Jan. 6, 2023

Saving Water in the Desert w/ Joan Esteve, Raimat

Saving Water in the Desert w/ Joan Esteve, Raimat

How a >€5M of investment has substantially reduced water usage and made the Raimat more sustainable, leaving it a better place for future generations.

Photo by David del Val

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Building an entire ecosystem in the desert requires water at its core. With a 3,000-ha property that includes 2,000ha of vineyards, a winery, and a town to support it, Raimat, part of the Cordorniu Group, has been at the forefront of sustainability, particularly with water efficiency. Joan Esteve, General Manager, explains how >€5M of investment has substantially reduced water usage and made the property more sustainable, which in his mind, is leaving it a better place for future generations. 


Detailed Show Notes: 

Raimat overview

  • Purchased in 1914, it was a desert 150km west of Barcelona
  • Continental climate, no Mediterranean influence
  • Close to the Pyrenees, water from snow melt
  • ~3,000 ha (~7,400 acres) property
  • ~2,000 acres of vineyards, ~40% (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) goes to Cordorniu, rest for Raimat’s still wines (~12M bottles/year)
  • Had to build a town to support farming
  • Winery and town designed by a disciple of Gaudi
  • 100% organic, many sustainability certifications
  • Tons of biodiversity - e.g., releasing Turons (i.e., wild ferrets) to control the rabbit population

Sustainability definition - “leaving a better world than how we found it”

Founder of Wineries for Climate Protection in Spain - requires 5% average annual water and energy savings

Water efficiency projects:

Built ~€4M water pipe to replace the channel that supplies Raimat water

  • 1m diameter with natural pressure
  • Originally a > 50-year payback project
  • Saves 15% water (no evaporation, losses), ~2,700 MWh/year of energy / equivalent to ~1,400 tons CO2/year

Irrigation optimization

  • Developed by Cordorniu Research Institute
  • Dynamically applies water based on differences in soil, grape variety, desired wine style, and vine age
  • Saves ~10% of water
  • Spun off company Agropixel to consult other wineries on precision viticulture

Partial Root Drying

  • It uses two irrigation lines and rotates irrigation every 15-20 days
  • It makes the vine believe it’s under water stress when it’s not
  • ~40% water savings, slightly lower yields, better quality
  • Conducting on ~300ha
  • ~20-25% more expensive (mostly additional irrigation line)

Total vineyard water savings of ~30%

Cellar water optimization

  • Measured water consumption in different parts of the winery
  • Fixed leaks
  • Use tools to reduce usage (e.g., hot water vs. cold for cleaning, nozzles for hoses, UV light to disinfect tanks)

Total water efficiency investments ~€5.1M (~€4M pipe, ~€1M vineyards, ~€100k cellar)

Future efficiency - believes Raimat may need to use more water to offset the impacts of global warming

Water from the Pyrenees is not at risk as the region primarily produces corn and alfalfa, which use significantly more water than grapes (~800mm water/year vs. ~150mm for grapes)

ROI challenging for sustainability investments

  • Owners (now majority owned by The Carlyle Group) usually require < 3-Year payback on investments
  • Water pipe investment made by the family as a legacy for future generations
  • Quality was the main rationale behind water efficiency investments

Advice for the industry

  • It’s good business to be efficient
  • Agriculture is slow, needs longer payback hurdles, and can use quality improvements to justify the investment
  • The quality impact is significant; small amounts of compounds can impact the entire production


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