Grape growers and winemakers are changing traditional farming, winemaking, and other practices in response to the ongoing drought and labor shortages, the recent pandemic, and the threat of wildfires. As vineyard owners are embracing more holistic organic and regenerative agriculture approaches to address apparent climate change, wineries are also softening their impact on the earth by building more sustainably to reduce energy consumption, using recyclable or recycled packaging, and reducing water usage by using high-pressure, low-flow pressure washers and chemicals that minimize the need for rinsing, or switching to steam for cleaning barrels and tanks.
No matter where wineries are on this evolutionary spectrum, the new California Statewide Waste Discharge Requirements (WDR) make it imperative that an estimated 1480 bonded wineries bring their water outflow into compliance. Impacted wineries must have a Notice of Intent to Apply approved within the next year, including those in the Napa County Memorandum of Understanding program.
Although the WDR’s primary concern is the effect winery wastewater has on groundwater quality, particularly the level of nitrogen, salinity, and biochemical oxygen demand, it also creates the opportunity for wineries to reevaluate and install systems that lower their water footprint.
“The WDR has put wastewater management at the front of mind for wineries,” says Mai Ann Healy, Chief Impact and Sustainability Officer at BioFiltro, provider of a carbon-neutral environmental solution powered by worms. “While clients purchase us for WDR compliance, they really appreciate our unique value proposition that BioFiltro not only treats water but also regenerates the soil and helps them qualify for sustainability certifications. Plus, it is a good story to show consumers they have a climate-smart solution.”
Sustainability certifications like B Corp recognize companies making a rigorous effort to be a force for good by becoming more inclusive, equitable, and regenerative. This effort covers three key areas: corporate governance, people, including workers, customers, the broader community, and the environment. At the end of 2022, less than two dozen US wineries had B Corp status, and two of these are California wineries: O’Neil Vintners & Distillers and Bonterra Organic Estates.
Bonterra Organic Estates rebranded this year from Fetzer Vineyards to emphasize the company’s commitment to regenerative organic farming, which it practices on its 960 vineyard acres in Mendocino County. Bonterra’s early adoption of BioFiltro’s worm-powered biodynamic aerobic filtration (BIDA®) System reflects its continued pioneering in environmental stewardship. When installed in 2016, Bonterra became “the first American winery to use the innovative, closed-loop biological wastewater treatment system to process 100% of its winery wastewater.”
When O’Neill Vintners & Distillers unveiled its BioFiltro BIDA® System installation in 2020, it was the world’s largest worm-powered winery wastewater system. Their announcement of B Corp certification this year called out 33,000 square feet of solar panels and the BioFiltro BIDA® System wastewater program, which “recycles up to 80 million gallons of water each year. These worms will convert the nutrients from the wastewater into worm castings, a soil amendment sought after by growers for its microbial activity, nutrient levels, and ability to improve soil health.”
BioFiltro’s patented BIDA® System treatment solution is a circular approach to processing water filtration that closes the loop within the winery’s operations by removing up to 99% of contaminants from wash downs, barrels, pressing, crush pads, and rackings in just 4 hours. The fully automated system filters the process water through three layers, beginning with one that leverages the symbiotic relationship of earthworms and microbial bacteria, then wood shavings, and finally, river cobble. When the cleansed water enters the drainage basin, it is ready for vineyard irrigation. It brings the process water outflow into compliance with the WDR.
The wineries using this passive aerobic system gain additional sustainability benefits, including:
- Integrating the sustainable BioFiltro system into the winery process can result in 95% less energy than traditional wastewater solutions such as pond aeration.
- Creating an onsite source of a nutritious soil amendment in the form of worm castings, a cobenefit of the system, which improve soil health and permeability, crop yield, and carbon sequestration, a critical plus to regenerative agriculture.
- Reducing the potential for odors to form and, in some applications, reduces emissions from storage ponds.
- Reducing the expense and volume of managing and hauling sludge, reducing the amount of waste that must be exported.
Consumers are increasingly concerned with how wineries address environmental sustainability. With the winemaking process using 6 gallons of water to make each gallon of wine, telling consumers the winery uses worms to filter water that would otherwise go to waste and returns it to the vineyard for irrigation is a compelling story. The fact that the circular nature of the BioFiltro system extends to turning waste into an additive that improves the soil only enhances the story.
BioFiltro’s BIDA® System is a cost-effective solution that improves water quality and sustainability. It can be the sole wastewater treatment system for an operation or an add-on to an existing system. It can easily expand to accommodate operational growth. With winery clients in Oregon, Washington, California, Texas, Argentina, New Zealand, and Chile, the company has seen great reception over the last few years, so the real question is: Why haven’t you pursued worms?
Reach out to Mai Ann Healy at Mhealy@biofiltro.com.
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