SOLAR SOLUTION: Zilzie Wines managing director, Andrew Forbes, wants to hand down a more environmentally-sustainable property to his family’s children. Zilzie Wines has installed a massive solar array at their Karadoc winery which is capable of generating 1.06 megawatts of electricity from 3600 solar panels.

THE name ‘Zilzie’ may have had its origin in Scotland, but today it’s synonymous with fine wine.

The Karadoc based wine-maker of the same name has forged an enviable reputation both here and abroad as one of Australia’s leading labels.

The iconic winery is owned and operated by the Forbes family, who have been on the property for more than 100 years.

Today, it is the 12th largest vineyard and eighth biggest processing site in Australia, there are 1500 acres under vine and up to 60,000 tonnes of grapes being processed each vintage to meet the company’s wine production requirements.

Given this enormous production capacity the company, in association with energy-provider AGL, recently installed a huge solar power generation facility on their property to help offset the increases in electricity prices and to create a lower carbon footprint across their wine producing operation.

Construction of the project, which commenced in April this year, was carried out by AGL’s  contractors and was completed in July.

Zilzie Wines managing director, Andrew Forbes, said his company had been looking at solar options for a while, and the proposal for this project with AGL came at the perfect time.

“Electricity costs continue to rise and so we made the decision to make a substantial capital investment to increase our productivity and efficiencies across the entire winemaking process,” Andrew said.

“It just made perfect sense to make sure we weren’t increasing our demands on non-renewable energy resources, therefore turning to a clean, renewable energy option was important to us.”

Zilzie chose AGL because they felt their expertise in the field of solar power was exemplary, and they’d also taken the time to understand the business’s needs.

“AGL presented us with options that suited our circumstances, it wasn’t just an off-the-shelf proposal,” Andrew said.

“They were also offering well-known, high quality, reliable brands of hardware (panels and inverters) and ongoing servicing and maintenance of the equipment.

“It therefore became a positive experience for us knowing AGL would take care of the installation and we didn’t have to become solar panel experts overnight.”

Andrew said what really sealed the deal was the ‘Smart Plan’ contract AGL offered, which is for 10 years, while the system life expectancy is 25 years.

“That means 15 years of opportunity for further expansion, perhaps adding battery storage as well, it has very exciting potential,” he said.

The massive solar-array is the largest single site, ground-based, solar installation in the wine industry, and is capable of generating 1.06 megawatts of electricity from the 3600 panel, ground and roof-mount system.

The energy generated from the panels is transferred to a bank of 36 inverters, each of which has a capacity of 25,000 kilowatts and converts the current from DC to AC power.

The Forbes family are fourth generation farmers, whose fifth generation is now growing up, and will no doubt take the reins some day.

Andrew said he and his brother Steven are committed to leaving the property in an environmentally-healthy and sustainable state for their children.

“They are old enough to understand the importance of protecting the fundamental elements like land, water, air and energy, all of which are essential to crafting quality wines, there’s no point just telling them about it, we want to lead by example,” Andrew said.

This philosophy has been the driving force for the company to look at renewable energy options to generate power for their massive operation.

“Electricity is one of the major operating costs of running a winery, given temperature control is crucial to maintaining the quality of our wines, and when you’re talking about millions of litres of wine each year, that’s a lot of refrigeration, which equals a lot of electricity,” Andrew said.

Ultimately, the decision to go solar was seen as the best solution to reduce the high electricity spend associated with operating a large winery.

With energy prices continuing to soar, and given the solar rebates on offer, as well as the reduction in the cost of solar systems, combined with the abundance of sun in our region, it was a logical and timely business decision, one which has already seen a considerable reduction in the company’s electricity costs.