The Water-Wise Winemaker
Tips, techniques and ideas for saving water in the cellar
Water is on everybody’s mind these days. We all know it’s a precious resource and one that we must conserve in our homes, in our vineyards and in our businesses. For wineries, where cleaning and sanitation are mission-critical and non-negotiable, it’s tough to rationalize using less. We don’t want to compromise cleanliness (and therefore quality), so coming up with ways to use less water in the winery can seem like a daunting task.
The below tips and tricks are not a universal checklist for every winemaker, as we all have different facilities, different practices and different needs. Some items are easy to implement (like pushing grape skins with a broom instead of a hose), and some are more expensive (like investing in state-of-the-art “clean in place” tanks like the University of California, Davis, has just done). That being said, now is as good a time as any to craft a water-reducing plan at your own winery.
Know your water usage baseline
The old saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This is absolutely true for water conservation; it’s critical to know where your starting point is. It generally takes about 6 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of wine (though estimates vary from as little as 2 gallons all the way up to 20). Many wineries have no idea where they fall along this spectrum, and performing some kind of a water audit—even if it’s just to measure how much water you use to clean a typical tank or barrel—will help establish a baseline.
Measuring your water consumption can start with installing flow meters to measure usage at key points like on the crush pad, in the bottling room, at filtration and at barrel-washing stations. Measure cleaning cycle times to determine the minimal time needed. By filling up that stainless tub or drum, you’ll get an idea how much wash water gets used when someone cleans a pump and hose setup. Do the math to figure out how many gallons of water per length of hose it takes to fill that volume; extrapolate that volume through longer hose setups to get an idea of how much water your winery is using in longer-travel wine transfers. Then use your current usage to create a realistic target for reduction. At J. Lohr, with more than a decade of concerted effort, safety and environmental coordinator Jeff Zucker and his team were able to get their water consumption down to an impressive 1.1 gallons of water used per gallon of wine produced. This may not be achievable for all wineries (though 2-3 gallons has been cited as a feasible amount), so perhaps start with a small percentage as a reduction goal and go from there.
Cleaning and sanitation: Start here first
“Nearly all of the water used in a winery setting is from cleaning,” says Dr. David Block, chair of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology. Every time you move a gallon of wine you must clean (or at least sanitize) the hoses, the pump and the receiving tank. This can employ 50 gallons of water or more—especially for large tanks, large-diameter hoses and long-distance hose setups. For this reason, much of the technology in use at and in development of the UC Davis LEED Platinum-certified Teaching and Research Winery and in the Jess S. Jackson Sustainable Winery Building focuses on reducing water use in cleaning and sanitation.
Likewise, many of the below tips and ideas focus on reducing the number of times wine is moved, thereby reducing the number of times you need to clean a pump and hose setup, and reducing the amount of water used for cleaning and reusing cleaning solutions. Saving 50 gallons of water by eliminating the odd tank movement here or there might not seem like much, but over the course of a year small tweaks can add up to big savings.
Before you even pick a grape…
It might surprise you to know that just like “wines begin in the vineyard,” water conservation can begin there as well. Though tough to measure, these pre ventive strategies can contribute to overall savings goals.
Pick balanced grapes (not overripe raisins) so there is no need to add additional hydration water. Similarly, every time a winemaker is able to avoid an addition (acid adjustment, etc.), there is one less pump and hose setup that needs to be sanitized.
Healthy musts make healthy wines, and healthy wines are poised to use less water during their lifetimes. High-VA lots, stuck fermentations and their ilk need a lot more tank transfers, filtrations and additions to improve them or treat them—all of which necessitate a lot more water.
On the crush pad
Cover the reception area and crush pad to minimize the baking on of waste material. The shade will make juice and grape skins easier to remove from equipment, thereby reducing the amount of water needed for cleaning.
Pre-clean winemaking areas and equipment with brushes, brooms and elbow grease before resorting to water for final rinsing. To make this approach work, it’s important to provide enough tools, education and employee incentives to use a broom instead of pushing a grape with a jet of water. Citing the difficulty in getting staff to think differently about water and use to elbow grease instead of hoses, Zucker said, “This is an obvious step, but not an easy one.”
Use PIGs (foam balls inserted into the outflow side of the pump) instead of flushing with a big bolus of water between must lots as you’re filling fermentation tanks. (See “PIGs Save Water in the Winery” in the January 2014 issue of Wines & Vines.)
And rather than cleaning picking bins individually, try using a water-recycling bin washer like that from The Tom Beard Co.
Fermentation and maceration
Pitch yeast directly into the top of the tank rather than injecting with a sump, pump and hose setup.
Can you do punch downs rather than pump overs for some red lots? Sanitizing a punch-down tool with ethanol spray or something similar uses a lot less water than cleaning a pump and hose setup.
Minimize the number of times you have to clean the red must out of your press before pressing white grapes. Dedicate a press to white varieties if you can, and schedule as many sequential red loads and white loads as possible.
Make friends with one yeast strain, or go with your native one so you aren’t sanitizing pump-over lines between pump overs.
