Water and Wine

This weekend, I went to Captain Vineyard to harvest Petite Sirah. Having never harvested wine I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I was amazed to find Captain Vineyard is tucked into a residential hillside in Moraga, California. Captain Vineyard contains 3,500 lines that create the following wines:

  • Pinot Noir (600 vines)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (200 vines)
  • Petite Sirah (1,500 vines)
  • Petite Verdot (650 vines)
  • Cabernet Franc (450 vines)
This boutique winery was like no other winery I have been to, being on a hillside and in Moraga, California numerous questions came to mind:
  1. What exactly is dry farming?
  2. How much water does the winery use?
  3. Where does the water come from?
  4. Did the drought impact a winery?
Captain Vineyard is a family business as well as a  green business,  Susan and Salah pride themselves on their unique approach to dry farming. After converting the steep hillside (backyard) into a terraced five acre vineyard, Susan returned to school at UC Davis to further understand Viticulture. She modeled the vineyard on the European hillside style, affording healthy stress and competition between vines. In 2005, the soil was ready for vines and approximately 3,000 vines were planted. The Moraga microclimate provided the ideal microclimate for grape-growing.  In 2007, 500 vines were added to include Cabernet Sauvignon.
What exactly is dry farming?
 
The vines do not benefit from irrigation. The struggle to survive puts stress on the vines and stress, if you ask some folks equals flavor, complexity and balance in wines. The first thing that happens when you stress a vine is the yield of that vine goes down. Fewer grapes are produced, so energy is concentrated on the remaining grapes.  This was extremely beneficial for Captain Vineyard because dry farming not only allowed them to turn their hillside into a vineyard, but the vines provided support for the entire project. Dry farming forces the vines to search for water, probing deeper and deeper into the soil so that they are prepared for drought.  To create this behavior, you must start by digging a hole next to the base of each vine. Whenever the plant begins to wilt, you dig into the hole next to the base of the plant and water the plant. Each time you water the plant you dig the hole deeper and deeper. This way the plant begins to search for future water deeper in the soil.
How much water does the winery use? 

With the use of Dry farming EBMUD praises Captain Vineyards for their smart water use. Traditional grape growers use as much as 20 gallons to make a single gallon of wine. The Captains implemented a spacing method called “5×3” meaning the vine rows are 5 feet apart, and plants are 3 feet apart minimizing water use. The vineyard also uses the drip irrigation and has trained their vines to use less water. Watering less frequently and for  a longer duration trains the root system to go more deeply into the soil, thus improving the water supply capability of the root system. Captain Vineyards saves up to 16,000 gallons of water per acre annually, using 67% less water compared to another vineyard of equal size. To give you a sense of the quantity of water consumed in 2009 the 2.5 acres of vines and only consumed 253,572 gallons. (the average person consumes 50 gallons a day)


Where does the water come from? 

Captain Vineyard is similar to other homes in their neighborhood and has a well that supplies most of their water. However, dry farming refers to the practice of relying only on natural annual rainfall. Therefore, the vineyard primarily relies on rain with very little irrigation.
Did the drought impact their harvest?

Globally the United States has the largest wine market, and California makes up about 90% of that wine market. In 2011, wine sales hit a new high of $32.5 billion for the United States. The recent drought had a limited impact on the quality of the grapes harvested this year. Drought means two things for a winery, quality of the harvest (higher Degrees Brix) increases but the quantity of harvest decreases. The increase in quality is due to the concentration of flavor and sugars within each grape and a reduction in pest/disease within the crop overall.  The Degrees Brix, is a scale that measures the sugar content of an aqueous solution. One degree Brix is 1 gram of sucrose in 100 grams of the solution, and it represents the strength of the solution as a percentage by weight (commonly used in wine, sugar, fruit juice, and honey). Typically in drought-stricken years wineries are known to produce less volume but the product has a higher value due to the high level of quality. This year was unique at the Captain Vineyards because the Degrees Brix was higher than last year’s average and the expected yield for this year was two tons larger than last year. Looks like dry farming and the consistent weather is working in their favor.

Is desalination really California’s the first line of defense against water scarcity???

