It takes a lot of energy to turn water into wine. In fact, it takes an average of 6 gallons of water in the cellar to produce 1 gallon of wine. At Frey Vineyards, water is used during the winemaking process for steam-cleaning and sterilizing tanks and equipment, and during harvest season it’s used for flushing out grape stems and seeds from the crusher. The most common conventional method for treating process water from wineries is an aeration pond, which requires constant electricity to pump and reintroduce oxygen. The aeration method is not only energy intensive, it’s also noisy and stinky, as the process can take days, if not weeks, to restore oxygen into the water. What if there was another way to recycle process water back to a beneficial state where it could be re-used for irrigation, without using a tremendous amount of energy and disrupting wildlife (and human life) at the winery?
Enter BioFiltro, an international wastewater treatment company with a patented filtration system that naturally regenerates process water in four hours. Frey Vineyards first met BioFiltro when our winemaker, Paul Frey, attended a Unified wine show where BioFiltro presented their innovative biological process. BioFiltro’s patented BIDA® system is a passive aerobic bioreactor that catalyzes the digestive power of earthworms to naturally filter the water after the winemaking process. This chemical-free system removes grape skins, grape seeds, sugars, and other organic compounds from the water and regenerates millions of gallons of water per year to be used for irrigation and frost protection in our vineyards. Not only is the BIDA® system extremely energy efficient in its technology (it uses up to 85% less energy than the conventional aeration method), it also generates 75-100 cubic yards of worm castings to be used onsite to enrich our soil, increasing the value of this simple and elegant closed-loop system.
How do these hard-working worms do the heavy-lifting? The BioFiltro BIDA® system starts with an open-top concrete basin that is layered up with strata of wood shavings, river cobble, and drainage basins. During start up, BioFiltro inoculates the system with worms and microbes hungry for grape sugars and solids left over from the winemaking process. Water is pumped across the system with sprinklers, and it gravity feeds down through the layers. In the top layer, earthworms munch on larger solids and produce castings rich in microbes and bacteria. By working beneficially and symbiotically together, the organisms form a biofilm, or layers of billions of microbial colonies, that capture, retain, and digest food found in the process water. This film is simultaneously aerated by the worms themselves who are busy moving throughout the system in search of food. From top to bottom, the process takes four hours.
At Frey, our BIDA® system will consist of two beds that are approximately 40’x80’ and 5’ tall. Our system has the capacity to process 10,000 gallons of winery grey water per day, which is the equivalent of 600 showers! The recovered water then gets pumped into our irrigation ponds, where it is stored for future agricultural use throughout the year.
Drawing on simple biological processes that Charles Darwin observed almost 140 years ago, BioFiltro capitalizes on the symbiotic harmony of earthworms and bacteria to deliver a biofiltration system that revitalizes water so we can conserve a precious resource. “When I first met Paul and Johnny Frey [our winemaker and assistant winemaker], they understood everything in a second,” says Mai Ann Healy, of BioFiltro. “After being at the Biodynamic conference last month, it seems like our company has a parallel challenge of showing how returning to the roots of employing natural processes is truly the home run.”
“We were impressed with the simplicity and energy efficiency of BioFiltro’s system,” says assistant winemaker Johnny Frey. “We are also happy to have the compost-enhancing worm castings as a byproduct and return nutrients to the soil.” As water scarcity is increasing everywhere, we felt it was an important time to better manage our water footprint. We’re looking forward to using our BIDA® system at our new winery, and we’re excited about including our BioFiltro tanks on our future winery tours and raising awareness about resource conservation.
Here are photos of the basins under construction at our new winery site. Stay tuned for more updates and photos!
Johnny Frey building the forms for the worm basin.
May 31st It was five AM, the night after the full moon. Still brilliant, the moon was about to set in the west, just before dawn.
I was awakened with a blast of sound, “Hoo, hoo, hoo dat” answered by a more distant “Hoo, hoo, hoo dat.” Convinced that a huge owl was just outside our trailer, I crept out into the pearly landscape. I stood in the meadow and got my bearings, then realized the owls must be at least 150 yards away in the burnt forest by the pond. The skeletal ponderosa pines still tower and the great horned owls were perched on them, calling back and forth. These owls, also called cat owls because of their perky ears, are the apex predators, able to pounce on prey as large as rabbits, possums and porcupines. I imagined that their hunting must be eased after the fire, with no needled or leafy branches to block their view.
