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It takes a lot of water to turn grapes into wine. No matter the size of the winery, all wineries face the same issue of dealing with wastewater.

One of the world’s largest wine producers—E & J Gallo Company—shared how small and big changes can reduce a winery’s water usage, and in turn, reduce the amount of wastewater that must be treated and handled.

John Nagel, environmental manager for E & J Gallo in Healdsburg, California, and guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, shared how Gallo’s Healdsburg winery reduced its water usage by more than 25 percent.

His talk was part of discussions that focused on a new general winery wastewater permit for Washington State being proposed by the Department of Ecology and wastewater tools and resources for wineries.

The impetus behind Gallo’s efforts included water shortages in California, winery capacity constraints, and their desire to implement sustainable winery practices and meet ISO 14000 (the Industry Standards Organization’s new environmental management standard).

Wastewater—not wine—is the number one product produced by the wine industry, said Nagel. “It takes an average of 80 gallons of water to process each ton of grapes.

That’s equal to about four gallons of water for every 750-ml bottle of wine.” Gallo’s water campaign, initiated in 2008, had two goals: to reduce water usage by 25 percent and to sustain or improve winery sanitation.

Nagel reported that the company exceeded both goals and reduced water consumption from an average of six gallons of water required to make a gallon of wine down to four gallons of water.

A game plan was developed, an intern was hired to help carry out the plan, and, most importantly, they leaned heavily for help on a winery wastewater guidebook, the Comprehensive Guide to Sustainable Management of Winery Water and Associated Energy, published in 2008 by the Wine Institute, American Society of Enology and Viticulture, and the National Grape and Wine Initiative.

“The guidebook is like a blueprint that tells you what to test, how to test, and helps you develop processes that work,” Nagel said.

John Nagel

John Nagel

Employee buy-in

One of the first things Gallo did was focus on employee culture at the winery.

“We wanted employees to be aware of the need for water conservation, so we measured flow rates of all the hoses and put up signs everywhere. We wanted employees to see how much water was used in various winery practices and its associated costs, such as electricity needed to pump ground water and treatment of wastewater,” he said. “We did water walks with our employees to look at all of our water practices.”

It was during the water walks that management noticed a lot of hoses running water because they didn’t have nozzles on them. By working with employees, 122 new nozzles were purchased that were cheaper and more ergonomic, and employees preferred these over the old-style nozzles.

“We began saving water in small steps first,” he said.

Also, switching to 30-inch wide floor sweeps done with a pressure washer instead of an open hose resulted in an immediate reduction of water.

“Throughout the campaign, we engaged our employees and established a water saving culture within the company,” said Nagel, who added that employees are encouraged to share water conservation suggestions, and many have come up with great ideas. “Water conservation is now part of our employee safety and training program.”

New practices

Gallo began its water conservation campaign at a winery built in 1974.

Because most older winery facilities were not designed for efficiency, new technology and more efficient practices that can improve winery processes at the crush pad and presses, bottling line, and such, can also improve overall winemaking and water efficiency, Nagel said.

For example, changes in how they sanitized three white grape presses now allows them to clean all three at one time and use the existing juice tanks as a reservoir for the cleaning.

“We went from using 15,000 gallons to 3,000 gallons of water for cleaning the presses and reduced the time (from 24 to 8 hours) and chemicals it took to do it,” he said.

They learned that they didn’t need to rinse wine bottles with water before bottling, but could instead use a blast of nitrogen. That step, though it took time for quality assurance testing, saved a million gallons of water annually and reduced the water used in bottling by 97 percent, noted Nagel.

By heating water more efficiently through recirculation in a hot water tank (instead of running water through a hose while waiting for it to heat up), they were able to save 30,000 gallons of water a year and save in energy costs.

Modification of their barrel sanitation practices resulted in barrel water savings of 50 percent, going from 400,000 gallons to 200,000, and by lowering the water temperature from 210°F to 140°F, they saved 33 percent in propane costs.

Another change was installing covers on all winery drains to prevent berries and solids from clogging up underground holding or septic tanks. Solids can then be swept up instead of chased down a drain.

Don’t discount the little changes that can be made because together, they can make a big difference. “We’ve all seen employees chasing berries with a hose,” he said. “Some employees will push that berry forever. We have to get rid of this kind of activity in our wineries, which is where changing a winery’s culture comes in.” •