Whether uncorked for a special occasion, a quick pick from the store or a favorite selection mined from years of palate-pleasing research, behind every bottle of wine is a universe of wire to power-processing equipment and business operations.

Wine is a hot commodity in the beverage market, and most wineries capitalize on its unique blend of entertainment and culinary avenues to broaden its appeal. With the growth of the overall wine industry as an indicator, the opportunities for electrical contractors also are expanding.

Great American success story

Winemaking has a heritage in America, dating back to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Today, wineries are located in almost every state from small operations to high-volume national conglomerates. According to research performed for Wine Business Monthly (WBM), the number of U.S. wineries totaled 6,011 at the end of 2007. This count included approximately 4,850 bonded grape wineries and more than 1,160 “virtual” wineries (unbonded operations producing brands by management or a winemaker who consults multiple wineries).

Statistics not often heard through the mainstream grapevine illustrate that the number of wineries in the U.S. market—now considered the world’s most profitable—has grown 26 percent since WBM’s first study in 2004. The majority of wineries are still found in California’s fertile soil (2,951), followed by Washington (519), Oregon (393) and New York (252). Interestingly, of the top 20 winery states, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Iowa have triple-digit percentage growth rates.

“Wineries are generally getting bigger, more professional and they’re paying more attention to the rules of engagement with regards to safety, quality and consistency,” said Bob Wersen, president of Tassel Ridge Winery and Interpower Inc., located in central Iowa. “So, electrical systems need to be robust, relatively maintenance free and easy to operate.”

A taste of the business

While the industry maintains many of its time-honored traditions, it is constantly changing to survive and thrive. The electrical contractor’s role in the wine world is wide-ranging and driven by whether the project is part of an existing or new facility. In an existing winery, contractors perform upgrades to accommodate increases in production, typically with additional power distribution for greater crush pad capacity. With new construction, contractors generally coordinate installations for the following:

• Processing

• Administration

• Tasting rooms/retail

• Entertainment venues

• Computer networks

• Water/wastewater treatment

• Switchgear

• UPS systems and power conditioners

• Backup power

Industry experts contend scale is the only real difference between a low-volume winery and a larger operation. Small wineries have fewer tanks, less barrel storage, smaller electrical service and distribution, and fewer pump stations. Double the size of the winery, and you double the service and the systems.

According to Norm Vachon, project manager at Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Summit Engineering, construction teams resemble those in other industries. General contractors hire the electrical contractor. A small percentage of the smaller “boutique wineries” involves design/build methods. Because of the complexity of the systems, wineries are generally designed by a team led by an architect or an experienced winery engineer. The planning and permitting process is quite involved, Vachon said, and an experienced engineering firm can streamline the process to meet tight construction schedules.

“In our opinion, with a design team, the clients receive a better product that is high quality, safer and meets the present and future needs,” Vachon said.

The time frame for new construction or retrofits is critical because grape harvest is dictated by a rigid viticulture calendar.

“New construction documents are usually completed in late winter. Groundbreaking occurs in the spring, and the project must be complete by the fall crush,” Vachon said. “This kind of schedule is often hectic, and the contractor must consider lead times for ordering equipment and fabricating custom enclosures and pump stations.”

The power behind happy hour

First and foremost, winemakers must determine their power level based on an analysis of factors, including location, wine production estimates and future expansion plans. Savvy architects, engineers and winery owners must not underestimate equipment and service needs for tasting rooms. With intensive focus on hospitality, dedicated wiring is necessary for lighting control systems, audiovisual systems, surge-protection devices, cold storage, dishwashers, icemakers, and point-of-sale equipment at cashier stations, such as multiple phone lines, fax machines, credit/debit card terminals and Internet capabilities.

“Smaller boutique wineries, 10,000 square feet or less, require 208 volts. Motor sizes are generally 20 horsepower or less. Greater than 10,000 [square feet] and motors to 504 horsepower require 480 volts service,” Vachon said.

On-site wastewater treatment pumps may be able to feasibly operate on a separate service at a lower utility rate but are typically fed by the main power source.

Despite its rural setting, the 11,600 square-foot Tassel Ridge facility secured 800-amp, three-phase service when built in 2003 to operate its crush pad, cellar and two wastewater treatment ponds, the first to be permitted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“If only single phase is available, there are still options,” Wersen said. “You can install single-phase motors or use a frequency converter or phase changer basically as a motor-generator. Motors can run on single-phase power, and the generator can be used for three-phase power in its simplest form or in an electronic version.”

