken and Gail Albert started their journey into wine over 20 years ago in the Champlain Valley. They decided to build their current building over a decade ago, and they planned the project to receive a specific certification called LEED, which the building industry uses as a benchmark for efficiency, sustainability and environmental quality.

“We did research with our architect for LEED certification because we had a strong conviction of doing something sustainably,” Gail said.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and it’s the most widely used green building rating system in the world, according to the LEED organization. In Vermont, only 96 buildings have some level of LEED approval.

Nationally, only 14 wineries hold the certification. The Alberts visited several for inspiration.

They said it wasn’t difficult to designing their winery with efficiency in mind.
“Wine is an inherently sustainable beverage,” Ken said.

Shelburne Vineyard is located on 14 acres along Route 7 south of Shelburne village. Fewer than five acres are planted in grapes. The vineyard owns and leases other tracts in Shelburne and Charlotte for a total of 16.5 acres planted.

Photo by Madeline Hughes
The cask room at Shelburne Vineyard handles production of approximately 70,000 bottles of wine per year.

When they purchased the site from the Meach Cove Trust in 2006 where the winery was built, the parcel was deeded forever to agricultural use. Building a sustainable winery on the site fit with the Alberts’ values of environmental consciousness and community.

Committed to the environment, Gail is chair of the Shelburne Natural Resources Committee. Ken is a former Selectboard member. A key aspect of the winery’s operation is its role as a community gathering place, hosting many events such as art shows and concerts where proceeds benefit local nonprofits as a way to give back to the community.

Criteria for the LEED certification can be applied to a wide variety of building projects from single-family homes to commercial buildings like a winery. Certified buildings save energy, water, resources and generate less waste than conventional buildings.

The vineyard’s location conveniently gets plenty of water, so there is no need for irrigation, Ken noted.

“Careful calculations were needed to be a serious LEED contender,” Ken said, offering examples such as choices of building materials and light fixtures, estimates of how much energy would be used – even whether the property is located on a bus line.

The result? The winery uses 36 percent less energy than an average building built today, architect Stephen Selin said.

Documenting efficiencies
To become LEED certified, everything must be documented.

“There is value of having it documented for real,” Selin explained. “Architects out there say don’t worry about the paperwork and that they design it to pass LEED standards, but you don’t really know” without doing the actual calculations.

He estimated that hundreds of hours went into ensuring the everything was carefully listed for the vineyard project.

Selin and his partner Judith Selin of Selin + Selin Architecture firm waived the price of filling the LEED paperwork because it was the firm’s first LEED certified building.

“There was a steep learning curve, but it was rewarding,” Stephen said, explain that he has always been interested in sustainable buildings since he was in architecture school in the 1980s.

LEED certification is particularly geared towards commercial buildings, because the certification is a tangible acknowledgment of the owner’s attention to sustainability, Stephen said. His firm primarily works on residential projects, so the lengthy and expensive LEED certification might not make the sense in those projects.

He added that the LEED certification isn’t only about energy efficiency. The certification also takes into account a building’s impact on human health. The Alberts planned for that. The winery’s windows let in natural light to 95 percent of the building. Fresh air flows throughout the building.

“It provides health and emotional benefits that are hard to quantify,” Stephen said.

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