Over the years the Serendipity team has had the continual privilege of partnering with and learning from Frey Vineyards, America’s first certified organic winery. From their first foray into organic agriculture in 1980 to promoting Biodynamics across Mendocino, and more recently to rebuilding a state-of-the-art solar powered facility after surviving the Redwood Complex fire of 2017—Frey is a living testament to how a winery’s commitment to sustainability can evolve over time. In our most recent visit to their living farm, we were able to experience the latest additions to their regenerative plan: about a billion newly employed earthworms.
What exactly are these red wrigglers doing at Frey? Technically, turning wine into reusable water.
Wineries & Water
It takes an estimated two to fifteen gallons of water to produce a glass of wine in California. While water usage in the vineyard can be heavily mitigated, the winemaking process itself is unwavering in its demand. In the constant battle for winery cleanliness, water is used to steam-clean and sterilize tanks and equipment. Sometimes it’s used as a coolant. Come harvest, hoses dislodge grape seeds and stems from crushers and floors. The runoff is called ‘grey water’, or a non-potable water akin to what’s leftover after laundry use or a load of dishes. And it has to be treated before it can be used again for irrigation or frost protection.
Between drought, climate change, and disrupting natural water tables, finding an energy-efficient way to recycle water is vital to sustainability. Until recent alternatives entered the market, the number-one practice to treat process water has been by way of an aeration pond. These ponds take a lengthy amount of time to process (days to weeks), are loud, odorous, and require an exhaustive amount of energy. A Chilean wastewater company called BioFiltro patented a chemical-free solution to these issues. Several years ago winemaker Paul Frey stumbled into their presentation at a Unified wine show, cementing what would become a newfound partnership and a whole lot of earthworms.
How It Works: BioFiltro’s BIDA®
Run-off winery water is rife with a number of organic compounds we in the biz rarely have to think about: grape skins, sugars, seeds, and other micro-flora. What BioFiltro has created capitalizes on the digestive power of earthworms to filter these components out of winery water. Using up to 85% less energy than the aeration pond method, this system cleans water in four hours while simultaneously creating a soil-enriching supplement.
Physically, the BIDA® system lives in an open-top concrete basin with three layers. At Frey, their two five-foot-tall beds contain a top layer of wood shavings, followed by river cobble and then a drainage basin. Worms and microbes are introduced to the layers and a sprinkler system pumps the winery water over the bed. At this point, the raining wine solids and sugars collect in the wood shavings and the hungry earthworms enjoy a wine feast. As they hunt for food their wriggling bodies naturally aerate the layers, and friendly microbes symbiotically come together to form a biofilm. Comprised of billions of microbial colonies, the biofilm ensnares food found in the process water and leaves it pristine. This four–hour workday at Frey can potentially process 10,000 gallons of grey water! It is stored in their irrigation ponds and then recycled for agricultural use throughout the year.
BioFiltro’s BIDA® (Biodynamic Aerobic) System in action at Frey Vineyards
At Frey, including animals in holistic land management is nothing new. Cows, goats, sheep, bird boxes and bats abound. Every animal has their place and helps serve a purpose, and the earthworms are no exception. These little ones are self-spawning, live up to six years, and have clearly put the Red Wine Diet to good use. Beyond purifying water, they also create 75-100 cubic yards of castings which are then used to augment Frey’s soils.
“We were impressed with the simplicity and energy efficiency of BioFiltro’s system,” says assistant winemaker Johnny Frey. “We are also happy to have the compost-enhancing worm castings as a byproduct [that will] return nutrients to the soil.”
The Serendipity team watches the construction of Frey’s BioFiltro system evolve from 2019 to now
For us at Serendipity, we’re inspired and excited to see the new depths of resource conservation at Frey. This Earth Month, why not pour one for the worms? Perhaps a glass of Frey’s award-winning Biodynamic Petite Sirah?