UC Davis, LEEDing the way to a brighter future

Upon the very first glimpse of the UC Davis campus on the central valley skyline, it’s likely that freeway passerby and prospective and current students alike will have seen the modern-esque facilities located on the Interstate 80 face of campus — The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and the North and South Mondavi Institute (RMI) buildings. These structures, which were built with the help of a $35 million donation by viticulture tycoon Robert Mondavi and his wife Margrit, attract an undeniable amount of attention from artistic thrill-seekers and viticulture experts alike.

“UC Davis has been a true partner in building the international reputation of the California wine industry,” said Robert Mondavi in an interview posted on the UC Davis RMI homepage. “California wines are equal to the world’s best in quality, diversity and excitement. We are now leading the way with UC Davis graduates at the helm of many of our finest wineries. We are greatly honored to support UC Davis with new facilities that ensure its position as the world’s leading educational center for viticulture, enology and food science.”

Acting as more than just additions to an attractive campus, the rust-colored RMI North and RMI South buildings, which add a pinch of aesthetic bling to the UC Davis gateway, are in fact a part of UC Davis’ groundbreaking sustainability efforts that have garnered both international praise and noteworthy certification. Additionally, July of 2010 saw the opening of a revolutionary adjunct to these collegiate sustainability efforts in the form of the UC Davis Research and Teaching Winery.

These “green” facilities, all of which traditionally harbor laboratories and offices exclusive to the various nutrition, food science, food chemistry and viticulture majors, are an entirely new breed of collegiate facility. The Robert Mondavi Institutes of Wine and Food Science are some of the first collegiate facilities to be LEED certified, and the winery itself is one of the first buildings in the world to be furnished with the elite LEED Platinum certification, the highest possible ranking given to sustainable architecture.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally-recognized green building construction standards agency that measures the sustainability of materials used and overall structural design of a building.

“The new teaching and research winery and vineyard are game-changers for the winemaking and grape growing program at UC Davis,” said Andrew Waterhouse, a renowned UC Davis viticulture chemist, in a press release. “They will help California winemaking advance dramatically in both quality and sustainability.”

The new winery, designed for viticulture-based research, is continuously used as a testing ground for sustainability experimentations on viticulture techniques — water, soil, energy and computerization methods are enacted to conserve energy and maximize efficiency. The objective of the experimental winery is to assist in the development of streamlined practices that can be implemented across the entire wine industry.

“The ultimate goal is to make the winery entirely self-sustainable,” Waterhouse said. “The new Jackson building will contain systems that make it possible for the winery to be operated solely from rainwater, sequestered CO2 and solar energy. The Jackson will be the first certified UC Davis campus building to yield net zero energy, only the second in California.”

Waterhouse emphasized the fact that UC Davis-based facilities such as these are not only iconic of campus ingenuity and sustainability efforts, but also act to inspire a positive ripple effect of architectural inventiveness for viticulture centers on an international level.

“No other viticulture and enology research organization has a facility with these capabilities,” said David Block, vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.

Over and above the sustainable approaches implemented by the RMI science facility and teaching winery, it’s crucial to note the pioneering viticultural techniques, methodologies and technologies that are employed within these buildings. To maximize the potential of the various brewing processes, an intricate, mathematically integrative series of smart-sensors responsible for meeting the meticulous desires of the wine-makers have been installed.

“The creation of these sensors involved applying complex mathematical procedures in order to extract precise measurements from an inherently ‘noisy’ (ambiguous) fermentation environment, and then transmitting that data to a secure computer server using the latest radio frequency technology,” said Roger Boulton in a press release regarding the specific benefits of the new RMI and wine teaching facilities. Boulton is a winery engineering expert and the Stephen Sinclair Scott Endowed Chair in Enology at UC Davis.

In the technological era in which we live, the search for “green” technology is irrefutably coupled with the imminent progression and pursuit of the technology itself. Sustainability, a concept that is paramount in the minds of consumers and producers alike, is an enduring expectation laced throughout the foundations of modern industry — a response to the caveat of global climate change. The UC Davis-based architectural and viticultural initiatives, which take further steps to increase efficiency and minimize industrial impact on climate, may very well lead the way in the pursuit of sustainable innovation in the global viticultural and enological industries.

EMILY SEFEROVICH can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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