Wine industry has grown to more than 800 in Washington state

As the Washington wine industry grew quickly to over 800 wineries, resources about how to establish or improve sustainability didn’t keep pace.  Sustainability is integral to any efficient processing facility that consumes water, fuel, electricity, glass, and other natural resources.

Frustrated by the lack of available educational tools, a group of wine industry volunteers met with the Washington Wine Industry Foundation and developed a grant proposal seeking funds to write an online, interactive guide of business and winery management practices.  Based on a list of industry priorities, the group of winemakers wanted an on-demand tool for wineries to assess their consumption of resources and identify management decisions for cutting energy and fuel use; improving water conservation and wastewater recycling; utilizing eco-friendly material handling, recycling, and environmentally preferred purchasing; reducing solid waste; optimizing local supply chains; promoting physical, social, and economic well-being of employees; and promoting neighbor and community communication.

The Wine Industry Foundation went to work and was awarded funds from the Washington State Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.  The grant focused on impacts to the environment, the community infrastructure and the high costs to wineries.

The group of volunteers became the steering committee and met nearly monthly for over two years. The team also expanded to include environmental professionals and consultants.

The grant helped fund content for “Winerywise™”, an online guide to sustainable winemaking practices which included chapters covering energy efficiency; water management; education and research; waste management; staffing, safety and human resources; material handling; preferred purchasing; community outreach; and site development.  For easy access, a user-friendly website and Facebook page were also created.

In addition, two-hour educational sessions were held in four locations around the state to introduce Winerywise™ to wineries, and how they could monitor, access, and increase sustainability by improving practices in the nine chapters.

Key to use of Winerywise ™ was a list of outcomes provided by another group of volunteers who offered to test the tool to show how they would work in small, mid and larger wineries.  The “Wineries in Practice” identified practices that could be tracked and measurable and then collected the data on cost/benefit or savings as a result of adopting more sustainable practices.  One winery began to recycle material and after a year, the reduction to the landfill accounted for over five tons a month with a cost savings of more than $400 each month.  Another winery insulated all hot water pipes saving over $20,000 annually.

Other results included retrofitting air compressors, switching lights to sensor control, performing a facility water balance, and changing to light-weight bottles.

During the project, the volunteer industry leaders estimated their in-kind donation at over $100,000 to help build Winerywise™.  Each of the nine chapters were drafted by industry specialists and then submitted to contracted third-party consultants who specialized in that field to review and edit.

The grant team also collaborated with the University Of Washington Department Of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, the Washington Department of Ecology Technical Resources for Engineering Efficiency Team, Kennedy Jenks Consultants, Judith Thoet Consulting Winemaker, Boxwood Architects, the Food Alliance, LIVE, the Washington Growers League and the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

Winerywise is free and available online at Wineries throughout the Pacific Northwest are the target market for the guide but wineries throughout the United States and the world have discovered the benefit as many of the findings are applicable to any winery.