Katie Jackson is the Vice President of Sustainability and External Affairs for Jackson Family Wines. In her role, Jackson co-manages the Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs Department and leads the company’s innovative sustainability program. Jackson directs the development and management of projects related to water and energy management, greenhouse gas reduction, and social equity. Jackson is the family’s principal voice in promoting Third-Party Certified Sustainable Agriculture programs as a means to incentivize responsible management practices and achieve regulatory certainty. Under her leadership, Jackson Family Wines launched its first-ever Family Social Responsibility report in 2016 to highlight the family’s decades-long sustainability journey and to establish ambitious goals for 2021.
Christopher P. Skroupa: What are the biggest challenges facing the California wine industry with regard to water? How is Jackson Family Wines turning those challenges into opportunities?
Katie Jackson: In California, most people would agree that water is one of the defining issues of our time. It is certainly the defining issue for agriculture. At my family’s wine company, Jackson Family Wines (JFW), we have always operated with the belief that a stressed vine produces the highest quality grape. Because of this, we have historically limited our water use to achieve our quality goals. However, that approach does not negate the need to think about what else we can do to increase our overall efficiency.
With an eye toward the future, and in an effort to protect competing resources, including human demands, my family embarked upon an ambitious program beginning in the 1990s to build rain capture reservoirs on as many of our vineyard properties as possible. The goal is to capture water in times of plenty, so we can leave water in the streams to protect aquatic resources—including endangered fish populations—when stream flows are not plentiful. These reservoirs contribute to water quality issues as well, reducing the potential for flooding and sediment delivery into streams. Our reservoirs have made us more resilient as we faced the last four years of drought. For example, as we entered the growing season last year, most of our reservoirs were full enough to take us through another year and a half. This was due to the provisions that were captured during the 2-3 big atmospheric events during the winter.
In addition, we invest in technology for water conservation in our vineyards by using wind machines for frost protection and recycling winery process water for irrigation. We also work with Fruition Sciences, which developed technology to measure the level of sap flow activity within vines, their sensors remotely assess vine transpiration to help us determine when to irrigate. Rather than following set irrigation schedules, we let the plants tell us when they are thirsty. The result: a double benefit of allowing us to use water within our vineyards more wisely, and helping us to maintain or improve quality, since over-watered vines produce grapes with diluted flavors.
I believe that necessity is the mother of invention, so the increasingly limited water supplies we’re facing will create a climate in which water is more highly valued.
Skroupa: How has the drought affected the wine business, and what adaptive measures have JFW taken?
Jackson: In a recent study, The University of California, Davis identified that agriculture was one of the sectors that was most economically affected by the 2015 drought. In economic terms, the study indicated that the impact to agriculture, in direct and indirect costs, exceeded $2.7 billion. Given the challenges we face with regard to climate change, minus proactive measures to enhance sustainability in this sector, the health of agriculture in our state is fragile.
Although our business has been affected by the drought, in many ways we have not been as adversely afflicted as many others in the agriculture industry. In large part, this is due to the foresight my parents had dating back to the 1990s. Our early adoption of drip irrigation infrastructure in all new family vineyard plantings, and our investment in on-site reservoirs, has put us in good stead to weather changing climatic circumstances.
The ongoing drought has also created a greater sense of urgency around the importance of protecting wildlife that is dependant on water availability for survival. For example, during the summer and fall of 2015, my family collaborated with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), local landowners, and other volunteers to release water from one of our vineyard reservoirs into Green Valley Creek, a key tributary for endangered Coho salmon in the Russian River watershed. This release of 7.2 acre-feet over the course of two months increased water flows, offering a chance for survival to the over-summering juvenile Coho. In conjunction with the water release, we also donated $40,000 to Trout Unlimited for the purchase of residential tanks, which helped minimize the need for people living near the stream to draw upon it for water.
Skroupa: What does the future of water reuse hold for the wine industry?
