Juicing up Wine Country: Grafton Electric Mixes Art and Science in Napa Valley

Photo Credit: Grafton Electric

Napa Valley is world-famous for its vineyards, fine wines, tasting rooms and restaurants for those who seek a distinct experience. Such companies have a unique set of requirements for electrical installations, especially boutique wineries focused on aesthetics and offering the latest features to attract wine enthusiasts.

Grafton Electric, based in Napa, Calif., predominantly serves this market in the Napa Valley. The company was founded by brothers, Patrick and Mike Grafton, who first began working with Rudd Oakville Estate at its 500 Oakville Cross Road property in 1997 as part of Napa Electric.

“My brother and I have been [at Rudd] ever since,” said Patrick Grafton, company president. Mike Grafton is vice president.

The two founded Grafton Electric in 2014 with about 90 percent of the company revenue coming from wineries. In most cases, the company signs its contracts directly with customers rather than through general contractors.

The EC must meet the needs of a highly demanding industry. Each site needs to cater to a specific look and feel as well as the functionality of wine-making operations and lighting.

Typically, Grafton Electric provides everything from data cabling to upgrade projects, as well as troubleshooting and providing on-site service for seasonal harvest equipment.

When it came to the Rudd Winery and Vineyards, the Oakville site needed a full, main winery building remodel in 2016. Grafton Electric took the work, teaming up with lead architect Howard Backen.

From the catwalk, individuals have access to touchscreens, while "the brains and muscle" of the control system are hidden in plinths beneath the tanks. Phot credit: Grafton Electric
From the catwalk, individuals have access to touchscreens, while "the brains and muscle" of the control system are hidden in plinths beneath the tanks. Photo credit: Grafton Electric

“To help create the vision of [wine entrepreneur] Leslie Rudd and the experience that he desired for his visitors, we needed to start deep below ground,” Grafton said.

That’s where the wine is made, but the winery is not just an industrial site. It’s an attraction for wine enthusiasts to tour the fermentation rooms as well as the winery’s “equipment vault.”

The system consists of low-voltage cable for power, controls, communication, heating, cooling and water management. All of this equipment installed underground to serve fermentation rooms.

Two tank rooms are located there, with one dedicated to a stainless-steel tank and another for the concrete tanks. In both cases, the intention is to provide reliable service without detracting from the romantic atmosphere. In fact, the fermentation room tank areas are noticeably void of any kind of control systems other than five touchscreen displays.

To maintain the environment’s integrity, Grafton installed a low-voltage system and controls that are entirely hidden from view, situated under each of the tanks. All tanks are mounted on plinths and, in that way, hide the “brains and muscle” of the mechanical and electrical systems.

The equipment vault includes air compression, hot and chilled water, pumps and drives for fermentation room operation. Photo Credit: Grafton Electric
The equipment vault includes air compression, hot and chilled water, pumps and drives for fermentation room operation. Photo Credit: Grafton Electric

Under each tank, Grafton Electric installed a two-horsepower (hp) 480-volt (V) “pump-over” pump as well as a Meltric brand disconnect switch. The system requires solenoid valves to manage the movement of air and gas into and out of the system. Belimo variable control valves were installed for mixing hot and cold glycol to control the temperature of the wine during fermentation at each tank. Three RTD temperature sensors per tank are used for lower, middle and upper temperature sensing. Those RTDs also monitor incoming and outgoing hot and cold glycol temperatures. Motor VFDs are in a flush stainless-steel enclosure behind each six-tank plinth. A 4-inch stainless-steel cable tray supports the entire system’s cabling.

The system’s louvered stainless-steel panels enable ECs to access the variable control valves if needed.

The TankNet controls and touchscreens are above the catwalk over the tanks. These controls, as well as the touchscreens and pump VFDs, are housed in flush, stainless-steel enclosures.

Because the systems are hidden from view, the installation gives visitors a false sense of simplicity regarding the wine-making process.

“I believe that is the intent of the designers. This adds a bit of mystery to the story,” Grafton said.

Altogether, Grafton Electric ran about 28,000 feet of cable for relatively tight quarters of the fermentation rooms, along with 3,800 feet of Belden braided-shield multiconductor VFD cable for the pumps.

Grafton installed a Lutron 4500 Series lighting control system to provide remote management of the lighting from the electrical room. The system comes with GP panels, GRX 24 zone control units, PHPM LED interfaces and 0–10V modules.

Remote control stations are mounted at each entry point and programmed for different lighting level scenes. The lighting needs to be aesthetically pleasing for the customers as well as functional for those working on the wine-making operations. Altogether, Grafton Electric installed 192 light fixtures by Vision3, B-K Lighting, Gotham Lighting, No. 8 Lighting and Aion LED. The EC also installed architectural lighting in the winery’s exterior to showcase the building itself.

Since the system was completed in 2016, after two years of remodel and installation, Grafton has had a daily presence on the site as well as at Rudd Winery’s other locations around Napa Valley.

A project like this includes all the challenges any electrical system might face, Grafton said. That includes management of potential water intrusion and preventing corrosion to the electrical system. In any winery, he added, hiding the raceways and equipment as well as working without interrupting the winery functions require special care. However, other aspects make this kind of work unusual as well.

“I think the most difficult aspect of a project like this is the design-build nature,” he said.

When it comes to winery projects, he added that many might be more aptly named “build-design.” The nature of these boutique sites with the flow of wine lovers through their properties means, in many cases, they each have an individual style, that needs to change often and fast. Often, major design decisions are made after the project is as much as 80 percent complete.

“It sometimes seems as if we are building it backwards,” Grafton said. “[But] we need to make it work.”

That means being able to address potential changes. Plans include a future installation of a fountain and an outdoor kitchen to feed 50.

Napa Valley presents some other challenges that can be just as specialized, Grafton said. One non-winery client is Barrick Mining. The company operates the McLaughlin Gold Mine that produced some 3.4 million ounces of gold from 1985–2002. Today, the company is embarking on a remediation and reclamation phase. Grafton’s role is doing the wiring and maintenance for this facility.

“Primarily, we work on the pumps and sprays that take all of the watershed from the 7,000-acre property and beyond and pump it to three lakes,” Grafton said.

Another operation is needed for use at the lakeside as well. Grafton has powered dozens of 25-hp sprays (more typically used for snowmaking machines) to evaporate the water.

The winery project, like most, has proven to require a mix of art and science for Grafton.

“Over two decades of working with these clients and designers, we try to anticipate what could possibly be dreamed up in the future and have contingencies in place,” he said.

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