Meet a Member: Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery
A Green Business Network Member Spotlight
Jowler Creek Vineyard and Winery is our newest member to the Green Business Network! We recently chatted with Colleen Gerke, co-owner, to find out more about Missouri’s first green winery, what inspires her and what’s next for their sustainability efforts.
Located just 30 minutes north of downtown Kansas City in Platte City, Missouri, Jowler Creek Vineyard and Winery is the creation of Colleen and Jason Gerke – a husband and wife duo who turned their basement winemaking hobby into what has become Missouri’s first green winery.
The 7-acre operation currently includes a vineyard with 3,500 grapevines and a new on-site winemaking facility with both warehouse and event space – all that boast many cool sustainability features. Being green, however, was never Colleen’s end goal.
“When we started the winery, we never started out to be a green winery or focus on sustainability. Our house is in the middle of our vineyard, and the winery is next door. We have little kids. When we were making some of these decisions about how we wanted to operate, I wasn’t really thinking about being green. I was thinking, ‘What’s best for my kids? My family?’
That desire to provide a safe environment for her family led to the implementation of creative and environmentally friendly ways to run their business.
In the vineyard, both sheep and chickens roam to control weeds and pests. The sheep “mow” under the vines, eliminating the need for herbicides while helping to minimize soil erosion, decrease their dependence on fossil fuels from traditional mowing and improve overall soil health. The hens snack on crawling insects, reducing or sometimes even eliminating their need for insecticide use.
They’ve installed bat houses to provide habitat for bats, which in turn provide them with additional pest control by having the bats feed on insects throughout the vineyard at night. Other features include a solar-powered wildlife fence, a honey bee colony to help pollinate the cover crop between rows, and a drip-irrigation system for efficient water use.
Colleen is most proud of the sheep. “They are super cute – which helps. But so many people thought we were nuts when we were doing it, and it turned out to be really successful. It was a huge fundamental shift for us to bring in the sheep since it’s so traditional in the Midwest to spray for weed control.”
Sustainable features don’t end in the vineyard. The winery boasts a 5-KW solar array, an electric vehicle & charging station, an efficient HVAC and lighting system, a composting and recycling program, rain barrels and a native pollinator garden.
Colleen says they’ve seen economic benefits from their sustainability measures as well.
“I’m trying to think of what we haven’t seen cost savings in. With the sheep, we don’t have fuel costs for mowing or spray costs – herbicides are expensive. We buy the sheep at the beginning of the season and sell them at the end – so we make money there. Our solar panels are a longer return on investment, but I think energy prices are going to keep going up.”
What would Colleen like to tackle next?
“I’d really love to go zero waste. We do a pretty good job on the production side – because we can control it all on that side – but with the public events that we do, we allow people to bring food in, and we have to manage the packaging and food waste that we get.”
It was Colleen’s interest in looking at ways to further reduce their waste that sparked her interest in joining the Green Business Network. “It will be great to network with other businesses – to learn what they’re doing and incorporate some of what we learn through GBN into what we’re doing,” said Gerke.
Jowler Creek makes nine different variety of wine, ranging from dry to sweet and offers public winetasting events regularly. They reward their customers for being sustainable, too, offering two free wine tastings to customers who drive their electric vehicle to the winery. Click here to see a calendar of events and here to read more about their story.