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The water footprint in Sonoma County wine

It is not uncommon in Sonoma County now for some drought, flooding and fire to havoc the land. But on the brightside…vineyards are pretty much the poster child of resilience! If this was all for table grapes I don’t know if I would still be here, but for wine I will endure the extreme! After all, harvest is its own chaotic episode in-itself!

Water is essential to all plants and we know what happens to our prized garden tomatoes when we water them too much… they are tasteless. With a grapevine is it the same relationship? Winemakers and growers are watching the sugar content constantly in the grapes as they mature and get closer to harvest. The time the grapes get picked are stylistic and also vary greatly with how well the vineyard has access to water. With this past vintage many growers spoke about the varied growth based on limited water access for the vines, but overall the grapes still turned out to make what is looking like a great 2021 vintage.

When thinking about how a drought impacts the industry, my thoughts go to water use. Wine is typically made with water adjustments to adjust the ending alcohol percentage while also creating more liquid output. Many look at the water that is used in vineyards and processing to make a bottle of wine, with some research on my end, the most up-to date number I have read from the Washington Post, stating “872 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of wine.” So, this is roughly around 52,320 gallons to produce on average one wine barrel. An average wine barrel is 60 gallons and equates about 25cases (12x750mL) after bottling. With these calculations, each bottle of wine averages a need of 174 gallons of water. Another good read is the “water footprint network” where you can calculate out on their findings that about 188 gallons are used to make a bottle of wine. There is also a helpful chart to show you how much more water is used for other industries to compare to.

How does this all stick compared to human activity? According to the USGS, the average amount of water we use daily in our household per person is 80-100 gallons a day.

Wineries have new technology and methods to help with microbial control and water usage. An interesting article I read recently by Kathleen Willcox reported this last October in WineIndustryAdvisor about Fetzer Vineyard who is recycling wastewater through worm bins. These worm bins are also filled with winery production waste like grape skins and wine sludge for the worms to feast on and process into some fertile castings. Having these living filters process the wastewater from the winery is a step in the right direction and outside the box thought! Frey winery also uses this BioFiltro system. They produce about 200,000 cases a year, with that amount they are on average using 419 million gallons of water a year. That’s a lot of water!

What have you heard in your community about saving water? Do you know any other wineries using creative new ways to help save and reuse water for their production? Let us know!

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