It’s a gray rainy day in southern Indiana, and Preston Leaderbrand walks between the rows of grapes at his vineyard in Spencer. He stops to check the grapes, tasting them for ripeness and sweetness.
Leaderbrand worked hard all his life in the coal mines of central Illinois. When he retired nine years ago, he and his wife, Bonnie, purchased 40 acres in Owen County.
“My son had two young grandsons of mine, so he convinced me to move closer, for us to move closer. And that’s how we got this property,” Leaderbrand says.
The Owen Valley Winery was born when the Leaderbrands’ son and daughter-in-law planted test rows of grapes on the property and needed a way to use the juice. Together, the four of them own the growing business.
Anthony Leaderbrand, Preston’s son, says business is booming and they hope to continue that trend.
“People come from all over to taste our wine, to buy it. We’re in retail stores now. This rocket ship that we’ve built here just continues to climb, and there’s no end in sight,” Anthony Leaderbrand says.
Owen Valley’s newest project, and its most distinctive feature, is 34 solar panels on the roof of the winery. Anthony Leaderbrand says that eco-friendly practices have always been a part of their family philosophy. The solar panels, which will provide 60% of the winery’s energy, make sense for the evolution of the winery. Now the Leaderbrands can boast their winery as the first in the Midwest to run on sunshine.
Standing outside the Owen Valley Winery buildings, David Mann of MPI Solar looks up at the panels his company installed. Mann says that when Preston Leaderbrand contacted him about solar power, he knew exactly where to look for funding.
Preston Leaderbrand says, “We thought it was a perfect fit for the USDA REAP grant program which is Renewable Energy for American Program.”
REAP grants provide funds to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to help purchase renewable, and more efficient, energy systems.
Even after all the work he and his family put into the solar panels project, Preston Leaderbrand says seeing the results is still a pleasant surprise.
He says, “I was able to get online and be able to see what the solar did today, and as cloudy as it was and everything, it still put out energy. And I could not believe that. It actually worked.”