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Sun Powers Winemaking at Priam Vineyards

Any winemaker will tell you the key elements in creating a fine vintage are water, sun and soil. The vintners at Priam Vineyards in Colchester are taking that second element and using it not just to grow grapes for their wines but to also supply electric power to the entire winery.

"It's just another step in our goal to be ecologically responsible," says Gary Crump, Priam's vineyard manager, winemaker and co-owner. He and Gloria Priam, a former Rowayton resident who is owner and general manager, say it makes economic as well as ecological sense. "We're tied into the local electric grid, so any excess power we generate is sold to CL&P. Then when we need electricity when the sun isn't shining, we get it back at the same rate," says Crump. "Basically, we're banking our extra power," adds Priam.

The vineyard recently finished expanding the solar power structure installed two years ago, increasing the number of solar panels from 50 to 86. "It's a huge project," says Crump. "The entire setup is 20 feet tall and 100 feet long." It's set in an area of the vineyard that had been empty space, "not good for growing grapes," according to Crump. When the sun is shining brightly, the array of panels generates 20.5 kilowatts, more than enough to power the entire winery, all production, manufacturing, office and retail areas.

Priam Vineyards will be buttoning up for the winter after the big 2010 holiday season of wine sales for giving and celebrating. "The season slows down after New Year's - January and February are time for pruning, bottling, taxes, marketing and prepping our product for the 2011 season"," says Priam, noting that in March they'll begin open the tasting room for the 2011 season.

Although no further expansion of the solar power installation is planned, it doesn't mean the couple won't be looking for additional ways to raise their ecological consciousness. "We've been researching wind power the past few years," says Priam. "If there is a way to install a windmill, to harness more power, it would be a great addition to a fully sustainable farm."

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