Best Practices for Water Management  

pond for crops

By: Becky Garrison   

  During the virtual Oregon Wine Symposium (February 15-17, 2022),  Cheney Vidrine, winemaker for Union Wine Company, moderated a panel on winery sustainability focusing on best practices for water management in the cellar.

  Brighid O’Keane, former outreach director for LIVE, opened with a brief overview of LIVE’s sustainability standards for wineries. LIVE is a Pacific Northwest (OR, WA and ID) organization that supports environmentally and socially responsible wine-growing through third-party certification and education. Their certification is granted based on their values, which are climate action, biodiversity, soil health, worker rights, natural ressource conservation and pesticide reduction. At present, they have 328 vineyard members that produce 425,000 cases of certified wine (97 percent certified fruit).

  LIVE contracted with Erin Upton from Erin Upton Consulting to analyze the environmental impact of their member wineries, focusing on water use in the winery. First, Upton noted the myriad ways wineries utilize water. In the cellar, water is used year-round on the hospitality side for dishwashing, toilet flushing and watering visitor areas. Water use rises during harvesting and bottling.

  Upton notes how wine industries exist in the context of regional communities where water resources are shared by others who often have varied or possibly conflicting needs around water. “Water operates in a hydrologic cycle and moves through the air and landscape in ways that don’t adhere to land ownership boundaries or political boundaries.”

  In her research, Upton uses a framework to look at the interconnected relationships between social, ecological and institutional systems in wine regions and how these contribute to decision-making and impact outcomes around water resources and water management. A major impact is climate change challenges, with weather extremes informing the amount of snowpack that will be available for water use, as well as the increased demand for water use as a result of heat waves.

  Another major impact is on water availability, meaning the ability to access clean water in the amounts needed on a timely basis. The institutional systems influencing water decision-making in wine regions include legal regimes, legislation, policy and management. This goes along with the constellation of regulators, planners, businesses, nonprofits and other governments like tribes that influence decision-making about water at the local, regional, state and federal levels.

  The third category she considers is social systems, which include cultural aspects, such as one’s values, economics and political contexts. Upton observes, “People hold different values about what contributes to making the highest quality of wine ranging from economic and cost considerations to a commitment to environmental stewardship.”

  In accessing winery water use data from 31 LIVE-certified wineries from 2018-2020, Upton observed that most of the 31 wineries use less than 500,000 total gallons of water each year, and the average annual total water use rate is approximately 1.4 million gallons. There was a wide variation between wineries for water use rates, ranging from 0.39  gallons of water per case of wine to 72 gallons per case of wine. Approximately half the wineries used 10 gallons of water per case of wine produced or less, which translates to 3.6 gallons per gallon of wine produced. The average water use rate is 17 gallons of water per case of wine, which translates to 6.3 gallons of water per gallon of wine produced.

  Although there is no statistically significant change in water use across these three years, a little over 70 percent of wineries reported less water use in 2020 than in 2018. But it’s important to note that in the same time period, the total production dropped by nearly two million cases overall due to COVID-19 and the 2020 wildfire season.

  Through the act of monitoring water use, multiple wineries reported that they discovered leaks that were contributing to the higher amounts of water used. In Upton’s estimation, this discovery is a good endorsement for them to pay attention and monitor any leaks.

Building a More Sustainable Winery Program

  Katie Jackson, second-generation proprietor and SVP for corporate social responsibility at Jackson Family Wines (Santa Rosa, CA), and Haley Duncan, safety and sustainability manager for Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars (CA and OR), discussed the practical ways they work to achieve a more sustainable winery.

  According to Jackson, they have been focused on conserving water since they began their winery 40 years ago. They participate in multiple certification programs, including LIVE. At present, they are saving about 29 million gallons of water in their wineries based upon the conservation practices they put in place, along with keeping sixty percent of their land in its natural habitat to preserve the health of those natural ecosystems going strong.  

  Since 2015, they’ve conducted an exhaustive inventory, along with a third-party audit, so they can track their emissions. Jackson notes, “Having this inventory is really helpful in showing us where we can make some changes and lets us know where we need to be focused going into the future to continue to decarbonize.” This move has reduced their carbon footprint by 17.8 percent of their absolute emissions, with the goal to reduce their carbon footprint in half by 2030 and become climate-positive by 2050. 

  Presently, they have the U.S. wine industry’s largest solar array, with more than 23,000 panels and plans to continue their investment in renewable energy. Also, they reduced the bottle weight by five percent on their four highest volume bottle molds, which reduced total company emissions by 2-3 percent annually. This produced savings of approximately a million dollars annually in glass costs and $500,000 per year in fuel costs.

  Duncan described her role as project manager for the construction of their Alexander Valley winery in Healdsburg to achieve LEED Platinum status and living building status for the production side of the winery, the tasting room and all of the vineyards on the property. They were tasked with eliminating fuel use, using alternative refrigerants and installing only electric equipment.

  They achieved positive energy, which means that they produce more energy than they require, by installing over 2,500 solar panels on their buildings. For their hot water, they partnered with a Mayekawa (MYCOM) to provide CO₂ heat pumps. These were the first pumps to be used in a winery, and they work differently than a traditional on-demand gas-fired boiler by slowly warming the water up to about 160 to 180 degrees. As this is not an on-demand system, once all the water is used in the water tank, it takes a full 24 hours to regenerate. In Duncan’s estimation, this delay represents a good thing. “It’s pushed us to be much more conservative with our winery water use in our peak water use seasons and plan ahead,” she said.

  Another piece of technology they utilize is ammonia-based refrigeration. While this has no ozone-depleting potential and no global warming potential, they needed to put the right mechanisms in place to ensure employee safety should a leak occur. Along those lines, they focused on all their electric equipment, including their HVAC and appliances, for the commercial kitchens in their tasting room.

  Also, they were tasked with designing a system that treated and reused their winery process water. As they could not find an example where another winery was actually reusing their process water back into the facility, they had to make up the process as they went along. Eventually, they landed on a piece of equipment called a membrane bioreactor, which Duncan noted is not new technology, but it has never been used in quite the way that they intended to use it. They chose this piece of equipment to treat all of their winery process water because of its ability to produce a very high-quality effluent so they could reuse the water, not just in equipment like a cooling tower or landscape irrigation, but in the cellar as well.

  When conducting their first greenhouse gas audit in 2019, they discovered that the largest impact on their inventory was product transport, which is out of their control. Most of this cost is attributed to the two-day shipping that uses airplane transport offered on their website. The second expense was packing and then an equal mix of employee commuting, tasting room traffic, purchasing products like the grapes they buy from their contract growers, their vineyard practices and soil admissions.

  At present, over half of their onsite renewable energy needs are met with solar. The remaining of that is green power they purchased through the grid.

International Wineries for Climate Action

  In 2019, Jackson Family Wines co-founded this group with Familia Torres (Spain) wineries worldwide, with the overall goal of achieving net zero emissions by at least 2050. This group seeks to bring together as many wineries across the industry as possible from all different regions across the world in order to learn from each other,  provide a roadmap with their collective knowledge and share strategies so they can get all of the members to that decarbonization goal as quickly as possible.

  The group’s accomplishments include creating a gas emissions calculator to help wineries more easily measure their carbon footprint and joining the United Nations Race to Zero campaign. It has grown from 10 to more than 30 members representing seven countries across five continents. “Having a large critical mass of wineries, I think, is going to be really critical in helping us achieve our goals as an overall industry,” Jackson reflects.

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