When Burrowing Owl Estate Winery was established the sustainable movement was still in its infancy. However, as soon as Jim and Midge Wyse discovered that the neglected vineyard they had purchased in 1993 on Black Sage Bench was home to an endangered species they went to work protecting it. Not to mention naming their new estate after the rare, tunnelling bird to raise awareness.
In part due to climate change, encroachment by human settlement and other factors, the Western Burrowing Owl itself continues to be at risk. However there are signs it is rebounding. And the namesake winery’s philanthropic and ecologically minded endeavours have blossomed far beyond those early days, making it an environmental pace-setter in the Okanagan Valley.
It was in 2006, when solar energy was still, for many, little more than a quaint idea, that Burrowing Owl Estate first began installing solar panels. That initial phase heated water and generated the equivalent of 53,000 kw annually. However, since then, every aspect of the winery’s expansion and operation has been viewed through the lens of conservancy and environmental responsibility.
For example, thanks to the 2016 addition of 116 solar panels, the winery-owned staff housing in Osoyoos is now a ‘net zero’ structure. The following year, 70 roof solar panels were added as part of a cellar expansion, enough to generate sufficient electricity to offset approximately 12.9 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Next up, 160 panels were installed on the enlarged warehouse roof, offsetting 30 tons annually, effectively making that building entirely carbon neutral.
For the comfort of its guests, the winery has installed shaded parking, topped by 106 panels for a further offset of 27 tons. And there are now complimentary charging stations for eight EVs. Even the winery’s tasting room fee is part of the plan: all of the receipts are donated to the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC—adding up to over $1 million in the last 15 years.
So next time you buy a bottle of Burrowing Owl, not only will you be treating yourself to a taste from one of the Okanagan’s most iconic wineries. You’ll be very much helping in the survival of this fascinating and unusual species.
@ Vitis Magazine