Sunshine in a Glass: Sustainable Vineyard Tour

Sunshine in a Glass: Sustainable Vineyard Tour


It was a beautiful day to nourish one’s intellect, passion, and palette. On September 22, 2018, the Leaders in Energy community did just that, as they indulged in a bouquet of flavors and learned all about the sustainability efforts at Sunset Hills Vineyard of Loudon County, VA.


Co-owner Mike Canney greeted us—glass of Chardonnay in hand and warm grin on his face–at the vineyard’s focal point, a charming barn resting amongst 16 acres of vines. The story of Mike and his wife Diane “turning sunshine into wine” started with the historic barn that was built in 1870 by a German family. With the help of Amish craftsmen, Mike and Diane dusted-off the old barn and created an elegant, warm, and inviting space that has been enhanced with sustainable technologies while still preserving its old-world charisma. Planting of the first vines dates back to 1999, followed by the first harvest in 2001.


The barn’s renovation involved reusing some of the material from the reconstruction process, thus reducing virgin material shipped from afar. Radiant floor heating, along with structurally insulated panels on the roof, and a ductless HVAC system keep the barn at a comfortable temperature, while providing for healthy indoor air quality.

The sustainability star of the vineyard is the 60 kW total capacity set of 245 solar photovoltaic panels that generate 80 MWh of clean energy per year to provide for 100 percent of the vineyard’s energy needs. The system was installed in two phases: 154 Green Brilliance panels in 2010 and 91 LG panels in 2014. As you pour yourself another glass of Sunset Hills wine, you can track the daily or annual solar production online, with just the click of a button on the vineyard’s website.

Sunset Hills further reduces their environmental footprint by practicing sustainable agriculture (using minimal chemical pesticides and herbicides; creating habitats for beneficial insects; and composting vineyard waste into fertilizer). Moreover, manual labor is used instead of motorized vehicles to reduce energy usage and emissions.

After browsing the vineyard, the tour’s gracious host Mike treated Leaders in Energy members to a private tasting of several of their signature wines, along with stories of their family business, history of winemaking, and the impact of climate change on the centuries-old industry.

Cheers to more passionate and sustainable-minded winemakers like Mike and Diane! Sit back, relax, and “uncork a great sunset”…

Dr. Elvin Yüzügüllü is the Leaders in Energy, Director of International Sustainability Programs. Elvin is currently employed as a Project Manager at GDIT, an Adjunct Professor teaching graduate-level classes at The George Washington University’s Engineering Management and Systems Engineering Department, and a member of Leaders in Energy. She started her career with Bachelors and Masters degrees in Environmental Engineering, which she supplemented with a Doctor of Science degree from George Washington University in Environmental and Energy Management (focusing on hydrogen technologies). Elvin brings a comprehensive, multi-faceted systems view of issues related to the way we create, consume, and manage energy. Throughout her career, she has been involved in analyses of a diverse array of clean energy technologies and issues, including techno-economic evaluations, market penetration analyses, technology deployment planning, and decision-making model development for consensus building. Her extensive experience and interactions with the federal government, national labs, and industry has provided her with detailed knowledge on critical energy issues, as well as the capability to understand and resolve concerns related to divergent stakeholders in the energy industry. Elvin has also been engaged in clean energy-related conferences in various countries, with roles such as keynote speaker, discussion panel moderator, conference organizing committee member, and abstract reviewer.

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