Black Ankle Vineyards is Green

Black Ankle Vineyards at 14463 Black Ankle Road in Mount Airy (301 829 3338, info@blackanklevineyards.com) is a fine wine business that is owned and operated by a husband and wife team (Ed Boyce and Sarah O'Herron).
Visit their website or see the photos here to get an idea of how unique the Black Ankle vineyard and tasting room really are. They create a fuller, richer, more robust wine...and tasting "experience." At the wine tasting bar, made of the same straw that is in the walls, you can't help but meet and talk to the folks on either side of you. The entire place is structured to create warmth, good conversation, and friendships. If I were single, I would spend time there meeting good people face-to-face rather than on Facebook.

On December 5, 2008, with icy snow falling outside, I had the pleasure of entering a Tasting Room that was warm with laughter, Irish music (Pete Moss and the Bog Band), children and babies everywhere, and the light and comfort of a cozy, friendly snug. Ah...here there is light and love and family that leads to creativity and joy and...well, the Spirt of Christmas! See the photos and videos below for a small taste of what I mean. And also see below Ed and Sarah's description of their solar snug.

Their Tasting Room has to be seen to be believed...and experienced. Black Ankle Vineyards has created a wine Tasting Room that is a laboratory of creative low-cost energy use using proven age-old and very modern sustainable design principles and solar technologies. Environmentalists from California to Germany should come and study it. Here is how they describe it:
"Unique among the foods we eat, wine is nearly always linked with the place where it is grown. Wine reflects its climate, season, and soil more than any other agricultural product. A desire to rexplore this sense of place is what seduced us into becoming wine growers, to see when we could create of o f this beautiful spot in the hills of the Maryland Piedmont. When it came time to build a place from which to see the wines we grow, we decided to build using the same principles by which we farm:
  • use what we have on the farm first
  • use the most ecologically sound and environmentally friendly options available
  • work with nature instead of against it
As a result of these guiding principles, our Tasting Room is uniquely eco-friendly, low9impact building, constructed primarily of materials that we found or grew on our farm. We
We began our design process by making a list of advantages we had, and how we could best use them.

Sun We have a wide open side, which enabled us to place the building with an all important Soutern exposure. The building uses passive solar heating, a system that takes great advantage of the sun's natural movements to a very simple but effective way. Because the sun is lower in the sky in the Winter and higher in the Summer, window overhands on the South side are sized to block the Summer sun from hitting the windows while allowing the winter sun from hitting the windows while allowing the Winter sun to stream inside, keeping us cool in summer but letting the sun warm us in winter. The sun (with help from a solar panel) also heats all of our water.
Rain We use the rain to water out landscaping, which is comprised almost exclusively of native plants that need no supplemental irrigation. The rain waters our green roofs, which don't need irrigation (they are planted with sedums, extremely hardy plants). In turn, the roofs not only completely block out the summer heat, but as they plants respire they actually cool the building. Winter rains can also lead to frost heaving, which can undermine a building. Instead of a traditional concrete foundation, we installed a rubble trench, a technique (popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright) which drains the water away before it can freeze and uses much less concrete.
Wind Our Breezeway room is designed to catch the slightest wisp of a breeze and funnel it through the wedge-shaped room, so that the room is pleasant even on a hot summer day. with it passive solar design, the Breezeway is also warm on sunny winter days, making a room that will be comfortable most of the year even though it has no heating or cooling system.
Farm Fields We have some good farm soils at Black Ankle, and we used them to grow the rye and oat straw that we used extensively throughout the construction. Baled straw provides the insulation for our walls, while loose straw is a key ingredient in cob, a mix of sand, dirt, water and straw that hardens like concrete, and was used to build the window seat, bar fronts, masonry heater cladding, and the garden walls
Subsoil Because of its high clay content, subsoil (mixed with water and the right quantity of sharp sand) makes a great binder for natural plasters. The inside wall plaster is subsoil excavated from the site mixed with sand, then finished with raw linseed oil. The cob also uses the same subsoil in its mix.
Deeper Earth Six-feet down into the ground the earth is a constant 57 degrees despite the seasonal changes above. Our wine storage room is cut 6 feet into the hill on the West side which, along with its straw bale insulation and temperature moderating living roof, should keep the wine between 55 to 65 degrees all year long without the the need for any artificial heating or cooling system.
Trees Why buy wood when we have 50 acres of it right here? We cut 13 trees (ten tulip, 2 red oak, and one maple) to give us most for the wood used in the building:
  • poplar for the posts, beams, siding, lintels, window trim and kick plates
  • oak for the doors and door trim
  • maple (which by happenstance turned out to be a curly maple with ambrosia beetle marks, a very rare and sought-after wood) for the table tops.
All of the wood was milled at a local mill and then returned to Black Ankle where it was stacked and dried outside for six months before use in construction.
Our trees also provide us with plenty of firewood to supplement our passive solar heat with our masonry stove, a clean burning fireplace with the and comfort of radiant heat.

Stones Like a lot of farmers, we are really good at growing rocks. We regularly pull stones of all shapes and sizes our of the vineyard so that they don't interfere with out tractors and mechanical weeding, and over the years we have accumulated quite a rock collection. During our construction, we were able to make use of many stones:
  • the small ones came in very handy as bases for the outside cob walls
  • the larger ones were used to face the front of the building
  • some of the really little ones found their way onto the light above the bay window table
Grapevines With over 42,000 plants in the ground, we generate plenty of grapes and vine prunnings each year. After we extract the juice from the grapes every harvest, we are left with a pile of skins and deeds, which in the wine business is known as pommace. Usually we compost it; however, we took a few hundred pounds aside, dried it, added some prunings from the vineyard and had it made into counter tops for the tasting bars. the rest went to the cows (they love it!), and eventually make its way into the compost pile, where it composted for six months. this compost provided the bottom 3-inch layer for the living roofs.
When we couldn't find the materials we needed on our own farm, we tried to fin the most local, sustainable and non-toxic alternatives possible. For example:
  • The concrete poured for the project used up to 40% fly ash (a waste product generated by power plants) as a substitute for cement (cement is very energy intensive to manufacture).
  • Instead of pressure treated lumber, we used an environmentally benign product called TimberSil, which infuses the wood with silica rather than chemicals to protect against rot
  • For roof insulation we used a foam insulation made from soybeans (Biobased Foam Insulation). Soybeans were also used to make the wood and concrete sealants.
  • the wood for the main Tasting Room ceiling came from maple trees blown down in a storm in the Cunningham Falls National Park
  • Al of the lights use either compact fluorescent or LED bulbs
  • All the paint we used was ultra-low VOC
Black Ankle Vineyards is located at: 14463 Black Ankle Road, Mt. Airy, MD 21771
phone: 301-829-3338; email: info@blackanklevineyards.com
The Black Ankle Tasting Room is open on Saturday and Sunday 12-5pm

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