Protecting our Most Precious Resource

4/22/2020 11:01:50 PM

Protecting our most Precious Resource | April 22, 2020 (Earth Day) | By Christian Palmaz

Driving into Palmaz Vineyards takes our visitors roughly a mile through the puzzle like lower vineyard parcels until they reach the winery carved into Mt. George.  Along the way, guests sometimes notice the small purple signs in the vineyards, “This area is irrigated with recycled water.”  Although during our tours, we normally make only mention of the winery’s net-zero water consumptive design, it often takes a backseat to the more wine facing innovations seen throughout the winery.  However on Earth Day, we’d like to take a moment and highlight how Palmaz Vineyards has gained this prestigious status of net-zero water consumption.  

The Palmaz Winery is situated inside the delicate and important MST (Milliken-Sarco-Tulucay) groundwater subarea.  Many years ago the MST was identified to be potentially in danger of overuse.  Increasing demand from homes, golf courses, and vineyard irrigation tap directly into this water source while drought weather patterns didn’t help with replenishment.  The Hagen Creek, which runs down from Mt. George through the Palmaz Estate, was identified as an important contributor to the MST during the development of the property.  

As the vineyards and state-of-the-art winery were in design, questions were raised about the impact on the delicate MST.  The geotechnical engineers behind the winery’s project and our family put minds together on how to minimize the overall water consumption.  It didn’t take long for the team’s discussions to escalate from simply minimizing the consumption to attempting to out-right eliminating it. 

At the time, net-zero water consumption, which meant 100% of the water used must be captured, treated, and re-used, was reserved for extremely specialized buildings often supported by large municipalities in desert regions.  At the time, no one in the wine industry had attempted such a feat, and for good reason.  The process waste from a winery is a difficult thing to treat at all, much less to the nearly potable standards required for sustainable re-use in a vineyard.  

Wine’s pH is extremely low and requires chemicals to balance.  These chemicals often leave salts which when used in a vineyard over time, can increase the salinity of the soil to unacceptable levels.  Furthermore, only natural biological methods could be used to treat the water since chlorination and other harsh chemicals would not be compatible with the goals of a sustainably farmed vineyard.  

Engineers from Abu Dhabi along with domestic companies who had experience in treatment of water from jelly jarring facilities put their minds together to build a custom water treatment facility for Palmaz Vineyards.  The result was a one of a kind fully computerized water treatment plant located completely underground to eliminate evaporation loss.  Using unique pH balancing techniques and a very special custom bacteria who has an affinity for grape by-products, the plant was activated in 2003.  

The plant sported an impressive tunnel capable of housing over 1.5 million gallons of treated water.  Because the winery produced most of it’s annual waste during the harvest months leading into the rainy season, the benefit of the treated water would be lost unless it could be stored and then used during the subsequent irrigation season.  When demands are highest on the MST groundwater, Palmaz Vineyards is able to nearly eliminate it’s ground water dependency relying solely on the treated water built up over the year.  

The facility has now been operating flawlessly for nearly 15 years.  It has been honored by many conservation agencies and continues to be herald as one of the industries best examples of water conservation.  Next time you visit the winery, don’t hesitate to ask to see the water treatment plant.  It’s semi-sweet musty aroma means the trillions of happy bugs are working hard to help protect our communities most precious resource.