Online guide helps winemakers cut down on energy, water consumption

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 11, 2014 

Washington winemakers have a new tool to cut down on energy and water consumption to improve their bottom line.

Created by members of the wine industry, Winerywise offers tips and resources.

The online, interactive guide of conservation best practices is meant to fill a gap in resources in a state industry that has been expanding rapidly, reaching about 800 licensed wineries.

"We are a younger industry so we are on a steeper learning curve, but we are also further back on that learning curve," said Tim Henley, winemaker for Pasco's Gordon Estate Winery, who served on the Winerywise committee.

It's crucial to have policies and procedures developed that are specific to the needs of the state industry, he said.

Winerywise puts a toolbox into people's hands so they can figure out what works best for them, said Joy Andersen, senior winemaker for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

"The bottom line is the bottom line," she said.

It's the cost savings that makes conservation appealing to businesses, she said. But, "we want to do better and we want to leave things in a good situation for the generations that come after us."

Andersen, chairwoman for the group of industry volunteers, said members of the wine industry began the grass-roots effort to develop Winerywise about six years ago.

The project later received $168,000 in state and federal grants to help develop features for the website. The group worked with the Washington Wine Industry Foundation to launch the website, www.winerywise.com.

The site is a companion to Vinewise, a similar effort for vineyards that was created first, Andersen said.

There are a lot of low-hanging fruit when it comes to conservation, said Henley, who also volunteered on the Winerywise committee. Some things are as simple as turning off lights when leaving a room and turning off or unplugging equipment that isn't being used.

"It sounds common sense, but it's real easy to go out of one part of the winery building and leave the lights on," he said.

At 14 Hands Winery in Prosser, motion sensors turn the lights on when employees come into a room, said Andersen, winemaker for Snoqualmie Winery and manager for 14 Hands.

Gordon Estate Winery installed a solar water system that preheats water before it goes into the winery's water heater. Henley said last fall, the winery ended up running out of propane because it no longer had monthly deliveries. It took up to four months to use the propane that before had only lasted a month.

But a really big energy savings in winemaking comes with switching to lighter bottles, which Snoqualmie recently did, Andersen said.

The bottles are shipped in smaller boxes and the cardboard inserts that make cavities for the bottles are shorter, she said. The savings adds up.

Gordon Estate Winery switched to lighter bottles, but just as important, the bottles are from a Seattle company, Henley said. That saves on shipping and also allows the shipping of more bottles on the same size truck.

Cutting down on water also is a big part of becoming more sustainable, the Winerywise group says.

At Snoqualmie Winery, Ste. Michelle's pilot winery for various programs, workers have been trained to conserve water, Andersen said. For example, they use brooms to clean instead of water, resulting in a huge savings on heating, treating and disposing of water.

Reducing packing materials also represents significant savings. Andersen said they ask their suppliers to limit any extra materials and buy in bulk when possible to lower packaging materials. For example, wine barrels can come in simple plastic wrap, but some companies will ship them with cardboard too.

Less packaging saves on the cost of materials and disposal, and it also means less employee time is needed to unpack the shipment, Andersen said.

Eventually, Andersen said she hopes to offer a recycling option where customers can take their empty wine bottles back to the winery for recycling.

-- To submit business news, go to bit.ly/bizformtch.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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