Desalination exists within California as a small production source, producing between .002 to 0.600million gallons per day. These plants are used for industrial processes. In 2002, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 2717 (Directing the department of water resources to establish a desalination task force to make recommendations related to potential opportunities for the use of seawater and brackish water desalination. The desalination task force established that desalination could only contribute to less than 10% of California’s water supply needs. Nine years after Assembly Bill 2717 passed, private corporations and municipal water agencies have proposed new desalination plants. There currently are over twenty large-scale desalination plants proposed throughout California (ranging in capacity from .40 MGD to 80MGD). The technology that is projected within desalination plants is Reverse Osmosis; a little insight on the inefficiency of this technology is displayed in the cost breakdown below: 
Pros: 
  • Provides reliable drought-resistant water supply to California
  • Improve water quality  compared to existing sources
  • Lessen the demand on northern California’s water supply by developing a local alternative for Southern California. 
Cons:
  • Can add harmful chemicals and metals into the water it produces 
  • Intake waters could contain: Pharmaceuticals, algal toxins, and endocrine disruptors depending on water supply source
  • Desalination is extremely energy intensive, requiring 30% more energy than existing inter-basing supply system and the energy expense is 50% of the plants operating cost
  • Desalination also would indirectly cause more GHG emissions (greater dependence on fossil fuels) 
Desalination Project:
Desalination plants within California were indirectly withdrawn when coastal power plants once- through cooling methods ( seawater intakes and use the seawater for cooling from the power plant). In 2010, the California State Water Resource Control Board passed a policy to phase out the use of once-through cooling because of the impact on marine life. There were 20 desalination proposed to use open seawater intakes to withdraw water and ten of these will likely co-locate with existing power plants in order to share the intake pipes. Only 13 of those 20 projects are moving forward. 
Alternatives to Current and desalination water supply systems:
  1. Urban water conservation 
  2. Stormwater Capture/ reuse
  3. Water Recycling
  4. Groundwater Desalination requires less energy than seawater desalination because the water is less saline. 
  5. Greywater 

Greywater, Water Water, and Carbon

  • According to the AWWA, 84% of residential water is used in non-drinking water applications (Lawn irrigation, laundry, showers, toilet flushing)
  • Progress within the grey water world, NSF/ANSI 350: Onsite water reuse 
    • L.E.E.D. stated that it satisfied the grey water requirement
    • National Association of Home Builders and National Green Building Certification Program states that it satisfies the innovative practice requirement
  • Dupont Corporation was fined for water quality violations by Department of Justice, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; $500,000 for contaminated discharge into Delaware River between 2005 to the present. 
    • Originally being notified of exceeding permitted wastewater discharge limit Dupont Corporation continued to exceed the limits resulting in regulatory action. 
    • Contaminants that were released into Delaware River were hydrogen chloride, titanium tetrachloride, iron chloride 
    • Course of action: 
      1. Fined $500,000
      2. 15 month environmental compliance assessment
      3. Implementation of a storm-water pollution prevention plan 
  • Carbon Disclosure Project:  Goal is to harness the collective power of corporations, investors, and political leaders to accelerate unified action on climate change. The Carbon Action Initiative  is a report released by the Carbon Disclosure Project that compiled and analyzed over 3,000 organizations in some 60 countries around the world: greenhouse gas emissions, water management and climate change strategies. 

EcoTrip: Cell Phones Impact on the Environment

Sundance Channel’s new television series Eco Trip released a new episode on the Cellphone industries impact on the environment, and it was extremely frightening. Shelia Davis, an expert at Silicone Valley Toxic Coalition, shows how the semiconductor and chip resistors business, as well as underground storage of chemicals, impacts the environment through L.U.S.T. (Leaking Underground Storage Tanks). LUST contaminates not only the site in which these products are developed but the soils beneath them and the water that runs through them. Most of these industries shut down facilities and dismantle the buildings so that other development can move in, little did we know that these locations are Superfund sites. A Superfund site is where these LUST events occur, and there has been clear documentation of the contamination and little to know clean up. The EPA now must take over the clean up of theses sites and rank the site for its impact on water contamination and soil degradation. Many neighborhoods have these contaminated sites, homes, markets, schools, and small businesses are typically exposed. The indicator that the EPA takes into consideration increase in birth defects in comparison to regional standards.

The waste part of cellphones were some of the most shocking information because cell phones (toxic waste) are either incinerated or put in a landfill. These chemicals impact the groundwater beneath these waste sites with 50 different chemicals, and according to EPA they qualify as hazardous waste yet four out of five cell phones end up in waste sites. Cadmium, copper, beryllium, arsenic, lead, mercury, and brominated flame retardants in the cell phones have extreme harmful effects on not only the environment but upon humans as well. Lead accumulates and can cause extensive damage to central and peripheral nervous system, blood systems, and kidneys. Consumer electronics are responsible for 40% of Lead in landfills. When Mercury (used on printed circuit boards) sits in waterways, it can transform into methylated mercury in the sediments which leads to brain damage.  Brominated Flame Retardants used as plastic covers and cables increase the risk of digestive and lymphatic cancers, and it concentrates in food chains. These are just a few of the chemicals used to develop cell phones, we have yet to know the impact to know the impact of the use of cell phones on the human brain. However, earlier studies (not long term studies) done do show and impact on the brain function.