Fetzer Vineyards employs worms for water from wine waste

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Some tequila may be known for worms in the bottle, but Fetzer Vineyards may soon be known for worms that turn its winemaking waste into reusable water with far less energy than traditional treatment methods.

Fetzer has long been on the forefront of resource-conscious — what it calls “regenerative” — winegrowing. On April 6 it said it will install the BioFiltro BIDA System at its Mendocino County facility near Hopland, making it the first U.S. winery to use the closed-loop biological wastewater treatment system all its winery process wastewater. Powered by billions of earthworms working rapidly in concert with beneficial microbes, the BIDA System is set to wriggle into action during the 2016 harvest. Estimated energy savings are up to 85 percent over current wastewater treatment technologies. And the system also conserves water, part of the company’s fight against climate change.

“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,” said Giancarlo Bianchetti, CEO of Fetzer Vineyards. “BioFiltro offers a compelling process that aligns with our business goals as well as our overarching objective to leave the world a better place than we found it.”

Aerobic bioreactors aren’t new to winery wastewater treatment, but casting these worms in the production solves a key problem such systems have faced in keeping microbes fed year-round. BioFiltro’s patented BIDA System is a passive aerobic bioreactor that catalyzes the digestive power of microbes and selected species of red earthworms to naturally remove up to 99 percent of contaminants from Fetzer wastewater in as little as four hours.

The chemical-free system consumes significantly less electricity than traditional wastewater treatment technologies like aeration ponds, which require constant electricity to pump and circulate water. The system works efficiently year-round, in spite of seasonal fluctuations in wastewater flow like those seen in the wine industry. The process also generates compost-enhancing castings from worm digestion, returning nutrients to the soil.

“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,” said Josh Prigge, Director of Regenerative Development for Fetzer Vineyards. “With this new system we’ll treat some 15 million gallons of water a year, with significant efficiency gains—and bring things full-circle with enhanced compost for our soils and clean water for vineyard and landscape irrigation. It’s a win-win.”

Prigge recently advocated for carbon-neutral winegrowing practices on a global scale at last year’s Paris Climate Conference, or COP21.

Global studies show that water scarcity and water stress are increasing, and as much as 15 percent to 35 percent of human withdrawals of water for agriculture are considered unsustainable, Fetzer noted, citing the United Nation’s World Business Council for Sustainable Development water facts and trends (UNWater.org). Achievement of climate change-related commitments like those made at COP21 will require that businesses strategically manage their water footprints for maximum efficacy while mitigating negative impacts, the vintner said.

Fetzer pointed to research suggesting greater consumer interest in conservation. A majority of global consumers, and especially millennials, support companies that are committed to minimizing environmental impacts and that prioritize sustainable approaches to operations, according to the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report that Fetzter cited.

To share more about its water initiatives, Fetzer developed a new page on its website (fetzer.com/water) containing facts about agricultural water use and details about the company’s water policy support.

The company participates in the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) and Ceres’ Connect the Drops. Both of which were commended for their water-policy efforts at the White House Water Summit on Building a Sustainable Water Future in the United States on March 22.

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