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Wineries Conserve by Reusing Wastewater

California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance showcases efficient wastewater systems

by Andrew Adams
coppola wastewater
Nick Scalabrini (left) discusses the wastewater system at Francis Ford Coppola. On the ledge in front of him, beakers are filled with examples of the water from each stage of the treatment process.
Healdsburg, Calif.—When winery staff think about water conservation, they often focus on winery operations such as barrel washing and tank sanitation.

There are definitely savings to be found there, but the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance recently organized a tour to highlight water conservation and reuse through efficient, modern wastewater systems.

“Water is directly connected to energy and greenhouse gas emissions—and, of course, money,” said John Garn, a resource consultant for the alliance and founder of the firm View Craft.

Before the tour began, Garn addressed the group of about 40 who attended, most of whom were winemakers or winery staffers. He speculated that in the near future wineries won’t be able to just let their wastewater go down the drain and forget about it, they will need to look for ways to make it work for them. Such systems either provide clean water for irrigation or can capture the “bio gas” created during treatment to generate electricity. “I think that’s where things are going pretty soon,” he said.

Clean ‘compost tea’ for irrigation
The first stop of the tour of three wineries in Sonoma County was Healdsburg, Calif.-based Matrix Winery, which is part of the Wilson Artisan Wineries group owned by Ken and Diane Wilson.

Glen Wensloff, owner of Elutriate Systems, based in California’s Central Coast city of Arroyo Grande, installed a “bio reactor” system for $125,000 at the winery when Wilson was renovating what had been the original Rabbit Ridge property.

He said the system, tucked away in a small depression near a vineyard, is essentially a “bug farm,” and as long as the bacteria stay healthy and happy, it will efficiently break down wastewater. The system currently is being leased by Woodenhead winery and is used exclusively for winery process water, not residential wastewater from toilets and sinks.

Wensloff said such systems require minimal maintenance that includes checking the level of bacteria and occasionally adding fresh bacteria, which costs about $20 per pound, to ensure the population remains robust. Blowers that aerate the 10,000-gallon tanks, which were reclaimed from a defunct olive oil plant, operate automatically. Sensors monitor the dissolved oxygen in the tanks, and when the DO falls below a healthy level, the blowers turn on. “It runs exactly how it needs to run, and it’s very energy frugal,” Wensloff said.

At the end of the treatment cycle, Wensloff said the treated water is used to irrigate nearby vineyards.

Cutting costs by treating it onsite
Five years ago, Simi Winery was paying a fortune to use the city of Healdsburg’s wastewater system. The winery is located just two miles north of Healdsburg Plaza and did not have the space to build ponds.

The winery is part of Constellation Brands Inc., and management decided to install a Biotimup flow anaerobic sludge blanket system. Such systems are used at Constellation’s Canandaigua Winery in New York and Woodbridge Winery in Lodi, Calif.

The system at Simi was designed by Ecolab Inc. and cost $800,000. John Pritchard, director of operations at the 450,000-case winery, said the system quickly paid for itself by cutting the winery’s wastewater costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wastewater at the winery flows to a central collection sump and then is pumped to a large screen to clear out solids before heading into an “equalizer tank.” The water is heated and then transferred to the digester tank where the bacteria do their job. After treatment the water is sent to the city, which now charges Simi a fraction of the cost to treat it.

Pritchard said because the winery’s wastewater changes so dramatically between the off-season and harvest, they need to prime the digester tank by bringing in a load of sludge from a Pepsi plant in the Bay Area city of Hayward, Calif.

The treated water could be used to irrigate the winery’s landscaping, and Pritchard said it’s something the winery is considering. He said ideally the system could trap the biogas generated and use it for electricity. The Woodbridge Winery system generates 130 kilowatts of energy that runs the system and helps power the winery. At Canandaigua, the electricity is used to run the winery’s boilers, eliminating the need to purchase natural gas.

Simi, however, doesn’t generate enough waste year round to warrant the cost of a capture system, and the gas is currently flared off, Pritchard said.

Black water to irrigation water
The last stop of the day was Francis Ford Coppola Winery, which is much more than a simple wine production facility. Coppola’s Geyserville, Calif., estate just north of Healdsburg includes a resort pool, sit-down restaurant and museum featuring mem orabilia of the film director’s work.

To handle the large volume of wastewater, the winery installed what was essentially a smaller version of a full-scale municipal wastewater plant. Nick Scalabrini, the chief plant operator, said the winery’s membrane bioreactor system is essentially the same as what is used by the city of Healdsburg to treat its wastewater.

All the water from the facility—except that used in the winery—is collected in a large tank buried beneath the winery’s main parking lot and sent to the system for treatment. Process water from the winery is sent to ponds where it is treated with pellets that stimulate microbial digestion.

Scalabrini showed the crowd three beakers of water to illustrate the process. A beaker with gray and hazy water held the raw sanitary septic water, which first enters a nitrate removal chamber called the Anoxic Zone followed by the aerobic digester (zone). The water from that stage was brown to almost black.

After the sludge treatment, the water then enters a chamber with membranes that filter it clean. The water from this stage looked pristine, and Scalabrini said it was “just like what comes out of a water bottle.”

The filtered water is treated with chlorine and collected in a 200,000-gallon buffer tank next to the treatment system. Scalabrini said the system cost between $1.2 and $1.8 million and was built around 2010.

The system treats around 10,000 gallons per day but could accommodate twice as much volume. Cleaned wastewater is used to water a grove of oaks near the winery as well as 5.5 acres of vines. “The health of the vines is great,” Scalabrini said. “They make wine out of them, and it tastes great.”

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