Located on Seneca Lake, Silver Thread Vineyard is one of the oldest grape-growing sites in the region. The winery’s previous owners were the first to obtain organic certification in the Finger Lakes, and its current owners Shannon and Paul Brock continue the winery’s legacy of sustainability by building upon its organic roots. In recognition of this continued work, Silver Thread is the recipient of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation Sustainability Award in the 2023 Unity Awards. The award recognizes an organization or winery that has exemplified sustainable practices.
“Sustainability is something that’s always been very important to me as a person. I think when you own a small business it is, to a certain extent, a reflection of yourself,” says Shannon, who is the general manager of the winery she co-owns with her husband, who serves as winemaker.
Their sustainable efforts were always part of the plan, and that’s one of the reasons the previous owner, Richard Figiel, sold it to them.
“He had other people who wanted to buy Silver Thread,” says Shannon, “but it was important to him to find a new owner who was also committed to sustainability.”
The Brocks were a good fit for Silver Thread, and Silver Thread was a good fit for the couple.
They were able to start their tenure as owners of the winery knowing that they didn’t have to initiate everything when it came to being environmentally responsible.
“A lot of the ethos was already part of the business,” says Shannon.
Building on the Ethos
By the time Shannon and Paul took over Silver Thread in 2011, the winery was no longer certified organic. However, Shannon estimates their farming is about 90% to 95% organic, and they farm in a holistic, regenerative style known as biointensive viticulture that rebuilds biodiversity in the soil and ecosystem.
The winery now generates 100% of its energy from an on-site solar array. Vineyard chickens gobble up harmful pests. What the chickens can’t get, an organic, biological spray takes care of. Their wine bottles are 30% lighter than the industry average. They compost, re-use or recycle just about everything used in the winemaking and selling processes.
One of Silver Thread’s most recent sustainable projects is a vineyard expansion planted with locally adapted hybrid grape varieties.
“When Silver Thread started it was part of the group of wineries that was striving for recognition in the world of wine. To do that, they made a strong commitment to vinifera grapes,” says Shannon. “But with the hazards of climate change becoming more and more apparent every year, we are drawn, in part, to these locally adapted hybrid varieties.”
The expectation is that these varieties will be more resilient to the “crazy weather” that is becoming more common. Adding these grapes— Regent and two Cornell white varieties that are yet unnamed—could play an important role in sustainability for the region.
“The hybrid grapes are more cold hardy,” says Shannon. “These grapes will hopefully be a little better at staying cold tolerant. They also have fungal disease resistance built into their DNA.”
The hope is that with this resistance, they won’t have to spray as many harmful chemicals and organic materials will be effective in handling fungal diseases.
“We also feel we can make some nice wines out of them,” she says.
People Are Part of the Sustainable Equation
“When people talk about sustainability in the wine industry,” Shannon says, “they usually talk about farming, but there’s a lot more to it, especially involving people.”
Silver Thread has paid their employees a living wage for many years, but their caring about people goes beyond their employees.
“A really big component of being sustainable is having that give-back mentality and supporting the area that you live in,” she says. “We’re not the only winery that does that. The wine industry in general is very supportive of the community, especially here in the Finger Lakes.”
For their part, Silver Thread does a couple of fundraisers every year for a local food pantry and supports several regional educational institutions including Finger Lakes Community College. They’re also big supporters of many environmental groups in the Finger Lakes.
Recognition for a Job Well Done
Shannon is quick to acknowledge that many wineries in New York are deserving to be recognized and awarded for their sustainability initiatives. But, she also isn’t shy to say that at Silver Thread, they are “walking the walk not just talking the talk.” Some of the efforts make for more work, but she and Paul feel very strongly about what they’re doing and that their efforts make a positive impact on both the environment and the wine they’re making.
They are grateful for the recognition.
“We were pleasantly surprised,” says Shannon about the news that they’d won the Sustainability Award. “It’s always nice to be recognized by your peers. Paul and I have been here in the Finger Lakes for 18 years and we’ve gone to the Unity Awards most of the years we’ve been here. It’s exciting that we’ve been recognized. We’ve always worked hard to be good team players for the New York Wine Industry so it’s gratifying to know that people are noticing that and appreciating that.”
The Unity Awards were created in 1990 as a way to recognize, encourage, and celebrate cooperation among grape growers, wineries (and their staff), researchers, retailers and others to advance the entire industry. The winery and grower community in New York state has a rich history of working and succeeding together despite facing a variety of challenges through the years. Recognizing the longstanding and bold spirit of our community members and their numerous achievements, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation is proud to continue honoring industry leaders & champions of New York wine for more than 30 years.