By JANINE FINNELL, Founder and Clean Energy Ambassador, Leaders in Energy
I recently took a break from my office to join my friends on an excursion to the Virginia countryside. We enjoy getting out into nature by hiking in parks, sampling the fare of restaurants in small historic towns, and visiting neighboring wineries. These experiences are made all the more enjoyable as one of our traveling companions is a wine connoisseur who is very knowledgeable about wine vintages, their growing practices, and grape varieties. Little did I know when I set off on my trip that day that I would end up learning about not just wine, but also about green practices in the winery and tourism industry in Virginia!
Wine tasting at Delaplane Cellars
Our outing took us to Delaplane Cellars, a vineyard and winery located outside of Marshall, Virginia. When we visited, it was on a Friday afternoon and rainy day. Thus, the winery staff was not as busy as usual and we were able to enjoy a leisurely tasting of red and white wines. We learned about the various grape varieties, vintages, and the 16 different kinds of yeast that they use to influence the wine flavors and other details involved in winemaking.
After sampling eight different kinds of wines, one needs to make the inevitable visit to the restroom! Located there were a number of wall signs (see photo) that describe the winery’s use of electric hand dryers, non-scented hand soap, and recycled toilet paper to reduce waste and their carbon footprint. As a clean energy and sustainability professional, this signage sparked my interest, and I wanted to learn more about how the Cellars’ environmental practices.
My chat with Betsy Dolphin, Co-Owner at Delaplane Cellar, on their green practices
On our departure, I caught up with the co-owner, Betsy Dolphin, to let her know that these signs had caught my attention. I told her about our group, Leaders in Energy, and how we connect professionals in the energy, environmental, and sustainability fields to catalyze sustainable solutions. I told her that I was interested in learning more about what Delaplane Cellars was doing related to the environment so that I could spread the good word to our members. As an organization, we take pride in promoting small businesses that are walking the walk on sustainability.
For Delaplane Cellars, green practices include the use of 7th Generation products (such as unbleached napkins). They use plastic cups with bio-based content and wipe down their tables with a vinegar mix and occasionally use a degreaser. Betsy also mentioned that they serve locally sourced foods, such as cheeses, and promote healthy and sustainable practices as part of their philosophy.
It was interesting to learn about how they utilized smart/sustainable design principles in developing their facilities to reduce energy use. They have also tried to use existing resources in the construction of their building wherever they can:
“Our building was designed and positioned to maximize the natural resources of the sun and earth. Our wine production area and barrel room are substantially underground which minimizes our energy use. We have passive solar heat during the winter from our southern window exposure. The tasting bar, doors, front steps, flooring, future fireplace and retaining walls come from trees, wood and stone walls that were on the property and removed during the development of the vineyards and the winery.”
They do their best to support green initiatives, and they’ve clearly had some success in that regard. Still, like Kermit the Frog so famously said, “it’s not easy being green,” which is why it’s important for small businesses to receive all the help they can get, whether in the implementation of green programs or in spreading the good word.
Then she told me that Delaplane Cellars is certified through a program called Virginia Green.
The Virginia Green Certification and encouraging green practices in tourism
Now I was really getting interested! So I did some more research and found out that the Virginia Green certification program is sponsored by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which is encouraging green practices in tourism. The website states that “Virginia Green is the statewide program that works to reduce the environmental impacts of Virginia’s tourism industry. It is run as a partnership among DEQ, the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association.”
There are a number of certification categories depending on the type of operation, e.g., green lodging, green conventions & conferences, green restaurants, wineries and breweries, and more. The Virginia Green Wineries & Breweries certification is a self-certifying program in which facilities must verify that they are, at a minimum, practicing the Virginia Green Wineries core activities by implementing the following:
- Recycle & reduce wastes: use of highly-visible and well-marked recycling containers in all visitor areas
- Minimize the use of disposable food service products: use products that are made from bio-based or renewable resources, and provide for recycling or composting of items
- Minimize of the use of pesticides / herbicides / fungicides and fertilizers: have a plan to minimize the use of chemical treatments associated with grape production
- Use water efficiently: have a plan for conserving water
- Energy efficiency: have a plan in place to reduce overall energy consumption
In order to obtain a Virginia Green logo, participants need to have programs in place that address these environmental impacts. They are then able to “self-certify” that their business is practicing the required green activities and identify themselves by the Virginia Green logo.
“Creating a relationship between the Virginia tourism industry and the customer”
I thought that it was interesting that Virginia Green seeks customer involvement by asking environmentally responsible customers to check on its program participants and to give constructive feedback. Tom Griffin, Program Coordinator with Virginia Green and President of the Virginia Green Travel Alliance, highlights the importance of the customer-facility relationship in working to improve the environment on this Virginia Green Travel video, which interviews program participants from around the state.
“To me, what is so significant about Virginia Green program is that it creates a relationship between the Virginia tourism industry and the customer. So now, the customer and the Virginia green facility are working together, and I think that is a relationship that is going to benefit the facility financially as well as the regional tourism industry and, all the while, helping to improve and protect the environment.”
Find out more about how consumers can help Virginia Green make sure that participating facilities are adhering to these green practices here.
This emphasis on the customer-business relationship attracted my attention because I had recently returned from attending the world’s first energy branding conference in Iceland. There I learned more about how green practices can help companies to differentiate themselves in the market, while also building relationships with customers to encourage brand loyalty in gaining and retaining their customers. See more on this topic at: Highlights from the World’s First Energy Branding Conference in Iceland and Are We Seeing the Greening of American Utilities?.
Photos: Vineyards at Delaplane Cellars; Janine Finnell (middle) with friends and fellow Leaders in Energy supporters, Catherine Mirch (left) and Jeanne Giamporcaro (right); and view of vineyards and surrounding countryside from the Delaplane Cellars balcony.
The wines at Delaplane Cellars receive rave reviews from my friend, the wine connoisseur
We really enjoyed visiting the winery and tasting the Delaplane Cellar wines. In fact, my friend, Catherine Mirch, our wine connoisseur, noted that she had liked all of the wines in our sample tasting. This is actually unusual for her, as she generally finds at least one wine that does not appeal to her.
I wanted to let our Leaders in Energy members know about this vinery. How encouraging is it to learn that the tourism industry in Virginia is helping to promote green practices. We would love to hear from you on the green practices that you come across in your travels, either in Virginia or in other places of the U.S. and around the globe.
Janine Finnell is the Founder and Clean Energy Ambassador of Leaders in Energy.
The mission of Leaders in Energy is to build a community of leaders to enable solutions for a sustainable energy system, economy, and world. More information on the organization is available at https://www.leadersinenergy.org and in the Leaders in Energy Research, Communication, Policies & Analysis (LERCPA) LinkedIn group.
Janine enjoys connecting with other leaders (current and aspiring!) in clean energy and sustainability who are interested in collaborating on projects and related opportunities to make a difference. Please reach out to her at CleanEnergyAmbassador@leadersinenergy.org if you have any thoughts that you would like to share regarding this article or your interests in clean energy and sustainability.