Unraveling the Wastewater Puzzle

September 07, 2023

Wastewater systems are integral to proper winery management. Choosing one shouldn’t be so difficult, expensive and time-consuming.


Let’s candidly acknowledge that at the heart of every cask, every bottle, lies the unspoken promise to create and offer the finest wines. It is this devotion that drives the essence of a winery’s existence — the desire to not only make a mark but to leave a lasting, tasteful legacy on every glass raised in celebration. However, among all the operational headaches associated with running a winery, one in particular sticks out like a sore thumb: wastewater treatment. 

Wastewater is an integral aspect of winery operations, emerging from every facet of the production process, encompassing barrel and tank washing, general sanitization and bottling. From the first crush to the final pour, every step in winemaking results in this unavoidable byproduct, underscoring the necessity for responsible wastewater treatment strategy. 

However, the status quo in acquiring and operating a wastewater system is broken and is ripe for disruption.

Complex and expensive

The task of procuring and managing a wastewater treatment system is complicated and financially demanding. This complexity arises from the need to engage with an array of vendors, ranging from design consultants and system builders to civil contractors, electrical experts, chemical suppliers, and operation and maintenance (O&M) services. There are multiple layers of coordination required between these vendors to ensure that a system is delivered as designed. Moreover, the majority of payment is typically expected by each vendor before the final product is even assembled.

Incentives are misaligned

This structure, where payment is expected before operational success, adds to the overall financial burden — the buck always stops with you! Ask yourself, do your wastewater vendors want what you want? No! Is there a true incentive to deliver a system that is simple, cheap and operational? No! They get paid for service, they don’t get paid for performance.

0% ROI

While a typical wastewater treatment system may cost hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars, the “net return” on this investment is $0. As a result, the ROI on a wastewater system is 0%

A better way to evaluate the investment in a wastewater treatment system is the concept of “opportunity cost.” Opportunity cost is the value of the best alternative not chosen when contemplating one option over others. It highlights the trade-off between the benefits of the chosen option and the potential gains from unselected alternatives.

Are there any better uses for your capital expenditures and your time? Can you and your team improve your bottom line if you had one less thing to pay for and worry about? The undeniable answer to these questions is, yes!

A lofty aspiration

Amid the pursuit of effective wastewater management, the added notion of water reuse feels like a lofty aspiration. While the heart can be content with a system that successfully treats wastewater, the prospect of dealing with the added complexities and expenses linked to water reuse can be daunting. 

The looming Winery Order

The Winery Order issued by the California Water Board introduces an urgency to this landscape. Wineries are expected to comply with this order by January 20, 2024. This order provides statewide requirements for how winery wastewater is disposed off. The Wine Institute estimates that 2,036 of 3,612 bonded wineries in California will be subject to this order.

Wineries are entrusted with the responsibility to adhere to these regulations, yet the process of procuring and managing the necessary systems remains broken. 

While the intentions behind the Winery Order are commendable, the process of compliance is complex and expensive. It’s also worth acknowledging that, while these regulations aim to uphold environmental standards, the practical implementation can sometimes be a daunting endeavor for wineries to navigate.

Wastewater needs to be simplified

A paradigm shift is needed in wastewater treatment. If magic wands existed, wastewater would be simplified. The ideal solution would be comprised of three core values:

  • Easy to acquire and operate: Ideally you want a seamless, vertically integrated solution similar to buying power from a utility company. You don’t want the headaches associated with constructing an independent wastewater plant.
  • As cheap as possible: While compliance necessitates upfront capital expenditure, the allocation of resources should be optimized for overall business growth. Imagine a scenario where your capital is used for core activities that better your bottom line. You want to spend your money where you get an ROI, not just on mandated compliance.
  • Guaranteed to perform: The assurance of system efficacy is paramount. Confidence in your wastewater system’s design and installation, backed by a guarantee of performance, affords peace of mind, freeing winemakers to focus on their craft without worrying about operational hiccups.

Keep these tenets in mind as you move toward compliance with the Winery Order. Finding  a balance between what resources you expend and what benefits you receive can make a required action more palatable.