The Water Footprint of Grapes

 In Cascina Belmonte

How much water do you use in a day? If you calculate how long your shower is, how much you drink, and what you use to cook with, you’re far off the mark. Your cup of tea holds 30 liters of water, not 8 oz. A hamburger for dinner has you drinking 2400 liters of water, and even your shirt holds 2500 liters; just drinking a glass of wine, you’re using 120 liters of water. (waterfootprint.org)

Where does this phantom water come from? The water that’s used to produce anything — food and material products — is much more than what’s presented in the final product. We strive to produce d’UVA in the most sustainable way possible, but all those grapes don’t survive on dust. Wine will be used as a substitute for d’UVA in this article. The processes of wine production are close to that of d’UVA’s, and, while d’UVA is not a non-alcoholic wine nor a glorified grape juice (rather, a beverage with its own delicious qualities!), it is produced in the same way up until the fermentation, which doesn’t use water, anyway.

The buzz-word “carbon footprint” is all over the place these days, but how often do you hear “water footprint?” It’s an important concept that means the amount of water you use, directly and indirectly. Virtual water is an indirect example, and conveys the amount of water used to make a product.

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Water footprint. Photo from Natesh Ramasamy, Creative Commons

In the three major wine producing areas of the world — the U.S., Australia, and Europe — the water footprint varies considerably. The U.S. and Australia often use extensive irrigation, while European wineries tend to use natural water supplies. In fact, “tend” is almost too weak a word; in Italy, wineries that produce good quality wine and value their terroir would never consider irrigation, even with the changing climate temperatures (agricoltura24.com). As for irrigated land in California, for example, the figure can be as high as 1625 liters or as low as 2 liters for 1 liter of wine (only possible if no irrigation is used).(wineeconomist.com, jancisrobinson.com) If we were doling out points for the least amount of water used, Italy would get a point for natural water use, and another for having smaller plots of land. Big swaths of mono-cultivated land means less tree cover, more evaporation, and other water losses.

In operations, a lot of water is used. Hosing down floors, cleaning tanks and barrels, pumping, and pressing grapes are all part of the process and require water. Irrigation, though, is the single greatest user of water in grapevine cultivation. (sustainablewinegrowing.org)

d’UVA grapes are watered naturally, without the help of drip or overhead irrigation. In a land where grapes have been turned into some of the world’s greatest wines for centuries, Italian viticulture has found the perfect equilibrium with nature. Here, tradition and authenticity run strong, and transitioning to an irrigation system is usually met with resistance.

A little bit of drought and hardship at opportune times are good for grapes, in fact. Grape vines naturally grow by riversides, and other well-watered areas so they may drink to their content, climbing high and producing less fruit than in the vineyard. In a vineyard that goes through periods of “stress” — or, times of little to no water supply — the vines push grape production in an attempt to carry their genes into the next generation. So, irrigating grapes in a land like Italy where irrigation is rarely used would actually have negative results. (slideshare.net/MaruizioGily)

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The harvest at Cascina Belmonte

The one area where water is rarely used is in washing the grapes themselves. You’ll be surprised to learn that wine grapes and juice grapes are hardly ever washed, so pesticides, heavy metals, a surprising number of spiders, dust and dirt are mashed up into your beverage. To make d’UVA, we do wash our grapes, and we don’t use pesticides, making for a clean, healthy product through-and-through. And the amount of water used for this — around 1000 liters per 50 quintals of grapes (so with a total of 600 quintals–making both Cascina Belmonte wine and d’UVA — it requires 12000 liters of water) — as compared to the amount used for irrigation is much less. In one 4-year study, the average amount of water per vine used between budbreak and the end of October was between 5300 and 6400 liters. (www.practicalwinery.com)

Enrico Di Martino has washed the grapes for d’UVA and for the wines of Cascina Belmonte for years. He believes that it completes the production of “good, clean, and fair” products in combination with the absence of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals in the vineyard; the reduction of copper emissions, all organic fertilization with manure from the farm’s cattle, and fungicides that have a very low environmental impact and are non-toxic for humans.

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Washing the grapes

This water is used where it is truly needed: how much can you benefit from the antioxidants of one glass of wine a day if they’re laced with heavy metals? Sure, spiders contain protein…but most people would probably prefer getting that in chicken. In this season that’s ripe for grape harvest and d’UVA production, stay tuned for another article that gets to the heart of d’VUA-making and how the grapes are treated (including washing them!) to have the best end product possible.

Written by Diana Zahuranec

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