As water scarcity worsens in the West and beyond, one of the country’s thirstiest industries is embracing a pairing you thought you’d never see: wine and worms.
“We’re installing a new water treatment system that uses worms to process the wastewater, and I’m really excited about it,” said Laura Díaz Muñoz, a Napa Valley winemaker, per Wine Enthusiast Magazine. “It will allow us to treat all the wastewater we use in our facility without chemicals and produce water that’s clean enough to irrigate the vineyards and the landscaping.”
As virtually all of the region faces drought, with state and federal officials unsure of how to reduce consumption, agricultural and industrial operations in California are being forced to adapt. For many winemakers and growers in the state, that has meant turning to a cutting-edge, bug-powered wastewater treatment system.
And its proving effective. In this process, millions to billions of earthworms in combination with certain microbes can remove 99% of wastewater contaminants without the need for treatment chemicals.
“Feeding on the grape skins, seeds, sugars and other organic compounds in winery gray water, the worms generate nutrient-dense worm castings, a rich source of fertilizer,” according to Wine Enthusiast. “Best of all, the worms work their magic in a matter of hours with little energy required, unlike the common system, aerobic filtration ponds, which typically draw power from the electric grid and pump and circulate the water.”
While it may be hard to believe that an answer to California’s water consumption problem was wriggling in the dirt of some of its most consumption-heavy farms, it is fitting that those working so closely to the land, depending so much on this natural resource, have found such a decidedly ecological solution.
“Our system exemplifies our regenerative philosophy by using natural technology — in this case worms [and] microorganisms … to renew and restore a finite resource,” Jess Baum of Fetzer Vineyards said, according to Wine Industry Advisor. “By working in harmony with nature, harnessing the power of below-ground organisms doing what they do best, we are able to regenerate our water supply without causing harm to our surrounding ecosystem. In fact, in addition to recycled water, the other byproduct of this system is worm castings, used to increase soil fertility and water and carbon holding capacity in the soil.”
With so many benefits for vineyards and the drinking water they count on, it seems like the surprising combination of wine, worms, and wastewater is more palatable than many would have thought.