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Worms and Wine? Fetzer Vineyards First to Adopt Innovative Wastewater Treatment System to Save Water / Combat Climate Change

It takes a lot of water to make a glass of California wine, anywhere from two to 15 gallons of water, according to recent studies. And as the state moves into its fifth year of drought, many California wineries are rethinking how they use water and the way they do business.
by Meg WilcoxWater Deeply Posted on Apr 06, 2016

It takes a lot of water to make a glass of California wine, anywhere from two to 15 gallons of water, according to recent studies. And as the state moves into its fifth year of drought, many California wineries are rethinking how they use water and the way they do business.

Fetzer Vineyards, founded in 1968, has long been concerned about water. As a certified B Corp company—which means it has achieved the highest standards for social and environmental responsibility in business—Fetzer Vineyards follows organic and regenerative winegrowing practices that sustain soil and water resources over the long term.

Its latest step, announced today, is to become the first winery in America to employ an innovative, closed-loop biological wastewater treatment system that will process 100 percent of its winery wastewater using the digestive power of red worms and microbes.

That’s right—worms! And billions of them.

Fetzer Vineyard estimates the system will generate 15 million gallons of water annually, or more than enough to fill 22 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and the Mendocino County winery will reuse that water for irrigation of its vineyards.

The new system is a big deal because wineries on average create six gallons of wastewater for every gallon of wine produced. Washing tanks, crush pads and floors takes a lot of water. Fetzer Vineyard has already reduced water used in its winery by employing a cleaning product that saves 200,000 gallons annually, but the new wastewater treatment system takes its water savings up a notch.

What’s more, the new wastewater treatment system is a critical step in Fetzer Vineyard’s journey towards carbon neutral wine-growing practices.

The closed loop system will reduce the amount of power it needs to clean its wastewater by 85 percent, saving it roughly 1 million kilowatt hours a year, or the amount of electricity needed to power about 143 California homes.

Here’s why. Most California wineries use ponds to treat their wastewater and those ponds require large motors to aerate the liquid. It can take 60 to 90 days to remove the winery residues—plant matter and sugars—that would wreak havoc on waterways if released before treatment because of their high biological oxygen demand, or BOD.

Fetzer Vineyard’s new closed loop system, in contrast, can break down the biological wastes in four hours. And its only by products are irrigation-ready water, organic fertilizer (worm castings), and animal protein feed (earthworms).

The system, in fact, will produce 750 cubic yards of soil enriching worm castings that the winery can use to fertilize its vineyard. It “brings things full-circle with enhanced compost for our soils and clean water for vineyard and landscape irrigation. It’s a win-win,” says Josh Prigge, Director of Regenerative Development for Fetzer Vineyards, who adds, “Innovating to naturally manage our water footprint is an important step in our journey to become Water Positive, essential to our goal of Net Positive operations by 2030.”

“It’s essential that we constantly ask ourselves if there is a better, more efficient and more regenerative way to approach our business, including the way we work with water, says Fetzer Vineyards CEO, Giancarlo Bianchetti.

For more information on Fetzer Vineyard’s new wastewater treatment system, currently in operation in 130 plants worldwide, visit www.fetzer.com/water.

Read the post at Water Deeply

Meet the Expert

Meg Wilcox

As a senior manager of communications, Meg develops and manages communication strategies to support Ceres’ goals focused on climate policy, water scarcity and sustainable agriculture. Her focal areas are media relations and messaging.

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