Tuesday, December 30, 2014

“Fate Brought Them Together”: How the owners of Ampelos Cellars became hands-on viticulturists

You’re worried about how you’re going to feel at the end of your life? What about right now? Live. Right this minute. That’s where the joy is at.” ~ Abigail Thomas

It was as if Angela Thomas were speaking those words directly to Peter and Rebecca Work, the founders of Ampelos Cellars. Having purchased 82 acres in the Santa Rita Hills appellation in 1999, Peter and Rebecca continued their “corporate” lives, leaving their son to oversee the start-up process of the vineyard. But fate would have other plans.

After narrowly evading the Twin Towers tragedy in 2001, Peter and Rebecca decided it was time to start living the life they wanted, “right this minute”. And so, they moved to Santa Ynez, where they learned hands-on how to “nurture the soil and prune the vines".

Rather than wait the three to four years it takes a fledgling vineyard to produce viable grapes, though, the Works embraced their new found passion for living “in the now” by purchasing one ton of Pinot Noir grapes and two tons of Syrah grapes to learn the wine making process.

Becoming hands-on viticulturists wasn't enough for the Works, however; they wanted to create “intriguing and complex wines”, while at the same time preserving the environment.

Sustainability Practices at Ampelos Cellars

In 2003, Ampelos Cellars started working with the Wine Institute and California Association of Winegrowers to begin implementing sustainable grape-growing principles. When asked why they embarked on this journey, Rebecca Work replied, “We are strong believers in doing the right thing for the environment”. She went on to quote the well-known proverb, “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”.

Five short years later, Ampelos Cellars became one of the first vineyards to pilot the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) program. In the years to follow, Peter and Rebecca reached the following milestones:
  • 2009 marked the year Ampelos became 100% solar-powered
  • 2009 also saw the vineyard become organic and biodynamic certified
  • 2010 saw the implementation of Ampelo’s 100% estate-based composting program
  • In 2011, forty chickens were introduced to the vineyard. Free-range chickens contribute to the pest control and fertilization program. “And we get great eggs, as well”, Rebecca added.
  • 2011 also found Ampelos Cellars’ winery to be one of the first fourteen SIP-certified wineries in the United States!

A trailblazer on the sustainability frontier, Ampelos Cellars has proven to be an inspiration to other vineyards and wineries thinking about implementing sustainable practices. When asked what advice she would give fellow viticulturists, Rebecca stated, “It all depends on where they are starting from. I do think the best direction is to focus on 3-5 sustainable practices and get those dialed in and then continue to add to them.” Starting out small will ensure a positive, successful first-time experience with sustainability and lay the groundwork for a long-term program.

If you are interested in pursuing a sustainability program with your vineyard or winery, you can visit Ampelos Cellars’ website for more information on their “green viticulture”, or contact the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

If you already implement sustainable practices in your vineyard, or chosen industry, share them in a comment below!

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