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May. 22, 2019 | Wednesday
Local News
Bill Redelmeier: Southbrook committed to a sustainable world, one investment at a time
Bill Redelmeier, proprietor of Southbrook Vineyards (and some of the vineyard’s 99 chickens), surveys a few of the 432 solar panels that make up the winery’s solar farm. The solar farm provides 80 per cent to the electricity needs of the business. (Supplied/Tim Taylor)

Bill Redelmeier is a passionate man who challenges his business and his industry with every decision he makes.

From a young boy working on his family’s massive dairy farm in Richmond Hill to his proprietorship of Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake now almost 50 years later, Redelmeier says he tests all his personal and professional actions against one mantra: will it make our world better.

“It’s challenge, challenge, challenge,” Redelmeier emphasizes. “The wine industry advances when people are not trying to make money—this is a s****y way to make money—but building on the quality challenges laid down by other winemakers.”

Southbrook Vineyards sits on the south side of Niagara Stone Road, not far from the NOTL airport, in what is known as the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation (an area descriptor for wine regions).

Aside from award-winning wines, Southbrook is probably best known for the great purple wall, running the length of the retail structure, enticing visitors into the serenity of the winery experience.

“It is a massive wall. You are supposed to wonder what’s behind it,” Redelmeier pauses to catch the moment. “And when you get to the doorway, you can see through the building and see there is nothing but glass between you and the vineyards.”

The winery is proudly biodynamic, organic and LEED Gold Certified (an official measure of a building’s environmental sustainability).

Biodynamic is a hard concept for Redelmeier to describe. “It’s a system of agriculture based on generations of farming wisdom that predates chemicals—with a little spirituality added. It is a kind of canon that describes a way to farm productively. It’s going back to basics.

“I really can’t explain why it works. I just know it does.”

Part of the biodynamic ethos includes raising various farm animals to naturally keep the non-vine greenery at bay (goats) and provide natural fertilizer (goats and chickens). “The animals are also a wonderful attraction for children of all ages,” Redelmeier says with a smile.

Biodynamics is just one layer of the sustainable world that Redelmier continues to build.

All Southbrook wines are certified organic. Redelmeier typically grows half his grapes and buys the remainder from eight local vineyards that are also certified organic. “In the early days it was hard to find organic grapes.”

The most recent layer of sustainability involves a 100+kw solar array (432 panels at 315 watts each) which generates almost 80 per cent of the winery’s electricity requirements.

“Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro and the Violin Group (a St. Catharines technology company) really helped make this project happen,” says Redelmeier.

The program is called net metering. “The math is great. We sell what we produce to the electricity grid. And they subtract what we use for the winery. We only pay the difference. We will recover our investment in just a few years.

“And we feel good about being part of the solution.”

After a career in farming and farm-based retail on the family’s Don Head Farms property in Richmond Hill, Redelmeier, 65, and his wife Marilyn bought their 74-acre parcel in Niagara in 2005 (36 acres were already planted in useful grapes).

The next step was designing and building the environmentally sensitive structures that house the winery today. They chose internationally renowned architect Jack Diamond, from Toronto, to bring it to life.

In an early consultation with Diamond, the architect reflected that the winery team just wouldn’t “shut up about the vineyard.” Redelmeier replied: “Because that’s what’s important.”

“Your building will reflect that,” Diamond promised.

The winery opened its doors in 2008.

The Redelmeiers have maintained their home in Richmond Hill. And with a small flat in Fonthill, they semi-commute to the winery.

But he says they are in the market for a home in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “We’re looking. We’re close. We just have to make a decision.”

Redelmeier admits he is primarily a storyteller. “I want everyone to go home and be able to personalize their visit to Southbrook. I want everyone to understand our passion.”

He’s good at what he does.

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