“We put them next to one of the vineyards,” Eric Miller said. “They are really big, and you can see them right out of our tasting room out of the back. They’re lined up with one of the vineyards at the foot of one of our hills.”
The farm comes in at about a third of an acre, his dad added.
“And we’re getting some good response from our customers,” Bob Miller said. “They appreciate that we’re going this way to try to be more sustainable.”
Miller wants to be 100 percent on solar at some point, but in the meantime he said he expects to save about $3,000 a month on his power bill.
The most energy-intensive activities on the property comes from two places: refrigeration and grape processing.
Yonah Mountain wine is kept at 60 degrees, which is a tougher task in the summer than winter — and the property has its own wine cave that also helps to keep wine cool. During harvest time, grapes are mashed using a hydraulic press.
Of course, they use feet instead of a press during the winery’s annual Crush Fest, an August harvest festival and its largest event each year.
The solar project is just one experiment going on at the winery.
The family also partners with Cory Momany, a professor and bee researcher at the University of Georgia, who keeps dozens of hives on the property to not only help local bee populations, but study how the insects handle life within a working vineyard, which relies on occasionally intense use of fungicides and other chemicals to keep plants and grapes healthy.
So far, the Millers said, the experiment has been a success.
“He is so excited about the bees,” Bob Miller said, chuckling. “He comes every week! I saw him on Saturday, and I said, ‘Cory, how are the bees?’ He said, ‘We’ve got happy bees!’”
The hives have started producing honey that is being sold at the vineyard.
The solar plant is a big investment to start off a big year for Yonah Mountain Vineyards, which this year hits its 10th anniversary. The vineyard is launching a 10th edition of its flagship red wine, Genesis, under the label Gen X to mark the anniversary.
“A decade ago, there were only about six wineries up here in North Georgia,” Eric Miller said. “Now we’re looking at around 24. The good thing about it is we’re all kind of friends. We all want the wineries to succeed because it helps everyone.”