Steamericas, Inc. Reports Spike in Steamer Sales in Wine Sector as California Drought is Increasing Costs for Wine Producers

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As the effects of the drought begin to take a turn for the worse for vineyards, the efficiency and resourcefulness of vapor steam is generating increasing buzz among California winemakers.

According to a recent CNBC report - “California drought and wine: Cheaper products hit hardest,” the drought is pushing up costs for wine producers in California. To keep prices attractive, winemakers have cut costs or faced losing their customers to foreign wines or craft beers. In the first two quarters after the California issued a State of Emergency due to its severe drought, thirstier crops have withered and hardy grapevines have continued to thrive. However, experts like Keith Wallace, founder at the Wine School of Philadelphia, says “a tipping point” might be coming.

Anita Balakrishnan, Special to CNBC, stated in April that it has become obvious that “while grapes are rather drought-tolerant crops, they aren't invincible.” Keith Wallace continued to say that even deep-rooted older vines will stop producing fruit altogether when put under this type stress. While these older vines can travel 100 feet beneath topsoil for water, without rain to wash away soil, salt can accumulate and poison the plants.

The California drought is now leaving some vineyards with a fraction of their usual water allotment. “State Water Project allocations hover around 20 percent of normal, while the San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts are delivering no more than 30-35 percent of normal supplies,” according to Jay Lund, professor for the University of California-Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

One alternative for wineries to combat water scarcity has been to conserve water on other fronts. Wineries, one by one, are straying from cleaning out their barrels with an abundance of hot water and chemicals. According to Steamericas, Inc., an eco-friendly cleaning and sanitation company in Los Angeles, sales in the wine industry have increased over 50% in the last 2 months. Despite using more than 6 gallons of water to wash a single barrel, most wine businesses are dissatisfied with the results and the cost of the process. Bottlers and winemakers now have a new solution to cleaning out barrels that is sufficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly—steam. And according to Ebony Young, Account Manager at Steamericas, “steam has been and will continue to be an excellent and efficient way to clean-- it’s just a matter of refining a product that can deliver that steam the right way for the right application.”

Steam machines, like the Optima Steamer, produce pressurized superheated dry vapor-steam which has proven to be a versatile agent in cleaning barrels. Through a steam barrel wand, dry-vapor steam can descale old wine residue from the entire barrel just like other chemical cleaners and oxidizers. However, it is also capable of penetrating the pores of wooden surfaces with the sanitizing power to eliminate lingering microorganisms inside like Brettanomyces, Zygosaccharomyces, Pediococcus and tartrates. This extends the life of the barrel, allowing winemakers to reuse it without compromising toasting.

According to a study by In Vivo, steam has proven to be “Effective against all juice and wine microorganisms” and “effective at eliminating all spoilage yeast.” (Practical Winery & Vineyard 61) The study highlights the benefits of steam, stating that unlike other barrel-cleaning methods, steam alone is sufficient and requires no aid from toxic chemical materials (i.e. Sulfur dioxide, Peroxyacetic acid, chlorine dioxide). Unlike chemical cleaners, steam leaves behind no harmful residue that can affect the wine since it’s simply water-vapor doing all the work.

One of the more commonly used cleaning methods, ozone, has developed a number of detractors due to its potentially damaging effects on barrels and safety concerns. According to an article titled “Ozone in Wineries” in Wines and Vines, ozone in excess reduces the lifespan of the barrel and damages the rubber compounds and gaskets within the barrel. In addition, ozone does not clean as deeply as vapor steam, failing to penetrate and sanitize past the surface of the oak. And while it is capable of eliminating Brett and other microbes, ozone’s usefulness is negated if it alters or eliminates the oak essence of the barrel.

Making matters more difficult, exposure to high concentration of ozone gas can harm winery workers, causing a range of health concerns from eye irritations to serious lung diseases. The Occupational and Safety Health Administration has set exposure limits on ozone in the workplace, listing health factors that correspond with the amount of ozone gas by parts per million (i.e. 0.4 ppm of ozone for 2 hours reduces lung function).

Punchdown Cellars’ Robert Morris told Wine Business Monthly, “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.”

Winemakers have seen positive results from utilizing steam to clean their barrels, citing decreased downtime and sharp reduction in wastewater. Moreover, they have been pleased with steam’s ability to eliminate the microorganisms. Sonoma Wine Company’s Durs Koenig saw the major impact this cleaning process has made on his business.

“In the past we were using 1000 gallons of water a day just to clean our bottling line, and that has dropped down to just 15 gallons,” Koenig told Wine Business Monthly. “Although steam is pushed out at slightly above 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the accompanying pressurization causes the temperature to jack up a bit. It is hard for any organism to survive that.”

Arron Bell of Domaine Drouhin owns an Optima Steamer and has been pleased with its overall efficiency.

“It is electric, it uses very little water, it gets higher temp, [and] it’s faster [in comparison to hot pressure washing and chemical-based cleaning methods]… I haven’t found a single thing that’s not a positive.”

Kevin Johnson of 12th & Maple Wine also mentioned the amount of time and water saved when cleaning with his Optima Steamer.

“With steam we’re able to sanitize in about half the time as hot water and we figured we’re using about 30 gallons over the half hour. So, water usage goes considerably down [as well]."

As the drought refuses to slow, California vineyards will soon notice the effects and experience measurable reductions in productions. To help conserve water wherever possible many wineries are turning to steam for the cleaning side of their operations. With emerging evidence that vapor steam is the most effective agent to clean wine barrels, other methods reveal themselves to be more harmful and wasteful than necessary. The efficiency and resourcefulness of vapor steam is generating increasing demand for steam cleaners like the Optima Steamer in the barrel cleaning market. As California winemakers continue to deal with adverse effects of the drought and water consumption via traditional cleaning methods, steam sanitation is rising as the most viable option for their facility.

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Clayton Ryan
Steamericas, Inc.
+1 (310) 327-8900 Ext: 1007
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