How One Winemaker Is Staving Off a Water Crisis and Making Delicious, Earth-Friendly Vino
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Virtually all farms had animals for 10,000 years. They've been pushed off most farms over the last hundred years because we decided that monocrops are more efficient. But we really didn't look hard enough to see the real reasons why our ancestors were using animals
TP: What else are you doing to reduce water use in the winemaking process?
MB: We've constructed wetlands that recycle 2-3 million gallons of water a year. All of the winery waste water and some of the grey water on our facility is captured in a pond and then, by gravity, it's recycled through this large wetlands that acts as a kidney that cleans the water to an incredibly high level -- to where it looks good enough to drink. That's the water that we then use for landscaping, and we then use for irrigation. It's used twice.
In the actual winemaking process, we recently invested in what's called "all-vibration technology." We've eliminated all belts and all screws. And that right there, eliminated, I think, 18-20 percent of the water use for harvest last year alone, just converting out of belts and screws to these very easy-to-clean, very efficient vibration tables. They clean up almost by themselves.
Then there's cleaning wine barrels. You can imagine how hard it is to clean a 60-gallon barrel and get it all clean on the inside when there's only a little hole to work through. In the past, we used up to 25 gallons per barrel. But with the new technologies that we've invested in, which is based on steam, we've been able to get that to below 5 gallons per barrel.
TP: Benziger is obviously known most for its wine -- what else is grown on your Sonoma Mountain land?
MB: Yeah, we grow about 30 different types of vegetables and we make olive oil and we make honey. We have about 100 lamb. We sell all of our olive oil in the tasting room, then we supply local restaurants with vegetables and beef. We're also trying to make on a regular basis what I call an estate meal, which is a meal made entirely off the property of the lamb or the beef or the chicken with all the vegetables that we grow, with the olive oil and the honey, tasted alongside the wines that are made right there in that system, and to see if there's an overlap or a crossover in the flavors or the profiles or the textures of the wine or the olives oil or even the veggies.
TP: Sounds like an old-school diversified Mediterranean farm -- olive groves, vineyards, vegetables, meat, all growing right on top of each other.
MB: Our property is 85 acres and less than 40 of it are in grapes. Then the other 35 or 40 are the biological support system for the grapes. The grapes are the lead character in the play. A lot of the time, [all the supporting actors] makes the lead character interesting. I don't want to give the impression we think we're perfect in terms of sustainability -- we can always do better! But it turns out that by doing things like conserving water and improving soil health, we make better wine. So we're committed.
TP: Please recommend a few relatively inexpensive examples of your wines.
MB: First, I'd try the 2009 Benziger Sauvignon Blanc -- that's just hitting the markets right now. Then I would recommend the 2006 Benziger Sonoma Country Cabernet Sauvignon. And then we have another one called Signiterra that's a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that is a biodynamic property in transition -- that is an awesome wine. Those would be the three that I would recommend.