Water Conservation

Water Conservation and Sustainability
An Interview with Jeff Zucker
Safety & Environmental Coordinator , J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines

Why conserve water?
As most people know, water is one of California’s most precious commodities. It is also integral to winegrowing and winemaking. When we made the decision to expand our Paso Robles winery, our approach to water use was an important consideration. To achieve our conservation goals we looked at two main options: increasing the capacity of our existing wastewater treatment facility, or reducing consumption. Instituting a serious conservation program was something that naturally dovetailed with our overall sustainable approach to winemaking. At the same time, our approach is a comprehensive one, and we have worked to also improve the performance of our wastewater facility.

 

How did you create your conservation plan?
We logically started by trying to analyze where the water was going. To learn how much water a particular activity required we purchased portable flow meters and took measurements. Next, we designed a spreadsheet that used the winery production activities to predict water use. Given our measurements and the spreadsheet, we could estimate water use for everything from rinsing 250 barrels to cleaning tanks. One of the most important things we did was to compare how much water we should be using for an activity, with how much water we were actually using. It’s similar to the common mistake of leaving the faucet on the entire time you’re doing the dishes. But in a winery you are often multiplying that error many times over.

Tell us about the plan you developed
First, we installed low flow/high pressure nozzles on all the hoses in our winery.  This reduced the flow on each hose from 20 gallons per minute to 7gpm.  Next, we established specific lengths of time for each activity involving water use, based on our spreadsheet calculations. We also placed a clock with a sweep second hand by the barrel washing station so people could easily keep track.  (Update: In 2012 we installed timers to automatically turn off the water for some barrel washing procedures after a prescribed time.) We outlawed (so to speak) the constant washing down of grape skins off of the concrete. We encouraged members of our team to come up with ways to effectively reuse water.  Most importantly we strove to change the culture of the winery into one where water conservation was seen as an important priority. This was accomplished through training, a top-down commitment and constant observation.

When and how did you begin implementing your program?
We began implementing our new program during the 2004 harvest.  During our pre-harvest training sessions we stressed how important water conservation was to our company. That first year we also offered prizes as incentives for conserving water.  Each week that we met our goals we would raffle off a prize, such as a gift certificate to a store or restaurant. We would also provide lunch for everyone during harvest if people were doing a good job conserving water. This way everyone benefited from pitching in. One approach that proved surprisingly effective was our Water Usage Board.  This was something we mounted in the break room, and for each day of the month we would enter the total amount of water used.  When we stayed under our target for that day I would add a little message, like “way to go,” or “great job!”  Since we have people who speak different languages I started putting the messages in different languages as well.  This small bit of entertainment encouraged people to pay attention to the board, and therefore the water usage numbers.

What kind of results have you achieved?
The results have been exceptional. Using 2003 as a base year for comparison, the numbers really speak for themselves. Of course there are many different ways to read the water data. One that I think works the best, and is most useful, is how many gallons of water are used to produce one gallon of wine. This takes into account actual production figures, which is important, since the more wine you produce, the more water you will use. Below is a table summarizing the water used to produce each gallon of wine. It is also important to know that the savings in 2005 were abnormally large because it was a very large harvest processed in a short period of time.

Water Used To Produce a Gallon of Wine
  2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2009 2010 2011 2012
Gallons Water/Gallon Wine 3.5 2.2 1.2 1.6 1.2 1.2 0.8 1.4 1.1
Pct decrease v. 2003   38% 67% 53% 66% 66% 76% 61% 70%

 

Jeff Zucker, Water Quality Manager, J. Lohr Vineyards & WinesHow do you maintain momentum?
Every year is a new challenge. Water conservation can never be taken for granted. We re-train the staff, old and new, every year and we continually stress our dedication to water conservation. Beyond that, we continue to look for new ways to conserve and re-use water. Sometimes that means being creative and looking at the bigger picture. For instance, after analyzing our sanitation procedures, which are hugely important to us, we came to an interesting realization. Because cleanliness and sanitation are all linked, we discovered that by cleaning our must lines twice a day as opposed to the standard once a day, we actually save water! That seems counterintuitive, since we are doubling our water use for the actual line cleaning, but in the long-term, we actually save water by investing more water towards cleanliness at an earlier stage of the winemaking process. But our conservation didn’t stop there. We also developed a method to recover up to half of the water used during our morning sanitation process, which has made an impact. Happily, our winemakers are also deeply committed to our conservation efforts, just as we are always supportive of their goal of making the finest wines possible. These are the philosophies that guide all of us at J. Lohr, and because we are all working together, I think we are all very effective.