Move from an old-fashioned three-step cleaning (caustic cycle, acid neutralization cycle and then water rinse) to a two-step process (KOH followed by peracetic acid, followed by a water rinse). If you wait 30 minutes after the peracetic acid cycle, you don’t need to rinse with water. This one change can significantly add up during the course of a harvest.
“The easiest change to make in the winery is to install high-pressure/low-flow cleaning devices throughout the facility,” says Jeff Zucker of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines. He adds, “High-pressure/low-flow nozzles reduce the flow to about 7 gallons per minute (gpm),” which is down significantly from a typical hose flow of 20 gallons per minute.
To that end: Invest in pressure washers. “Pressure washers clean floors and equipment very well, while only using between 2 and 4 gpm,” says J. Lohr’s Jeff Zucker.
Consider clean-in-place (CIP) tanks. The new CIP tanks at the teaching and research winery at UC Davis “will save the winery water because CIP technology uses less water than manual cleaning, allows for the recycle of cleaning solutions during and between cleaning cycles, and will allow us to clean up and reuse our water and cleaning chemistry,” Block says. “They are set up to clean the fixed-in-place pump-over lines as well as the tank,” he adds.
Be efficient with tank and barrel movements. Block says, “Wineries should think about the process steps they are using. The more racking in tank or barrel, the more cleaning that will be required.”
Other water-saving cellar tips:
• Equip all water hoses with automatic shut-off valves and timers where appropriate.
• Mix tanks with a Guth mixer, submersible pump or tank-top mixer, not a pump and hose setup.
• Minimizing the length and diameter of hoses as appropriate will use less water in the sanitation phase.
• If you use variable floating-top tanks, you have to move wine less for breakdowns.
• Use the last rinse water from a tank as the primary wash on the next tank. Empty dirty water out into a sump and reuse for other tasks. Use ozone rinse water from tank cleaning as water for barrel cleaning.
• Clean tanks in batches—or, at a minimum, use the rinse water from one as the cleaning water for the next.
• Don’t chase wine with water in hoses if you can: flush/push with gas and a PIG.
“We were surprised by how much water it takes to wash a barrel,” Zucker says. “About one-third of all the water we use at our Paso Robles winery goes to barrel washing.”
Employ high-pressure/low-flow spray heads and rinse with ozonated water. Zucker reports, “We also added timers to the ozone rinse system to avoid over-rinsing through human error.”
Coordinate barrel emptying and filling work to reduce the amount of time that barrels are empty. Freshly emptied barrels won’t dry up and have to be swelled up with water again.
Other water-saving tips for barrels:
• Use a self-contained barrel washer like those available from Tom Beard Co.
• Soak heads separately by flipping end to end; don’t necessarily fill barrels up to the top.
• Use rinse water from one barrel to do initial cleaning of the next.
Filtration and bottling
Analyze filter usage. Calculate what you use in your filters: Would you be better off using a cross-flow filter, where there are fewer break downs and set ups, and you can filter in one pass?
Consider using a liquid cellulose gum, like Laffort’s Celstab, for cold stability instead of the traditional chilling and seeding with potassium bitartrate crystals, which is very energy and water intensive. Using electro dialysis when the brine is treated with reverse osmosis (like the STARS/Oenodia process) is also an effective way to achieve cold stability and use less water than traditional KHTA seeding.
Settling well beforehand (perhaps using Isinglass) may enable you to filter with one pass rather than twice with a rough and polish pass.
Get the lab involved
Though labs will never be as water-intensive as cellar operations, there are some easy to install water-wise techniques for labs. Install aerators in all sinks so less water is used when sink taps are turned on.
Foot-pedal operated “on/off” taps (like those often seen in hospitals) are also an idea, so less water is used when washing lab glassware. It may sound trivial, but setting a piece of glassware to the side of the sink, using the hands to turn on the taps and then picking up the glassware and commencing cleaning will waste water.
Under-sink tankless water heaters get water up to temperature quickly without having to travel a long distance from a traditional water-heater tank. If you can save several seconds of running water multiple times per day, every day, it can add up.
Is a cultural shift necessary?
Change is tough. It might be difficult to make reaching for the squeegee (instead of the hose) automatic for your cellar crew. In order to make system-wide improvements in water usage, it’s critical that everyone at the winery—from upper management to the night-shift bottling line—be on board. Here are some team and cultural points to think about when designing a water conservation campaign:
• Make sure appropriate cleaning techniques and water-wise behavior is at the core of all employee training, from cellar to tasting room.
• Create a “water team” with a member from every key area on it (vineyard, cellar, barrel room, bottling, hospitality, etc.) that meets regularly to keep the campaign moving forward.
• Encourage employees to come up with their own creative solutions so they feel a sense of ownership of the issues and the successes.
• Encourage self-policing and instill a culture that values conservation.
• Find ways to reward innovation and consistency, because maintaining permanent behavior change isn’t easy.
Alison Crowe is the director of winemaking for Napa, Calif.-based Plata Wine Partners and the winemaker for Garnet Vineyards. She published The Winemaker’s Answer Book in 2007 and blogs at girlandthegrape.com.
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