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Water into Wine - Ancient Egyptian Solutions to Puglia's Water Problem

■ 3 October 2010 by James Martin

They’re building a winery over at Tenuta del Barco that will produce around 800,000 bottles of fine Pugliese wine when it’s all up and running to capacity.

Puglia, you must understand, is a place in southern Italy where water is precious. You need a lot of water to make wine the modern, hygienic way, especially in the four months around harvest time—which is now. Add to these facts the restrictions set by law in Puglia; you can’t just start a winery and hook into the water supply and pump in as much as you want until the folks on the other side of town cry “uncle.” Industries like large scale wineries are forced to seek a real, long term solution.

What do you do? You can have enormous amounts of water delivered by trucks—which you’d still need to store—or, better yet, when you build your winery, you can collect the water off the rooftop and from the surface of the parking lot, then build cisterns to store it, like the Romans did. After some processing, you can use the collected water to clean the barrels, tanks and floors of the winery. The later solution is cheaper in the long run.

But what if you build some huge cisterns and it’s still not enough water to keep your winery operation going during the peak periods?

The answer is in the picture below. It is, in fact, an ancient Egyptian solution.

tenuta al barco water filtration papyrus

Stumped? Picture look like a weedy plot with sewer pipe sticking from it? Ah, you’ve missed the point.

It’s a water purification system that uses papyrus to clean the water. It allows the winery to re-use the water they’ve used for cleaning the tanks and the floors.

How does it work? Well, they’ve dug a big hole, lined it with industrial plastic sheeting, filled it with volcanic rock from Vesuvius to help filter the particulates, then added just enough soil to support the Papyrus plants you see on top. They pump in used water, it gets filtered, and the papyrus—well known even in antiquity for its ability to remove or transform all kinds if organic and inorganic contamination such like ammonium, nitrites, nitrates, and phosphates—does the rest of the purification. At the end of the chain is an inspection point where officials can take a test sample to determine adequate purity. After a positive result, the water is ready to be pumped back into the winery.

And those orange pipes? Well, each one is a sort of reverse periscope, allowing the crew to look below to see if there’s enough water in the system to keep the papyrus healthy enough for another round of processing.

Pure genius, eh? A solution driven by regulation which protects the public water supply while encouraging industries to solve the water resource problem through research they can afford to undertake. As I read about the wineries near my home in Lake County California emptying the wells of local residents during the harvest, then thumbing their collective noses at the people they’ve left high and very dry, I wonder why we Americans insist on letting corporations steal the basic elements of life as if they had the right to do so. And what’s to like about our idiotic, collective insistence that innovation is driven by a lack of restrictions or regulation; it’s not, real innovation is driven by identifying problems to solve in such a way as to make life better for all. What’s stopping us from wanting to live a better life?

(The Tenuta del Barco is a fabulous place to stay, a Masseria near the coast with its own private beach. The weather in September and October is nearly ideal, and this is grape harvest time. To find out more or to book a stay, see: Tenuta del Barco)

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Water into Wine - Ancient Egyptian Solutions to Puglia's Water Problem originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Oct 03, 2010, © James Martin.

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