Southbrook Vineyards approach to water management in barrel cleaning

Southbrook Vineyards approach to water management in barrel cleaning

Our last blog post was about how Flat Rock Cellars improved the efficiency of their barrel cleaning process by measuring what they were doing, making improvements and then verifying the results. But what if you want to skip all that and just dive right in to the most efficient process you can?

We spoke with Ann Sperling from Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake about their approach. Sustainability and water management have always been a priority at Southbrook. They produce wine that is certified organic and biodynamic, built the first LEED Gold winery building in Canada, harvest rainwater for use in the vineyard, and utilize an engineered wetland and naturalized landscaping to manage wastewater and stormwater. So it should come as no surprise that the procedures Southbrook uses to maintain their barrels are the most water efficient ones we’ve come across.

The first line of defense against excess water use is to keep barrels filled with wine as often as possible. When wineries store barrels, they typically wash and sanitize them both before and after storage. By refilling barrels within a few days of being emptied, Southbrook eliminates the need for double-washing.

When Southbrook empties a barrel that is to be refilled with the same varietal, the barrel is emptied and allowed to drain. And then…nothing. The barrel is filled without washing. Zero water. While winemakers who do not share Southbrook’s natural and non-interventionist philosophy to winemaking may have trouble giving up that control, Sperling has embraced the complexity it imparts to their vintages and Southbrook’s many awards can attest to the quality wine she produces.

Similarly, when barrels do need to be put into storage, they are drained, but the wine residue is left on the surface of the barrel. The idea being that the low pH and alcohol content of the wine residue, combined with burning a sulfur wick every 6 weeks, provides sufficient protection. When the barrels are taken out of storage they are inspected to determine the amount of washing that is required and whether ozone sanitation is necessary. Between 30 to 50 litres of water is used to clean each barrel coming out of storage.

Southbrook has managed to significantly reduce the amount of water, time, and energy that goes into barrel maintenance by challenging the status quo and embracing a natural approach to wine making that is not just gentler on the wine, but gentler on the environment as well.

We have added Southbrook’s example as a new case study within Water & Wine’s section on Barrel Cleaning. Please visit the module on Reducing Water Consumption and Wastewater Strength for more ideas on how to improve water efficiency in your winery.

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