OEC Member Profile: Bill Sweat, Co-Owner and Founder, Winderlea Vineyard and Winery
“Second careers, a well-planned next chapter, the pursuit of a shared passion” – this is how Bill Sweat describes his life in Oregon as co-owner of Winderlea, a boutique winery specializing in the limited production of pinot noir and chardonnay.
Bill and his wife, Donna, fell in love with pinot noir in the early 1990s. They found the characteristics they most loved about it in Oregon’s pinot noir, and relocated from Boston to Dundee in 2006.
Along with their passion for wine, the couple shares a dedication to sustainability. This dedication can be seen right from the moment you drive onto Winderlea’s property, where you’re greeted by a sleek building covered in rooftop solar, and two electric car chargers out front.
“People aren’t going to buy electric vehicles until the infrastructure is in place; the more business owners who help create the infrastructure, the more people will be willing to buy,” says Bill. “EV (electric vehicle) chargers are a demonstration project. They’re visible. Just like when hybrids first went on the market, the more you saw them, the more normal they became. We need to cultivate that same awareness with electric vehicle technology. The more people see EV chargers, the more they’ll feel comfortable buying an electric car. We’re doing our part to add that visibility.”
Winderlea is part of a unique EV tourism program called Plug & Pinot, an effort to illustrate how a full day exploring Oregon’s Wine Country can be done by EV. The Plug & Pinot Program extends from Gaston to Dundee, from Dayton to Salem, and all the way to the town of Elkton. Several of the program’s members were among the first wineries to plant vines in the Willamette Valley over 40 years ago.
Winderlea is also a certified Benefit, or “B” Corporation; a benefit corporation operates with the same authority as a traditional corporation, but is required to consider the impact of its decisions on society and the environment.
“I feel good about the conscious decisions we’re trying to make, and every year we try to do better,” says Bill. “We like the B-Corp certification process; they raise the bar every time you get recertified, so we have to continually improve if we want to retain our certification” Bill told us that three of the first four wineries in the world to become B certified are located right here in Oregon.
Bill utilizes clean energy wherever possible, from solar at the winery to heat the facility’s water, to a solar array on his home. The residential solar results in monthly checks as high as $300 from Portland General Electric, thanks to the power he is able to give back to the grid, and Winderlea’s solar panels help keep utility costs low. What the solar panels don’t cover, he pays PGE to purchase power through their Green Energy Program. “It’s only about a penny per kilowatt hour. We subsidize fossil fuel companies, so why not subsidize clean energy? There’s no compelling reason to not support alternative energies. There’s just not.”
Winderlea utilized many LEED energy management practices as part of the building’s construction; it’s sleek, slab floor and dramatic overhangs are more than aesthetically pleasing — they’re designed to collect heat and give it back to the building throughout the day, a warming effect in the winter. They’re also designed to contain heat, a cooling effect in the summer.
Winderlea also embraces this philosophy in its agricultural practices. They are one of 200 Oregon and Washington vineyards that have achieved a Salmon-Safe certification, an innovative sustainable agriculture initiative that recognizes vineyards and wineries for their sustainable agricultural practices. Winderlea is LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) certified; each year, LIVE members verify that they have met a series of sustainability goals specific to winegrowers. Winderlea is also Organic and Biodynamic® certified.
Bill Sweat is an example of a business owner doing everything he can to be a steward to the environment.
“The future of Oregon’s wine industry depends on a stable climate and a healthy environment. I do what I do because it’s the right thing, but also because I want Oregon’s wine legacy to exist for many generations to come,” said Sweat.
Bill Sweat is a member of Oregon Environmental Council. You can join OEC for as little as $5 per month, or $35 per year, by clicking here. Your gift helps protect Oregon’s environment for generations to come.