As well as producing fine wine, Wales’s first solar powered vineyard is being paid to produce free electricity and is selling surplus energy to the national grid.
The Pant Du vineyard near Penygroes, in Gwynedd, was established by TV cameraman Richard Wyn Huws and his wife Iola in an idyllic setting with breath-taking views towards the Snowdonia mountain range.
Richard who has won two BAFTA Cymru awards for his skilled camera work on some of the most high profile dramas on S4C is now also winning prizes for the wine made from the 8,000 vines planted in neat rows like a military parade marching across eight and a half acres of the Nantlle Valley.
The couple have also planted 3,000 apple trees to produce their own cider and drilled two bore holes, one of which provides for their domestic needs and the other gushes with a plentiful supply of spring water which they sell from their on-site shop and café.
According to Richard, one of their main priorities was for the business to be sustainable and environmentally friendly.
The southern facing location was ideal for solar power and they now have a total of 44 panels which were installed by renewable energy specialists, Carbon Zero, from St Asaph.
The solar array generates up to 12 kilowatts of power with the majority of the free electricity being produced during the summer months when it’s needed most.
Richard explained: “Working with Carbon Zero was great. They explained everything clearly and helped us through the planning process.
“We now sell some power to the national grid but more importantly we get paid to generate free electric. I’ve just received the payments for the first quarter of the year which came to just under £800 – that was for the winter/spring period, the worst time of year for producing solar.
“I used to drive a diesel car but I’ve now got an electric Tesla car which I charge up for free – it doesn’t cost me a thing when I put my foot down.
“I think we’re almost self-sufficient but I can say more by next December. I’m looking forward to seeing how much we make per season and how much over the year.
“The next step for us I think is storing the energy we create during the day into batteries, Tesla batteries for example, so we don’t waste any of it.
“Solar power fits perfectly with our ethos as a company because we want to be self-sufficient.
“It’s a win-win-win situation. The first win is to help the environment and the other win is free electricity. You’re also able to sell to the grid and you get money for your savings from it.
“It’s also good for marketing. In business, you’d be surprised how much praise we get from customers for installing solar panels.”
Carbon Zero boss Gareth Jones said: “Richard is very happy with what he’s got in terms of solar power which will give him an income over 20 years.
“I suppose in one way, the Pant Du vineyard is the perfect business for solar power and the location is ideal. It’s got a great aspect and a nice open elevation.
“The fact that it’s been such a success for the business, just goes to show that solar power does have a big future. Any business looking long term should consider solar and see if it could work for them.
“We’ve installed high tech German SolarWorld panels which are operated independently with an online monitoring portal to track each individual panel.
“It makes sense to secure your energy future this way by generating free power and the message is that we can improve the bottom line for any business.
“An investment in solar panels will make more profit and you’ll pay less money to the energy company. Essentially, it’s more money in your pocket.”
A native of nearby Talysarn, Richard started working in the film and television industry in 1985 and worked on a whole host of popular S4C dramas including C’mon Midfield, Pengelli, Talcen Caled, Caerdydd and Porc Peis Bach.
He was awarded BAFTAs for his work on Alys and Martha Jac a Sianco but, although he still occasionally works as a cameraman, most of his working life is now devoted to Pant Du, the historic farm dating back to the 17th century which he and Iola bought in 2003.
The idea of establishing a vineyard had started fermenting in his mind during a trip to New Zealand a few years earlier when he saw how successful their wine industry was.
Richard planted two sorts of Pinot Noir grapes and another variety called Rondo which was discovered in the former Czechoslovakia in 1964 and has proved a great success after finding a new home in the foothills of Snowdonia.
The Rondo grapes guarantee fruit every year and produce a fruity, light red wine along with a delicate rosé while they also produce white wine from Bacchus, Siegerrebe and Seyval Blanc varieties.
In total, Pant Du sells up to 2,500 bottles of wine a year, mainly from their own shop but also to local hotels and restaurants.
There is also an extensive apple juice and cider making operation featuring 18 acres of orchards with 42 varieties of apple trees.
Among them are 700 trees which grow the renowned Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli) apple which Pant Du helped save from extinction.
Richard said: “I knew that the place was suitable for growing crops because the old farmers told me that things grew well in Pant Du.
“They grow well because it’s south facing and gets the sun all day. You have to have the sun all day to have some chance of growing grapes.
“Our wine has won awards from the UK Vineyards Association and the Welsh Vineyards Association and last year we got 3 stars Great Taste with the cider.
“What we’ve done I think is to realise a dream I had as a child which was to open Dyffryn Nantlle’s doors to tourism and the whole world and the café and vineyard does that.
“People come up the track and think they’re in Europe, Italy or France, but what we’ve got is a Welsh hub and people coming here to socialise and see friends.
“Last year, for the first time, we had enough apples to make our Enlli apple juice which was especially good.
“Even though I say it myself, the Enlli apple juice is fantastic. It’s light and not too sweet or too sharp. It’s one of the nicest apple juices I’ve tasted and it’s unique to Pant Du.”