The calling went on for another ten minutes and then I guessed they found their prey, then each other, and bedded down for the dawning day.
We had a mild spring, which makes life pleasant for farmers and grapevines. Cover crops grew thick and luscious; the cool weather allowed them to build a lot of biomass before flowering. As they are incorporated into the soil they add rich organic matter. Mild weather is also good for the flowering of the vines. Grape flowers are very delicate and extreme weather in either direction can affect the vines’ ability to set a good crop of fruit. Grape flowers are also very fragrant, an ambrosia of delight! Sweet, almost tropical scents of grape flowers have been wafting through the fields. Most varieties now have set clusters but the Cabernet is taking its time and looks to be setting a good crop.
The rains this season were late and far apart which made for good vineyard working conditions throughout the winter and early spring, with fields not too wet and muddy. Frost season was also mild this year, so workers got enough rest to work through the days. This allowed the vineyard crew to get a head start on cultivation and weed control and to stay on schedule despite extra work on fencing, irrigation and frost systems that needed repair after the fires last fall. A new frost pump was installed at the Easterbrook vineyard and as summer heats up work is underway to replace destroyed drip and filters.
Until bud break this spring it was hard to tell exactly how many vines had burned last fall. Now that leaves and shoots are out we finalized our dead-vine count at around 7 acres. Vines that didn’t die are doing fine with expected vigor and timing. We will be working on replacing dead vines as the season progresses.
Ground is being prepared for new plantings of Cabernet and Chardonnay at our Road D vineyard. There are many steps to be completed before the young vines can be put into the ground. Soil is ripped and disked, then smoothed. Next, the irrigation system is laid out for both summer watering (to help the young vines) and spring frost protection. The grid of the vineyard is laid out by hand using cables marked with spacers, then stakes are set. Wires are installed to hang the drip hose and train the young vines as they reach their established height. Finally, the watering system is completed and the vines can be planted. After they are established it will be 3 years before any grapes are harvested. During their productive life they need much less watering.
Chardonnay for this planting will be grown from cuttings made this winter. Cuttings are a form of vegetative propagation, a technique used by humankind to cultivate grapes for thousands of years. While the vines are dormant, healthy wood that grew the previous season is selected and cut to about 18”. The pieces are chosen based on girth, vigor of the parent plant and bud spacing. Two buds are left at the tip of each cutting and the rest are removed, which encourages the cutting to root at the bottom. These cuttings are bundled and buried in moist sand.
These vines will be on their “own roots” as opposed to being grafted onto a rootstock. Own-rooted vineyards are uncommon due to the risk of damage by pheloxera, a soil-borne louse that can kill grapevines when populations in the soil are out of balance. We don’t worry about this in our organic soils as we have plenty of healthy soil microbiology that will compete with phyloxera and keep it from causing damage. We will begin planting soon. The cuttings were stored in a cool dark place for the last several months and are now pushing roots and shoots, eager to get planted.
As springtime rolls into summertime, we are busy! We are looking forward to a summer of good ripening weather and a harvest without the challenges of smoky grapes and disruption form natural disasters. Keep your fingers crossed for us. Cheers from the crew!
Here are some more photos from Spring, 2018.
Bird resting on organic Chardonnay vine.
Thermometer used during late-night vineyard frost patrol.
This oak tree makes a good perch for birds that hunt insects in the vineyards.
2 large carrots, cut into dime-sized cubes
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 medium sized sweet potatoes, cut into dime-sized cubes
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup French lentils
2 1/2 cup vegetable broth
Feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Put the carrots, onion and sweet potatoes in large shallow baking tray. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast. Turn occasionally for 30 minutes or until tender and browning.
Put 1 cup lentils in medium-size pot and add 2½ cups vegetable broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, until tender or about 35 minutes. If water level gets low, add water and reduce the cooking temperature.
Scatter the cooked lentils over a serving platter. Top with the roasted vegetables, crumbled feta and arugula, then drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and the rest of the extra-virgin olive oil.
Enjoy with a glass of Frey Organic Chardonnay!