Hunt Country Vineyards earns sustainability award

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Five years ago, the Hunts installed 350 solar panels on their property.
(Photo courtesy of Hunt Country Vineyards)

The New York Wine and Grape Foundation has named Hunt Country Vineyards the recipient of its Sustainability Award in 2020.

The award, handed out this year for only the second time, honors “an organization or business that has demonstrated noteworthy sustainable practices and a commitment to conserving natural resources, protecting our environment, and contributing to the overall success of the New York State economy.”

The foundation solicits nominations from New York wine industry professionals.

A study by John Dunham and Associates of New York City recently found that the New York wine industry now has an annual economic impact of $6.65 billion. Statewide, 470 wineries pay out a combined $2.79 billion in annual wages.

In the Finger Lakes region, many wine producers are recognizing the importance of adopting environmentally friendly practices. While many have made efforts to improve the environmental impact of their operations, few have gone to the lengths that Hunt Country Vineyards has.

Hunt Country goes green

Seventh-generation owners Art and Joyce Hunt aren’t just local farmers and wine producers in the town of Branchport, Yates County, but an integral part of the community. They’ve been involved with local interest projects as far back as the 1970s when they helped block siting of a nuclear waste dump in the Finger Lakes. More recently, they played an active role in preventing a Texas-based company from storing gas under Seneca Lake.

In recent decades, the family has undertaken philanthropic efforts that have made a direct impact on the Finger Lakes region. While the Hunts have spent countless hours and invested their own money in efforts to prevent negative impacts from outside projects, they’ve done the same to ensure their own operation has a positive impact.

Five years ago, the Hunts installed 350 solar panels on their property. They’ve received a national award for their efforts to catalyze solar power in New York.

In addition, their winery was the first in the Finger Lakes to install electric vehicle chargers for visitors, which are available free of charge. Since 2018, five Level 2 EV chargers have been regularly used by patrons.

Visitors to the tasting room at Hunt Country Vineyards find a temperature-controlled climate that uses a geothermal system. What’s more, the winery and warehouses are now controlled by a state-of-the-art system that employs both heating and cooling methods without the use of fossil fuels.

Though the definition of “organic” has been soiled a bit by big businesses finding loopholes to exploit for marketing their products, the effort at Hunt Country Vineyards to restore the fertile lands near the west bank of Keuka Lake has been the result of a genuine desire to avoid synthetic fertilizers or weed control. To enhance its soil health, the vineyard uses only compost, mulch, and chicken manure. Organic waste produced on the farm and winery is composted on-site. The end result is returned to the earth where they grow the grapes for their wines, and vegetables used in the cafe.

The compost used on site also incorporates organic waste from nearby Keuka College, further defining Hunt’s impact not only on its own operation, but that of the community. 

Regional Impact

That community influence is a large part of the Hunts’ efforts to not only improve their own footprint, but to affect other winemakers and community members in the upstate area. By leading tours on-site, providing informational lectures and demonstrations, supporting nonprofit organizations and providing philanthropic support, the Hunt family sets an example for others.

Michael Warren Thomas has been an influential voice in the local wine industry for decades with his SavourLife radio talk show. In his nomination for Hunt Country Vineyards to receive the Sustainability Award, he wrote: “Hunt Country has also focused on spreading their knowledge throughout the community, with workshops and tours that have featured biochar, bees, raptors, bats, compost methods, solar/geothermal, and much more. Every member of the family participates in the mission of sustainability from infrastructure to soil structure.”

Indeed, the efforts at Hunt Country Vineyards aren’t just a couple owners using tax credits to make it appear as though they’re interested in saving the environment. The effort is a companywide sentiment that is spearheaded by their leadership.

“Every member of the family”

When Art and Joyce’s daughter, Suzanne, moved back to her family’s land on Keuka Lake in 2015, she brought decades of experience implementing sustainable business models worldwide. As the principal founder of HuntGreen—a business that works with policymakers to tackle climate, energy, food, security, and green design challenges—she has served as an adviser to UN bodies, government agencies, and private companies alike.

“I think because of our orientation towards taking care of people and taking care of place, we’ve attracted employees who share similar ethics,” she says. “We’ve definitely been able to attract talent because of our focus on sustainability that we couldn’t have otherwise. I think that our sustainability efforts have contributed to the sense of pride in working here.”

Though some may think adopting greener technology and sustainable practices will hurt their bottom line, the Hunts say these investments pay off. Observes Art Hunt: “You can work at it every year without it impacting your bottom line too much and gradually increase your profitability.”

The Hunt family will receive the New York Wine and Grape Foundation’s Sustainability Award during the Unity Awards ceremony at the Foundation’s B.E.V. NY Conference next week. 

Chris Clemens is the creator and publisher of Exploring Upstate, a blog about the discovery of local history, culture, travel and all that makes Upstate New York the perfect place to explore.

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