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Wine, Water & Dirt by Don Wallace - Part 6


Wine, Water & Dirt by Don Wallace - Part 6
Wineries of Yesterday vs. Today

by Don Wallace

By Don Wallace

The wineries of the mid-1900s and before, like so many other businesses of the day, were built close to water when possible. Easy access to what was thought to be an endless supply of water was great. Needing water to constantly clean up, especially during harvest, was and is S.O.P.  Unfortunately, back in the day, that same source of water was often also used to carry away the mess. I am told that Wine Creek has that name for a very good reason. 

From what I understand Lake Tahoe was treated the same way because lumber mills were built on the shore to supply timbers for the numerous mines in Nevada. Instead of needing water just to wash down the place, they used it to produce steam to run the mill by burning the trimmings. The saw dust produced was a bi-product to be dumped in the lake instead of being turned into other products like it is now.

Today, most wineries manage every gallon of water, coming in and going out. It is amazing how much you can reduce water consumption by just deciding to do it. If you set water conservation as a business goal you come up with ideas that can not only conserve water, but reduce your overall impact on the environment while saving money and making better wine. We have always had to conserve water because our source has always been limited. From our first ton of grapes crushed back in the 1970s to today, we have looked for better ways to manage and conserve our supply.

The best place to start is to put in a good quality water meter. When we put our first one in I was amazed. When we turned the water back on the meter started to run and it didn’t stop. We waited  for the lines to fill up and after quite a bit of time passed we thought “must have left something on”. Well after checking the entire winery, we realized “wow we must have a leak, but where?” After spending a chunk of cash we had it fixed. Older buildings were built by putting all the plumbing under the concrete floor. It looked great that way but nobody considered what acidic soil and water that we have in much of the County would do to copper pipes. That hunk of cash was used to first locate the leak with very expensive high tech equipment, then jack hammer the concrete floor to expose and repair the leak, fill the hole and seal it up again with concrete. Oops. You see it happened again, and again thanks to that water meter we realized we had another problem. We could have repaired the leak like we did the first time. Instead, like most wineries are built today, we put all the water lines on the wall where they are easy to assess and repair.

Water hoses were another source that generated water waste or wasted water. In the heat of making wine running hoses were cast aside, to take care of this problem and that. Upon returning from the narrowly averted disaster the aforementioned hose was often found still running despite best intentions. Not today, every water hose simply has an industrial spray gun attached. Simple but effective. Water was running everywhere in those days. Whoever said that necessity is the mother of invention was not just a smart person but they had a lot of common sense, something in short supply today. Water running to cool things down on an open loop is gone, water to wash tanks and barrels, while not gone has been vastly reduced with better tools. The list of improvements goes on and on. For instance we are in the final stages of all but eliminating wine hoses. What we have done is to put in permanent stainless lines. We can now move wine or water from point “A” to point “B” by only connecting a short jumper hose. This does several things. Stainless is easier to clean and it lasts forever, hoses are not good at either. There is no comparison between carrying a short jumper hose vs dragging a hundred feet of rubber hose. Hard to keep clean, takes way more time get set up to do a job and can be a real pain in the back not to mention that they have to be replaced every few years. At the end of the day we can put in a few jumper hoses, hook in a pump in a closed loop, turn on the pump cycling water and citric acid through every wine line at the winery, cleaning every line in the place with the same water instead of flushing out this line then that one etc. at the end of that the water can be diverted to a tank for later use. 

The bottom line is like this. From 2011 through 2015 we have decreased average daily use by 516 gallons of water per day. 

At the end of our process we use waste water in the composting process where we compost all organic matter generated from producing wine. The water first has the PH adjusted then it is added to the compost along with oyster shells. The compost is laid in wind rows soaked with processing water then covered with tarps to cook. The tarps have to be removed a few times in the process in order to turn the material. By the end of the winter it is ready to go back to the vineyard where we need it. Where we need it can be easily determined from aerial photography. 

The next thing we are going to tackle is rain water run-off. Instead of running it down the hill in a pipe like all homes and businesses do, I want to tear out the old culverts and build a series of ponds one dropping into the next using native plants and gravity to insure that when the water ultimately reaches the stream it is ready to drink.

I like to think that environmentalism is an evolutionary process not a revolutionary one. I hear people complaining about Sustainable Farming suggesting that it is not doing anything. To them I say Bunk! We would not have come up with so many cutting edge changes to what we do at Dry Creek Vineyard had we not followed the principles of Sustainable Farming.

Organic Farming has done great things for our society but Organic Farming, for the most part is just farming like my grandfather did before the chemical companies came along. You apply for a certification and you work to maintain the status quo. Sustainable Farming encourages you to seek ever better ways to not just improve the way you raise crops but to look at everything you do and the people that help you do it.