One Drop at a Time: Con­serv­ing and Cap­tur­ing Water at Nin­er Wine Estates

Water is a pre­cious resource in the Cen­tral Coast of Cal­i­for­nia and fig­ur­ing out how to both increase our sup­ply and reduce our use is an ongo­ing chal­lenge crit­i­cal to our survival.

A pond set between green rolling hills
One of our stor­age ponds used to hold col­lect­ed rain­wa­ter and win­ery waste­water to use for irri­ga­tion in the vineyard

Increas­ing our Supply

Maybe an absurd notion (for those that don’t believe in cloud­seed­ing) but we cap­ture all the rain­wa­ter that falls on our win­ery and tast­ing room build­ings and store it for use lat­er in the season.

When it rains, we cap­ture a mate­r­i­al amount of water (rough­ly 8090,00 gal­lons per inch of rain). This win­ter we had to turn our sys­tem off halfway through the Jan­u­ary storm because our stor­age ponds were full!

Our system of ponds: our treatment pond on the left, biofilter in the middle, and one of two holding ponds on the right.
Our sys­tem of ponds: our treat­ment pond on the left, biofil­ter in the mid­dle, and one of two hold­ing ponds on the right.

We also col­lect, clean and reuse the water used for clean­ing tanks and floors in the win­ery (“gray water”). This water hangs out in a treat­ment pond before flow­ing into the​“biofil­ter.” The biofil­ter is basi­cal­ly a big box filled with grav­el. Wet­land plants grow in it. The water flows through the grav­el bed and the roots of the plants fil­ter it before it goes into the stor­age pond.

Anoth­er less obvi­ous prac­tice to cap­ture rain­wa­ter is ero­sion con­trol. If the rain doesn’t move across the ground, it sinks into the soil where it is avail­able to the vines when Spring arrives. We take ero­sion con­trol seri­ous­ly in both our approach to win­ter­i­za­tion (using hay and fenc­ing) and our use of cov­er crop.

Pictured left: cover crop between rows at Jespersen Ranch. Right: Sheep graze on cover crops at Heart Hill Vineyard.
Plant­i­ng cov­er crops helps with ero­sion con­trol and water reten­tion. Pic­tured left: cov­er crop between rows at Jes­persen Ranch. Right: Sheep graze on cov­er crops at Heart Hill Vineyard.

Reduc­ing our Use

When it comes to reduc­ing our use there are two crit­i­cal activ­i­ties: mea­sure­ment and imple­ment­ing con­ser­va­tion measures. 

We have three sys­tems for mea­sur­ing water use in the vine­yard and mak­ing sure irri­ga­tion is as effi­cient as possible.

· First, we have a net­work of sen­sors through­out the vine­yard that track the flow of water from wells, to stor­age ponds, to the vines. We can see which pumps are oper­at­ing when and how they are performing. 

· Sec­ond, we have soil mois­ture mon­i­tors that can tell us if water is get­ting to where it needs to be in the soil profile. 

· Third, we have sen­sors that sit above the vine­yard that mea­sure how much water the vines are los­ing (vine sweat) to the environment.

All three sys­tems are used in con­junc­tion to deficit irri­gate and track our water use so we can con­tin­ue to make improve­ments on a year-over-year basis.

Rows of barrels being steamed in the winery
Steam­ing bar­rels in the win­ery. The steam helps to keep them clean and hydrated

When it comes to con­ser­va­tion many times it’s the obvi­ous and least sexy meth­ods that cre­ate the most ben­e­fit. A few examples:

· We do not irri­gate with­out hav­ing some­one in the field to check for and address leaks as soon as the irri­ga­tion sys­tem is turned on.

· We use dou­ble-line irri­ga­tion sys­tems so that we can tar­get par­tic­u­lar vines or small­er areas with irri­ga­tion with­out water­ing a larg­er area.

· In the win­ery we clean all our tanks by hand with extreme­ly water effi­cient pres­sure wash­ers. Pres­sure wash­ers do a great job of remov­ing gunk from sur­faces but also use very lit­tle water. Need to clean a floor? Scrub­bing it with a brush and clean­ing up with a squeegee works great and con­serves water. 

· We clean our bar­rels with steam. Steam doesn’t use a lot of water and is an excel­lent way to knock out any bad microbes that may be hang­ing around. Steam is also a very effi­cient way of keep­ing bar­rels hydrat­ed so they don’t leak. 

While we cur­rent­ly incor­po­rate a lot of inter­est­ing prac­tices, we can always do bet­ter and are con­stant­ly on the look­out for ways to make improve­ments each year.

The view from the top of Heart Hill Vineyard with bright green grass and bright blue skies.