Parducci Wine Cellars: Beyond Organic and Biodynamic

14 Jul, 2013

Northern California’s Parducci Wine Cellars has been fully certified organic and biodynamic for nearly 10 years, guaranteeing the highest possible purity and quality of the fruit that becomes wine. But as it turns out—and as partner and Parducci chief operating officer Tim Thornhill will tell anyone who asks—this is only a chapter in a much larger and truly remarkable story.

“These practices are the foundation of our processes, but I would also tell you that organic and biodynamic are simply chapters in the book,” Thornhill told Organic Connections. “The book is much larger, because organic doesn’t have anything to do with how I take care of my employees, which are my number one asset, and biodynamic doesn’t have anything to do with recycling water or reducing my electrical consumption.”

Indeed it is the story of Thornhill’s transformation of the vineyard and winery to dovetail with nature itself that fully illustrates the entirely holistic aspect of his operation.

Wastewater Pond Becomes Thriving Natural Habitat

Conversion of the vineyard to biodynamic and organic principles was Thornhill’s first task on coming aboard—a conversion he says was relatively easy. With that done, though, he turned his attention to the more difficult issue of the unsightly wastewater pond. “When I first got here, I found a pond that I’m sure was legal but it sure wasn’t moral,” he related. “That was the wastewater pond, and all wineries have them.”

Thornhill brought in consultants to look over the problem. The first four all said the same thing—that he would need to dig another pond. This would require the installation of four 10-horsepower agitator motors, and they warned him it would be pretty smelly. Thornhill didn’t buy it. “I knew that nobody was being truly creative until I got to the fifth consultant,” he continued. “At that point I threw a photograph on the table of a 10 hp agitator turned on in the pond, and I asked him, ‘Is this what you’re going to recommend to me?’ He replied, ‘Not necessarily. There are probably all kinds of options. We have to look at your property, your topography—all kinds of things.’ I said, ‘Great.’”

Debris Removal: The process began in the winery itself, the place at which wastewater originates. “You start with a broom and a dustpan instead of a one-inch hose,” Thornhill said. “You clean the debris off the floor instead of washing it down the drain. That debris goes into the compost pile, so you get it out of the waste stream.”

Finer Measurements: Having done that, Thornhill set out to measure the water being utilized. He had to institute a series of measures of water consumption, which he developed himself. “We had one water meter measuring the entire facility,” he said. “I broke that into 27 separate meters. I located an expensive leak and then a valve that was malfunctioning. Without these individual meters I would not have been able to find those.

“I then walked into the barrel room where the man in charge has been for 28 years. He pointed out I had put a meter in his space, and asked, ‘You’re going to measure how much water I’m wasting, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘No, I’m going to measure how much water you’re saving.’ He was being measured for something positive, and now there are 27 people competing to see who can use the least amount of water. We reduced the amount of water that was going to what is now the reclamation pond by 20 percent in a single year. That was much less water I had to clean up.”

Further Cleansing of the Water: Thornhill had already begun sweeping the winery to reduce debris that was going into the water. He channeled what wastewater remained into two large settling tanks, and from there into four successive towers. “The water cascades across this structure of four towers,” he explained. “As it does, it creates a film that looks kind of like algae but is really called filamentous fungi. Filamentous fungi are removing the wine from the water; so as it’s on its way down to the recycling pond I am removing the sugar, the purple wine. When the water gets to the pond it’s already been cleaned quite a bit.”

Reoxygenation: It was only then that Thornhill confronted the actual pond itself. “For the pond, the next thing I have to do is put air back in the water, because the process created through the four towers has taken the oxygen out of the water. Anaerobic water is not good for microbial life and is not good for fish. Putting the oxygen back in the water is where those four 10 hp motors came in—they would basically splash and pound air back into the water. With the help of another engineer, we figured out that I could take one single 5 hp motor and a pump and simply lift the water from the bottom of the pond, bring it up about 12 feet, put it into a pipe that goes around the pond, and let it back out in four different built waterfalls. With the waterfalls, I’m mimicking what goes on in the Rocky Mountains—the most oxygenated water in the United States.”

Natural Integration

“Part of the water that is brought up from the bottom of the pond also goes into a constructed wetland,” Thornhill said. “I call it the living green-dialysis machine—this wetland is a living filter just like the Everglades, which is the largest water filter in the United States. The water passes through this wetland very slowly, comes out the other end and goes back into the pond. This wetland filter consists of plants that consume excess nutrients and also help put oxygen back into the water.”

The result is an entire revitalization of nature. “What used to be a purple stinky dead pond is now pretty much a bird sanctuary,” Thornhill reported proudly. “I have black-crowned night herons, white egrets, green herons, blue herons, geese, wood ducks and a whole lot more. There are also many other kinds of wildlife—otters and muskrats show up, and there are tons of turtles, frogs and fish.”

Thornhill has seen to this kind of harmony elsewhere in his operation as well. Rodents are balanced out by placing owl nesting boxes throughout the property to introduce natural predators. Regularly positioned “insect rows” afford sanctuary for some 3,000 varieties of insects, which provide for control of any that would be harmful.

Leave It Better Than You Find It

One might wonder where Thornhill got the drive it took to pull all this off. It’s quite simple: it was instilled in him as a child. “I was raised with the philosophy of ‘Leave it better than you find it,’ he concluded. “It always feels better. I remember when I was five or six years old and we went camping, the first thing we did when we got there was clean the place up.”

This method of operation has certainly carried forward—in the biggest way possible—to Parducci Wine Cellars.

For more information, please visit www.parducci.com.

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