In Vino Veritas: The Truth About Water And Wine

In wine there is truth. Many are familiar with this ancient assertion, but few are aware of its conclusion:  in aqua sanitas . In water there is health. But the  truth  about wine in modern times is that it’s compromising the  health  of our water resources. 

It’s not difficult to see why. In the United States alone, annual wine consumption is approximately 893 million gallons – equating to a per capita wine consumption of 2.8 gallons per U.S. resident. To make each one of those gallons of wine requires, on average, 872 gallons of water. 

Moreover, the U.S. per capita consumption doesn’t even come close to many European countries (with Vatican City topping the per capita wine-consumption chart at 13 gallons!). And, even if you’re thinking, “Well, I’m below average, I just enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner,”… every time you drink that occasional glass, you leave a 29-gallon water footprint!

Like many other industries, winemaking is evolving toward more eco-responsible solutions, and winemakers are taking action to gain more knowledge, share their findings and innovate viable tactics to reduce their water footprint. It comes as no surprise that many of the positive actions got their start in the state of California which 1) has been plagued by drought for decades and 2) produces 90% of wine in the U.S. Ecologically and economically, winemakers have a vested interested in decreasing water use and increasing water re-use.

As the greatest contributor to wine’s water footprint, vineyards are a major focal point for water conservation. Important studies have been going on at the University of California, Davis that are helping vineyards better understand how winery wastewater can be used for crop irrigation and growing, as well as gain important knowledge about how wastewater may or may not effect soil and vine health as well as, ultimately, wine taste and integrity. Many growers are also turning to dry farming as an eco-friendly alternative to irrigation.

With everything from crushing and pressing, to equipment cleaning and sanitation, to hosing down floors and cooling towers greatly contributing to water usage, winemakers are also focusing on adapting processes within wineries. Again, the University of California, Davis is doing impressive work in growing the knowledge, having established a teaching winery focused on achieving a 1:1 ratio of water to wine in production. Through daily monitoring of over a dozen water meters and adaptations to decrease water usage based on meter readings, the winery is closing in on its goal. In addition, wineries are starting to integrate tools such of low-flow, high-pressure hoses for cleaning, and entire resources – such as – for winegrowers, winemakers and wine drinkers looking to “go green” are popping up all over.  

Whether it’s consumed for pleasure or the more ancient practice of getting the “veritas” out of one’s dinner companion – one thing is for sure: wine’s popularity has been growing since 5,000 B.C. and isn’t likely to decline any time soon. However, society can continue to advance the health of our water resources by being aware and employing responsible practices every step of the way, from the vine to the wineglass.