Food & Drink

Wine Notes: Jim Efird and Bob Schiebelhut of Edna Valley

Larry Brooks winemaker at Tolosa in SLO with their new solar power installation.   photo Jayson Mellom 4-1-10
Larry Brooks winemaker at Tolosa in SLO with their new solar power installation. photo Jayson Mellom 4-1-10 The Tribune

Tolosa Winery partners Jim Efird and Bob Schiebelhut have both been recognized as pioneers and visionaries in the Edna Valley wine community.

Efird is considered a viticultural pioneer for planting the majority of Edna Valley vineyards starting almost 30 years ago, when most of the land was growing garbanzo beans.

Schiebelhut, then an attorney, recognized the potential of those vineyards in the 1990s, and started working with Efird to plant his own 720-acre property in the valley. Together they built Courtside Cellars in 1998 as the largest custom crush production facility in the area, providing the resources many small wineries needed but could not afford.

Today, Efird and Schiebelhut also own San Miguel Courtside Cellars facility, a 300,000-square-foot custom crush facility, and the Tolosa Winery and tasting room.

But, not wanting to rest on their laurels, the partners and their winemaker, Larry Brooks, last summer pulled out three acres of syrah behind their winery just past the airport, and planted, instead, a solar power system. With 539 kilowatts, and over 2,500 solar panels, it can supply virtually all of the winery’s electricity needs, often delivering power back to the PG&E grid.

“We got it up and running here just before harvest, which is our biggest power use,” Brooks said, “and I think over the whole course of harvest — which is three months — our total electric bill was $19.” That cost would have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars in years past.

Brooks said the decision to go solar wasn’t easy. “For both Bob and Jim what makes the best business sense is what they do,” Brooks explained. “When they looked at it three years ago, it still didn’t make sense. Then about a year ago they looked at it and said, ‘I think this is going to work now.’” A combination of tax credits, subsidies and reduced costs made the savings significant.

Shortly after they finished installing the Tolosa system, they turned their attention to the huge San Miguel facility. The system there is five times the size of the Tolosa site, powering a facility that is almost 10 times larger. Together, the systems are twice the size of the next largest solar winery in the county, J. Lohr in Paso Robles.

The move to solar energy was Tolosa’s latest step toward sustainability.

As a certified participant in the Central Coast Vineyard Team’s Sustainability in Practice (SIP) program, Tolosa’s vineyards use cover crops, integrated pest management, low-risk fungicides, wildlife corridors and sophisticated water and waste treatment systems. “Basically everything that comes out of the winery gets used,” Brooks said.

The SIP program has been adopted by 24 wineries across the county. The SIP logo can only be used if a winery can verify the way the fruit was grown and the wine was produced; Tolosa wines now carry the SIP logo on the back label.

“We are now part of the culture that is making a difference,” Efird said, “one kilowatt and one customer at a time.” From Brooks’ perspective, “it’s something the customers want to hear.”

Tolosa Winery

4910 Edna Road San Luis Obispo, CA

782-0500

Owners: Jim Efird and Bob Schiebelhut

Winemaker: Larry Brooks

Cases Produced: 20,000 under the Tolosa brand.

Tasting room hours: Daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Online: www.tolosawinery.com

Central Coast Vineyard Team: www.vineyardteam.com

Earth Day Food & Wine

Where: The 4th Annual Earth Day Food & Wine Festival is set for April 16-18. The main tasting event, April 17 at the Santa Margarita Ranch, will feature over 75 purveyors from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara who are committed to sustainably produced foods and wines. Other weekend activities include private barrel tastings, concerts, custom picnics in the vineyards and vineyard tours.

Information: www.EarthDayFoodand Wine.com or call 369-2288

Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at janisswitzer@yahoo.com.

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