Jackson: The drought has presented an incredible opportunity for us to double down on our investment in innovation. We took our water conservation program to a new level in 2008, the year we first baselined water usage in all of our wineries. Since then, we have reduced our water intensity (gallons of water used per gallon of wine produced) by 40%, which equates to saving 28 million gallons of water each year. This has been accomplished through a combined effort of making sure all of our winery employees understand the importance of saving water, and investing in technologies that reuse and conserve water.
Going forward, we have set a new goal to further reduce our water intensity 33% by 2021, essentially attempting to get to a water intensity metric of around 3 gallons of water to produce a gallon of wine. The current wine industry standard is between 6-9 gallons of water per gallon of wine. Some examples of water conservation and reuse technologies we have employed to that end include:
- Barrel and Tank Wash Water Recycling – JFW was the first winery to reuse barrel wash water (and the embodied energy needed to heat it) three times, saving about 700K gallons of water per year at our winery in Monterey, CA. The technology works by passing clean water from right to left through two sumps on our automated barrel line, while the barrels move from left to right, so on the third pass the cleanest barrels are hit with the first water rinse. This technology received Top Project of the Year honors from Environmental Leader in 2015. We also developed a water recycling system for our stainless cellars that reuses pH balanced cleaning solution for consecutive tank washes, saving about 150 gallons of water per tank wash in the process. Using this method, we are able to reuse water for tank washes more than 10 times.
- Recycling Water in our Cooling Towers – We installed smart controllers on our cooling towers that adjust their cycles of concentration, enabling our systems to reuse water up to 6 times per cycle. This will save us nearly 5 million gallons of water per year. This is our lowest-hanging fruit for water conservation because it requires very little upfront cost to implement, and the savings are tremendous.
- Rainwater Harvesting – We are leveraging existing fermentation tank infrastructure to capture up to 1.6 million gallons per year at our winery in Carneros, CA. Rainwater is captured on roofs, diverted through downspouts and piping, and then used to supply our cooling towers and offset our well water usage. Rainwater works very well for this purpose because it also provides improved water quality and reduces scaling. Using a rainwater capture system provides a great opportunity for site specific water reuse. It enables us to use empty fermentation tanks to capture water during the winter, which we reuse throughout the spring and summer months.
- Waterless Tank Sanitation – We were the first winery to trial and commercialize a system developed by BlueMorp, a waterless, chemical free, tank sterilization system, that utilizes UV light instead of water for tank sanitation. This technology saved 250K gallons of water per year with each unit deployed. The UV light inserts into the bottom door of a tank and is pre-programmed for duration and light intensity depending upon the size of tank. We have been working with BlueMorph for almost 3 years to scale up its technology for use in wine tanks.
Skroupa: How do wine industry sustainability certifications like Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) support innovation in water conservation, renewable energy development, and social equity?
Jackson: Increasingly, companies are turning to third-party certifications to validate and verify their sustainability claims; the wine community is no different. Consumers can be assured that certified companies are following best practices in sustainability and creating products and services that meet rigorous demands. We chose to certify with the CCSW, Sustainability in Practice (SIP), and LIVE programs because all three focus on enhancing wine quality in concert with enhancing sustainable practices in the winery and the vineyards. Each program establishes clear guidelines for superior practices in viticulture and enology sustainability (the science, production and study of grapes and wine), including water and energy use, pest management, and employee safety. Our involvement in these programs affirms our commitment to these practices as well as continuous improvement, measurement, and innovation.
We have extended beyond the boundaries of our own vineyards and wineries to our neighbors. This has been the next step for us. To help others move toward the sustainable model, in the last two years my family implemented a program to pay a premium for all of our third party, sustainable certified grower grapes. We are proud to say that nearly 50% of our grower grapes and 100% of our estate owned grapes, achieve that standard. On the social equity side, my family made a commitment, prior to the recent changes in minimum wage in CA, to pay all of our non-commissioned employees $15.00 an hour, considered a living wage in regions where we do business.
Christopher P. Skroupa is the founder and CEO of Skytop Strategies, a global organizer of conferences.