Deep Cleaners That Save Water
Steam Generators: Deep Cleaners That Save Water
How steam generators enhance productivity and give barrels longer lives
by Michael S. Lasky
Apr 2015 Issue of Wine Business Monthly
For cleaning barrels, bottling lines, tanks and even winery floors, wineries are rapidly moving to versatile steam generators. As they vastly cut water and energy usage while eliminating contamination, wineries report these affordable machines are worth the investment.
“Based on our experience, I would say a steam generator is one of the best investments a winery can make. It doesn’t wear on parts. It doesn’t chew up gaskets. It has saved us thousands of gallons of water, and maintenance is easy,” said Durs Koenig, operations manager at Sonoma Wine Company, a full-service crush-to-bottle contract winery.
As more and more wineries have seen the wide benefits of using steam generators, WBM checked in with a number of winemakers to find out how they are operating this machinery to enhance productivity and the bottom line. If anything, the Sonoma Wine Company’s entrenched use of steam generators is a textbook example that matched how other winemakers value this equipment.
Steam Proves Versatile in a Winery
There are two types of steam. Wet steam is the type you see when looking at a pot of boiling water. Dry saturated steam is when 98 percent of the total water droplets have been fully converted into a gas. It is this dry steam that steam generators produce and represents the most efficient, water-saving form of transferable heat.
At Santa Rosa, California-based Punchdown Cellars, formerly known as Copain Custom Crush, steam generators are used to clean barrels, floors and drains. Robert Morris, president of the winemaking services and logistics provider to boutique wineries and independent vintners, said barrels are cleaned on a bimonthly basis.
“Each barrel takes about five minutes to clean. We fill the generator up once and unhook the water hose so it can then be used on other jobs. If we notice a rare bacterial contamination, we will steam for 10 minutes,” Morris explained.
“The generators are simple to use, and another convenient feature is no protective clothing is required. The machines have great insulated handles and steam wands that we use to steam the floors. While steam generators can be used for cleaning bottling lines, Punchdown Cellars uses Select Mobile Bottlers, which come already equipped with their own steam generators,” Morris said.
“In addition to eliminating all the water issues, we are assured a complete kill rate from the membrane filter housings all the way to the fill spouts,” said Derek Palm, owner of Select Mobile Bottlers, in an article on steam in WBM back in 2007. “And a big plus,” he added, “since we are getting to a high temperature faster, that results in bottling sooner.”
All winemakers interviewed were quick to point out the palpable water savings that steam generators afford. “In the past we were using 1,000 gallons of water a day just to clean our bottling line, and that has dropped down to just 15 gallons,” noted Sonoma Wine Company’s Koenig.
“Although steam is pushed out at slightly above 212° F, the accompanying pressurization causes the temperature to jack up a bit. It is hard for any organism to survive that. The trick, we have found, is the right amount of contact time. Accordingly, steam is more effective than using chemicals to clean. Occasionally, biofilms that develop will prevent the chemical from contacting the contaminants as microbes hide behind other cells,” Koenig added.
Winemaker-to-Winemaker Purchasing Advice
According to Matt Crafton, winemaker at Chateau Montelena Winery in Calistoga, “While the generators are extremely easy to use, they are limited by the power you have available.” He advises wineries that are considering steam to clean barrels and bottling lines to “Think about your power throughput, think about how many barrels you are going to wash in a day. Because each barrel takes a certain amount of time, budget that time in so that process is not a weak link in a chain of other tasks that need to be attended to.
“I have had a few friends who purchased a small steam generator and had to come back and buy a larger one because the more limited output of the smaller units slowed them down. So I would say the size of the generator is as important as the power to run them. Be aware of the amperage your winery can handle—460 to 480 volts with a panel with high amps is the sweet spot,” said Crafton.
At Napa-based Bouchaine Vineyards, associate winemaker Andrew Brooks said that while the winery mainly uses steam to clean the bottling line, filler and membrane filters, they have found steam has an undocumented benefit for treating barrels. “We have found that steam is useful to swell a barrel that hasn’t been properly stored—a barrel that has sat around and hasn’t been well-humidified. Steam does a great job of returning the swell.”
Depending on the logistics, power capabilities and layout of a winery, there are two types of generators to consider. Certainly the most flexible are the units that are on wheels and have the mobility to move to where they are needed next. But for those wineries with limited power supply, steam generators can be hard-wired to one location.
“We don’t steam-clean the barrels all the time for logistical reasons only,” Brooks said. “We got a relatively larger steam generator mainly for our bottling line. It draws a lot of power, especially on start-up, and there is just one place in the cellar where we did wiring to accommodate it. It does have a 50-foot cord, but it doesn’t reach all over the winery or into the barrel room. With its two steam wands we can steam two barrels at a time when we want. The unit is hooked up to a hose so there is a constant fill. It is constantly on but does have a standby mode to save power.”
Steam Renews and Lengthens Barrel Life
“By adjusting the time when the steam is on the wood between three to eight minutes, you can control the amount of extraction on the barrel,” advised Mark Grote, regional sales manager at ARS Enterprises. “I have gotten repeated unsolicited comments from wineries that if they steam a barrel from its first use, they actually get more life out of the barrel. They found that the oaking of the barrel is more consistent and predictable.”
Winemakers were uniform in describing how they found that tartrates and Brettanomyces and Pediococcus can be radically reduced or eliminated and that old wine can be quickly extracted from the oak, actually reducing the weight of the barrel. In many cases winemakers say they have dramatically reduced or even eliminated the use of chemicals as a result.
“On the bottling line with its vertical architecture, water cleaning creates a bubble near the top, and that’s where the contamination builds. Steam cleaning gets a more enveloping action and kills contamination that water or ozone cleaning does not always get,” said Grote.
Punchdown Cellars’ Morris said, in his experience, steam generators have proven to be more effective and safer than ozone generators. “We won’t use ozone inside the cellar anymore. The possible health effects on our workers are not worth using ozone, especially with a steam generator on-site,” said Morris.
No matter which steam generator a winery winds up acquiring, suppliers will come on-site when a purchased unit is delivered to provide initial training to winery staff. After that, training for new employees can easily be conducted by experienced staffers. Depending on the model you purchase, the initial cost is comparatively inexpensive—about $4,000 to $7,000. For more information, check the respective company websites. WBM