Jackson Family Wines, the largest wine company in Sonoma County, is moving ahead with an innovative $1 million pilot project to significantly cut down the water it uses at its Kendall-Jackson production facility north of Santa Rosa.
The technology, which holds the promise of being employed widely in the wine industry, would enable the company to reuse its rinse water up to 10 times, thereby reducing the potable water used when barrels, tanks and bottling lines are washed.
Academics who have been monitoring early versions of the filtration system say it could be applied not only in the wine industry, but for dairies and olive producers, among others.
"Yes it's in the forefront, cutting-edge," said Roger Boulton, chairman of the viticulture and enology department at UC Davis.
"If it shows to be promising, you will find people adopting it," he said.
The recycling process uses vibrating membranes to separate wine material and other particles from the water, removing 99 percent of impurities, said Katie Jackson, a family representative who leads the company's sustainability programs.
"It's very revolutionary for the wine industry," she said. "It has a lot of potential to change the way we use water in winemaking facilities."
It also can reduce energy use and cost because the recycled water retains much of its heat.
Healdsburg officials were enthusiastic enough about the new system that they agreed last week to partner with Jackson Family Wines in applying for a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation to help fund the pilot project.
It would be located at the main Kendall-Jackson production facility on Kittyhawk Boulevard, near the Sonoma County airport.
The wine company needed the backing of a utility to apply for the money and approached Healdsburg, which runs the only municipal-owned electric department in the county.
Carolyn Wasem, Jackson Family's lobbyist, contacted Councilman Gary Plass who brought the proposal to his fellow council members.
During his re-election campaign last year, Plass received some of his largest donations from members of the Jackson family. They included $450 from Barbara Banke, widow of company founder Jess Jackson, and $450 apiece from their children Katy and Julia Banke Jackson.
Plass said there was no quid pro quo, or trade-off between the Jackson family's campaign contributions and his willingness to help facilitate a grant. He said the water filtration project isn't something that will benefit only the Jackson family.
"I supported it because potentially it's a huge benefit for everybody -- Healdsburg, the county and the United States," he said.
"Obviously I got to know the Jackson family because they've been such a big part of the community since they moved in," he said.
Jackson Family, which produces about 5 million cases at multiple facilities, owns more than 30 wineries, including two dozen in California. Its flagship brand is the $15 Vintners Reserve chardonnay. It also has trophy Napa cabernet brands such as Cardinale and Lokoya that cost upwards of $200 per bottle.
There are three Jackson Family-owned tasting rooms in Healdsburg: Kendall-Jackson, La Crema and Murphy-Goode.
Councilman Plass said the potential water savings could be applied at other wineries in Healdsburg.
The pilot project, which is being developed in conjunction with Kantharos Process Water Systems, would reduce by about 25 percent the water used at the Kittyhawk Boulevard facility, according to Jackson Family spokesman Jason Hunke. That means a reduction of 2 million gallons of the 8 million gallons used annually, Hunke said.