Jon Johnson of Carlsen & Associates cautions electrical contractors to be careful about rotary phase converters.

“Through rotary or electronic means, a manufactured leg of three phase doesn’t always agree with microprocessor-based equipment. Most of the pumps, destemmers and screws have variable frequency drives, and the presses have programmable logic controllers,” Johnson said.

Like any other industry, the output of highest quality and quantity of finished product is the goal of every modern winery regardless of its size, and automation has become paramount.

“There’s always a desire to minimize labor, so there is a lot going on

in medium-sized wineries to automate certain features, such as pump-overs with PLC devices, automating temperature control and volumetric information,” Johnson said.

For example, there are amounts of wired controls available for humidity system sprayer valves, night-air cooling, carbon dioxide sensors and automatic fans, fermentation tank temperature panels, filtration tanks, hoists, fermentors, augers, hoppers, and wastewater sump pump levels and pump operation.

“Some winemakers also prefer their crush equipment to be portable, and the electrical system must be designed for this flexibility,” Vachon said.

The heart of a vintner

The processing area is the heart of a vintner’s business, and it consists of the outside “crush pad,” where grapes are mechanically pressed, destemmed and crushed. It also includes the “cellar,” which contains the mixing and fermentation tanks, pumps, filtration systems, chillers, bottling equipment and temperature/humidity controlled storage.

Crush pads alone typically devote one load and outlet for each piece of equipment with additional outlets to accommodate expansion, while tank rooms can use outlets every 25 feet around the periphery.

The processing area of a good winery must be immaculate to avoid contamination, however, according to Bill Barbanica, Leviton Manufacturing industrial specialist, the wine industry is no different from any other construction site when it comes to safety for the worker.

“A continual topic is the danger that could develop due to wet locations where electrical energy is used,” Barbanica said.

Wersen said keeping the area dry and electrically hazard-free for employees seems like a challenge in an industry whose rule of thumb is using three times as much water for cleaning as the amount of wine it produces.

“Here you’ve got three-phase high-ampacity power sources and high-pressure water—A deadly combination. If water goes astray and hits an unsealed electrical outlet, the results could be catastrophic,” Wersen said.

To maintain staff safety and the integrity of the electrical system, appropriate enclosures can provide waterproofing to protect equipment that is constantly subjected to moisture, wine acidity and frequent wash downs.

Several manufacturers, including Wersen’s Interpower Corp. and Leviton Manufacturing, have developed water-tight power connections for the industry. Leviton Manufacturing’s Wetguard devices and IEC 309 pin and sleeve devices help prevent water from reaching electrical contacts. When used in combination with a mechanical interlock with a NEMA rating of 3R, 4X and 12K, the devices can prevent winery personnel from disconnecting under load. They also can prevent personnel from connecting disparate amperages or voltages, as they are color-coded by voltage and sized by amperage, and the oversized ground sleeve indicates the pole/wire/phase combination.

Interpower’s winery power connection system is based on the use of a connector system with three line-carrying conductors, plus a neutral and ground for a total of four to five contacts. In wineries wired for a three-phase delta configuration, the fifth contact is not used. Last spring, Interpower introduced a two-receptacle/one-socket stainless steel box assembly featuring two IEC 60309 pin-and- sleeve gasket-covered outlets and one hinge-covered NEMA 5-15/5-20 GFCI.

Reds, whites and green

One of the big issues in the wine industry, as elsewhere, is energy management. Several U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified wineries dot the landscape, and the green movement is growing.

“We are starting to see more occupancy sensors used not only in the administration offices, but in wine making and storage areas. The use of lighting control systems and dimmers in the hospitality areas are becoming more desirable due to public presentation,” Leviton’s Barbanica said.

Photovoltaics are now beginning to be incorporated in winery electrical plans. In 2003, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Healdsburg, Calif., installed a 766 kW system on the DC side. In 2004, to offset high energy costs, St. Francis Winery, Santa Rosa, Calif., commissioned the installation of a 457 kW photovoltaic system, which provides electricity year-round. Photovoltaics are credited with providing 75 percent of the power used in the administration building at Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland, Calif., where the company has reportedly switched to 100 percent renewable power.

Once again, the winery industry is still posting gains. Savvy contractors that have a handle on a winery’s specific electrical issues could use those gains to boost their own profits.

MCCLUNG, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa. She can be reached via e-mail at mcclung@lisco.com.