warm thoughts


Written on: July 1, 2024

Last week in Part One of this series, we introduced Fisher Vineyards near Santa Rosa, California in this article.

Fisher Vineyards was presented the Energy for Everyone Hero Award by the Propane Education & Research Council June 19 at their facility near Santa Rosa, California. The second generation-led company was recognized for their extensive use of propane to run their business over several decades including more extensive use during the past decade to provide continuity despite the challenges presented by wildfires and brownouts.


During the award presentation, Michael Newland, Director of Agriculture Business Development at the Propane Education & Research Council also recognized Blue Star Gas, the propane provider for Fisher Vineyards. “Blue Star Gas is one of the shining stars in our industry,” Newland said. “They are in a unique situation based on the geography they operate in. Things are not always perfect in their geography and trade area. They do a fantastic job, they’re very progressive in their thought and the way they go to market. They’ve got a huge commitment to the power generation space.”

Trent Nagata, Vice President, COO at Blue Star Gas shared an overview of the company’s relationship with Fisher Vineyards. “Blue Star Gas has been Fisher Vineyards’ propane partner for the past five years,” Nagata said. “Before and during the partnership, we’ve seen the Fisher family’s devotion to stewardship and sustainability in this community and with the founding of Sonoma County Day School and the way they continue to operate Fisher Vineyards. With the backdrop of the Point Fire, resiliency is of the utmost importance throughout this region and beyond. Propane delivers core resiliency needs here, at Calistoga State and throughout the Napa region.”


Colin Sueyres, President & CEO of the Western Propane Gas Association discussed the importance of energy issues in California for the rest of the country. “Part of what we see in California and the reason why the work Fisher Vineyards is doing in this vineyard and PERC is here giving this award is because what is going to happen in California is going to set the future for the propane industry,” Sueyres said. “Not just that, the things that we are learning here from business owners like the Fisher family and what they’re doing here are going to be lessons learned not just on propane, but on agriculture and viticulture.” Sueyres said that what you are going to see and are going to continue to see in California is what starts here never ends here. “There’s a line I’ve used before that ‘you’re welcome for the iPhone, were sorry about everything else’,” he said. “But the truth of it is, the reason the iPhone began in California is only because the iPhone could have only began in California. The things that we are seeing now from forward thinking business owners like the folks who are hosting us here today are what is going to help not just California but the Nation achieve its energy goals, its environmental goals, its sustainability goals while protecting these economies, growing these economies, and setting the bar even higher for the rest of the world to continue to chase.”


“We need a lot of power and our harvest tends to be at the peak of grid disruption,” said Rob Fisher while giving a tour to those who came for the award presentation. “So, we felt that in a big way in 2017, we felt it in a big way in 2019 and 2020. I don’t know what the stats say but every time we had a critical process, we’d lose power.” Fisher noted they had designed their facility and all of the engineering was finished prior to the fire of 2017 which really kicked off a lot of new power standards and backup power standards. “So, we had to go through a lot of work to retrofit our electric setup to accommodate all of that.”

After describing a detailed process of heating and cooling changes required during the fermentation process, Fisher commented, “Imagine trying to do that during a mandatory evacuation.” He described the barrel room as needing to stay at 55 degrees with 80% humidity for a sustained period of time. Wine is typically here for two years in the production process where it ages in French Oak barrels. Regarding brownouts, he said, “We never receive notice the power is shutting down and we never have notice that power is coming back on. It has been important to have a reliable backup energy source in place.” Propane has provided the Fisher family and their team with the resilient energy in propane to manage their facility remotely if needed and avoid outages and the many other challenges they faced in 2017 and the next few years.


After the tour, a lunch where all present could sample the many wines at Fisher Vineyards and the awards presentation, the Fishers, as well as the representatives from PERC, Blue Star Gas and the Western Propane Gas Association were able to talk one-on-one further with members of the press representing a variety of media, both inside and outside the propane industry. Interestingly, each of the three second generation siblings now leading Fisher Vineyards, Rob (CEO and President), Cameron (Marketing) and Whitney (Production) never originally intended to work at Fisher Vineyards in their adult life. “Our parents encouraged us to go out into the world after our upbringing on the mountain and find our passion,” Cameron Fisher said. “We all found our true passion was back in the Vineyard after working in various roles in the early years of our careers.”


During the afternoon, Rob Fisher and Mike Newland sat down with Natalie Kovarik and Tara Vander Dussen of the Discover Ag weekly podcast. Kovarik, a Pharmacist and Rancher in Nebraska and Vander Dussen, an Environmental Scientist and Dairy Farmer in New Mexico are also propane influencers sponsored by PERC. Kovarik and Vander Dussen noted the unique nature of Vineyards as a place where customers see more of the process of the production of the wine while most agriculture products just show up on their kitchen table. They discussed with Fisher the many processes including the production of timber for barrels that go into a Winery.

When the podcast topic turned to the uses and benefits of propane, Fisher said the Vineyards had used propane for many decades to power the frost prevention fans. It was much later that propane for backup power became a prominent use of the fuel and it now also powers their back-up systems, HVAC units, forklifts, and hot water heaters. Newland said nearly 95 to 98 percent of frost prevention fans across the country are powered by propane. He mentioned PERC incentive plans that are helping businesses switch to using even more propane versus electricity especially as the price for power on the grid is on the rise. Fisher said he appreciates the savings in addition to the peace of mind to have a more reliable energy source and systems that can be managed remotely in circumstances such as a mandatory evacuation due to wildfires.

Newland noted the value of propane as a fuel that can be easily stored and is totally unhitched from the electric grid. He also mentioned propane can be bought ahead from one of nearly 3,500 companies across the U.S. The low carbon intensity of propane versus other fuels and the clean nature of propane were shared along with the positive prospects for renewable propane. “We’re always up for a debate about the cleanliness of our fuel,” Newland said. “We are cleaner than the grid!”

To watch the Discover Ag podcast segment recorded at Fisher Vineyards, click here.