It generally takes about 6 gal. (23 L) of water to make one gallon (3.8 L) of wine though estimates vary from as little as 2 gallons (7.6 L) all the way up to 20 gallons (76 L). Many folks have no idea where they fall on this spectrum and performing some kind of a water audit, even if it’s just to measure how much water you use to clean a typical small tank or barrel, will help establish a baseline.
Measuring your water consumption can start with installing flow meters to measure usage at key points like on the crush pad, at filtration, and at barrel washing areas. By filling up that stainless tub or drum you’ll get an idea how much wash-water gets used when you do any given task. Do the math to figure out how many gallons or liters of water per length of hose it takes to fill that volume. Use your current usage to create a realistic target for reduction.
- Pick “balanced” grapes, not overripe raisins, so you don’t have to add additional hydration water. Similarly, every time you avoid an addition (acid adjustment, etc.), you avoid having to clean and sanitize the tools.
- Cover your crush and reception area to minimize the “baking on” of waste material. The shade will make juice and grape skins easier to remove from equipment and will reduce the amount of water needed for cleaning.
- Pre-clean with brushes, brooms, and elbow grease before resorting to water for soaking and rinsing.
In the Cellar
- Move from an old-fashioned three-step cleaning (caustic cycle, acid-neutralization cycle, and then water rinse) to a two-step process (K-OH followed by per-acetic acid or “quats” followed by a water rinse). If you wait 30 minutes after the per-acetic acid cycle, you don’t need to rinse with water.
- Invest in a pressure washer. Pressure washers clean floors and equipment well while only using between 2–4 gallons (8–14 L) per minute. Bonus — they are fun to use! One of my favorite winery jobs is pressure washing because you can always see what you’ve accomplished.
- Use water hoses with automatic shut-off valves and timers where appropriate.
- Minimizing the length and diameter of hoses as appropriate will use less water in sanitation.
- Be efficient with tank and barrel movements. The more you rack or move wine from one vessel to the next, the more often you have to clean and sanitize gear . . . and the more water you will use.
- If you employ small variable “floating top” tanks for wine storage, you have to move wine less-often for breakdowns.
- Use “dirty” wash water as secondary wash water for other vessels (water recycling). Empty dirty water out into a sump and re-use for other tasks. Use relatively clean rinse water from your last phase of cleaning as the dirty first-step water for barrel cleaning.
- Clean carboys, kegs, and tanks in batches. Use the rinse water from one as the cleaning water for the next.
- Don’t chase wine with water in hoses if you can — flush/push with gas and a pig (winemaker slang for a foam ball that you push through the line).
- About a third of all of the water a winery consumes can be in barrel washing! Be water-wise in this step.
- Coordinate barrel emptying and filling work to reduce the amount of time that barrels are empty. Freshly-emptied barrels don’t have to be swelled up with water again.
- Soak heads separately by flipping end-to-end.
- Use rinse water from one barrel to do initial cleaning of next (though do dump your cleaning water if you’ve got an infected barrel).
Filtration and Bottling
- Filters take water to clean and set up. If your red wine has a pH under 3.75, its free SO2 was maintained, doesn’t have any volatile acidity climbing, and you’re going to bottle it dry . . . do you really need to filter it before bottling?
- Consider using a liquid cellulose gum, like Laffort’s Celstab®, for cold stability instead of the traditional chilling and seeding with potassium bitartrate crystals.
- Settling well before hand, perhaps using isinglass, may enable you to filter with one pass rather than twice.
Scrutinize the Lab (or Kitchen) Area
- Install aerators in all sinks so less water is used when sink taps are turned on.
- Foot-pedal operated “on/off” taps (like those often seen in hospitals) use less water when washing up at sinks.
- Under-sink or on-demand tankless water heaters get water up to temperature quickly, without having to travel a long distance from a traditional water heater tank. Luckily, depending on where you live, there may be significant government rebates or tax credits associated with switching over to these kinds of water heaters.
Change is tough
It might be hard to make reaching for the squeegee, instead of the hose. One little trick we winemaking homies (home-based winemakers) can adapt from the large wineries is the good old reward system. If you’ve got a group of buddies that works together when you’re making wine, or if it’s your kids and your spouse, try to have a “water jar” where you toss in a pebble or a colored ping pong ball when you see someone doing the right thing. Once the jar is full, the group gets to partake in a reward like a barbeque or an excursion out to your local wine country. Keep it fun!