How to change as little water into wine as possible - this is the aim of
a new research project under the banner of the Water Institute of
Stellenbosch University (SU).
It is, of course, illegal to add water to wine itself, but a lot of water is used every day to clean cellars and equipment and to do bottling and labelling.
However, when asking winemakers what the water footprint of their wines is, the answer varies between 1 and 13 litres per bottle. “No one really knows, it seems to me,” says Ms Adél Conradie, a trained winemaker doing her MSc in Viticulture and Oenology on the improvement of water use in the wine industry. She is working under the supervision of Dr Gunnar Sigge of SU’s Department of Food Science, Mr Riaan Wassung, winemaker at SU’s experimental cellar, Welgevallen, and Prof Eugene Cloete, Dean of the Faculty of Science.
“Very little information is available on similar studies; there are even fewer references in the South African context. There’s a cellar in Portugal that claims it needs only 650 ml water to make a litre of wine – but how they manage that I don’t know.”
South Africa’s Department of Water Affairs has strict regulations that specify that run-off water may not summarily be discharged into rivers and must be cleaned well enough to use, at the very least, as irrigation water. The methods that wine farms can use for this vary greatly in terms of cost and the required space.
“You have to know how much water you use before you can implement ways to use less water,” says Conradie.
She is also doing chemical analyses to determine the efficacy of various water-purification systems.
Conradie is working with the Delheim and Hartenberg wine farms outside Stellenbosch, where waste water is cleaned through a vlei filtration system and reused for the irrigation of vineyards.
Research is also being done at Welgevallen, where grapes from the University’s own town vineyard at Mostertsdrift are pressed.
“It’s only a small cellar, where between 100 and 200 tons of grapes are processed per season into about 122 boxes of wine containing six bottles each,” says Conradie. “But our recommendations could help most cellars be more sustainable.”
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