Interview with Cave Spring’s Dave Hooper

Hooper PhotoshopA winery operator’s insight on sustainability in Niagara

Seated under the refracted sunshine of a lightwell, Dave Hooper wears a worn, frayed cap that he is not particularly proud of. As Winery Operations Manager at Cave Spring in Niagara, a pristine hat isn’t really an option. “Fixing equipment, managing people, making wine, health and safety, food safety—” the list goes on, as Dave explains why his headwear never stood a chance.

You focus on growth, not wastewater. Those issues go ignored until you’re bursting.

This is the reality that Ontario’s wine makers are forced to deal with: tending to a lot more than their grapes, while seldom receiving training for these peripheral responsibilities.

cellar with barrelsStarted in 1986, Cave Spring has grown from a 2,000 case winery to their present capacity of 70,000, and they haven’t done it by focusing on water management. “It’s just not feasible.You focus on growth, not wastewater. Those issues go ignored until you’re bursting.” This is the trade-off that cellar managers are forced to make, compromised not by disinterest but by more pressing priorities. When it comes to water and wastewater management, many winery operators simply don’t know where to begin. “We want to buy a solution, rather than parts we cobble together. We are not experts in wastewater, lighting, etc., and the minute it becomes work, or complicated, what happens?” The short answer is that it doesn’t.

Farmers don’t take a lot of risks, and we’re farmers at heart.

Over the years, Cave Spring has opened their doors to a variety of experts to come in and address their problems: universities, organizations, and innovators with intimate awareness of the issues. Despite a number of resulting pilot projects, the changes were few. “My hopes are always low with a pilot project—I’ve only had one that worked, delivered by BLOOM. The ideas are great, but they are impractical.” Dave also mentions a unique constraint that makes it difficult for wine makers to experiment and deviate from their established practices: time. “The one-year turn-around that exists in winemaking makes evolution slow. You have all these variables, and you can’t afford to fail miserably. Farmers don’t take a lot of risks, and we’re farmers at heart.” As a result, a number of pressing issues are left unattended, and business carries on as usual.

But Cave Spring—and Dave—barrels fullwant to do more. “We feel it’s time we put our money where our mouth is.” Rainwater capture systems have been put in place, as well as natural lightwells to illuminate the office. Thinner bottles are being used to conserve resources. Lighting alternatives for the cellar are being explored, as is a surface that will allow for more efficient cleaning. But finding reliable solutions to the more technical problems still remains an issue. “Everybody has the solutions, according to them, and everybody tells you something different. In this industry, you can find information to back up any practice you want.” There is money in solutions—in sustainability—and wine makers have become wary of who they can trust. “We want to make sustainable choices, but they have to make sense.”

We want to make sustainable choices, but they have to make sense.

There is a sincere push in the Ontario winery sector to assume the role of environmental stewards, coupled with a dawning awareness that resource management saves money. Water and wastewater management present numerous risks to the operations and growth of a winery, and the cost of water itself is steadily rising. We are at a time where making environmentally conscious decisions makes good business sense, and all that remains is to validate and implement the existing innovations. Cave Spring has become a leader in sustainable practices in the winery sector, and will continue to lead the way. They are currently installing an on-site wastewater management system that could position them to recycle wastewater, turning it from a problem into a commodity. This is the pilot that was implemented by BLOOM. Dave has always believed that wineries have everything to gain from working with others, and it is finally paying off. These are the opportunities that exist in Ontario’s wine industry, the only real risk being the unwillingness to try.

For more information on how water and wastewater management issues affect Ontario’s wineries, see our briefing note or condensed summary:

Briefing Note CoverBLOOM - Briefing Note - Summary

 

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