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April 27th, 2021 – Flat Rock’s Sustainable Architecture and Gravity-Flow Design
Written By: Allison Findlay, Winemaker
When we think of our impact on the world around us, what is more important than our physical footprint? It is the space we occupy. We’re so lucky to be able to work on the Niagara Escarpment, part of the important Greenbelt ecosystem. You better believe we want to leave as much of that land untouched as possible! This is why, when planning for the structure of our winery, we decided to build up instead of out. A 5-level hexagonal winery makes a much smaller footprint than a sprawling, single-floor concrete rectangle. Even our bottle shop sits on stilts to minimize the impact on the environment where it stands. We’ve had this amazing opportunity to establish our livelihood on this little slice of limestone heaven, and we must do all we can to make sustainable choices to ensure its beauty and utility is here for future generations.
What goes up, must come down, another feature of our winery is just that. Alas, the beauty of implementing a gravity-flow system. All of our grapes are hand-harvested and brought in through the harvest doors at the highest level of the winery. They’re carefully poured onto a sorting table that bounces them along showing us every side of the cluster. We’re able to pull out any imperfect grapes or leaves that we don’t want to end up in the final product … the wine. From here, they either fall into the press if they are white, or into an open-top fermenter if they are red. No pumps needed when flowing downhill. When the red grapes are finished fermenting, they once again take the leap of faith and flow into the press where they are then separated from the skins, and only a young wine is left. Once that young wine has settled, it moves to its final resting place, the lowest level of the winery, to a French oak barrel. Here it will mature, interact with the oak, and shift into the wine we love to enjoy. Gravity (and winemakers of course) facilitate the process of grapes to wine without the use of pumps to move them around. Delicate Pinot Noir benefits the most from this gentle process, and it doesn’t do any harm to our other grape varieties as well.
The sustainable design of our building is not only established by our small footprint and use of gravity-flow winemaking, but also due to the location of the lowest level of the winery. Our barrel cellars and warehouse are below the ground nestled right into the bench formation of our property. This naturally insulates these spaces from major temperature fluctuations and allows our wines to stay at an optimal temperature throughout their time in barrel and beyond.
When thinking of sustainability, we often default to thinking only of the environment. At Flat Rock Cellars, we know that this is only one piece of the puzzle. The gravity-flow design of our winery is a certainly a functional approach and a physical manifestation of our commitment to quality, but the best part is that we’re able to share it. We love to showcase the expansive views of our land, vineyards, and Lake Ontario as you sit and enjoy a glass of wine from our vineyards below. This was an integral part of the design as well, to engage our visitors as they arrive atop the escarpment and then walk into the tasting room to visually discover the many layers that make up the geographical feature we call home.