Control The Aging Process and Reduce Topping Losses
Located in California’s Napa Valley, Cakebread Cellars produced its first cases of Chardonnay in 1973. Four decades later, the winery still produces Chardonnay, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Rubaiyat, Syrah and Zinfadel and ranked number one in Wine and Spirits magazine’s 23rd annual restaurant poll.
“I spend a lot of time making sure our vineyards are perfect, not only our own but also those of our growers,” said Vineyard President & COO. “I want to get the best potential quality out of each type, obtaining a uniform, optimum maturity.”
That attention to detail extends through every part of the production process, including carefully controlling the aging room environment.
“What we are trying to do for our barrel storage rooms is to replicate the environment of a cave, including the humidity, temperature and air movement, but on a controlled basis.” Said Cakebread President & COO
Maintaining correct humidity in the barrel storage rooms is critical. When too dry, the full barrels require excessive topping off and empty barrels dry out and loosen. On some days, the humidity in Cakebread’s barrel room would drop to just 50%, well below optimum.
“We realized that we had to have better control of all the various parameters within the barrel room,” said the COO. “That way, we could keep the barrels tighter and attain far more control of losses.”
To maintain proper humidity, Cakebread decided to go with a Meefog humidification system.
“We looked at other types of humidification systems, such as the types where the water hits the fan and then tries to blow it to the other side of the room,” Said the COO. “But with this system we gained greater humidification uniformity throughout the building.”
Since the water to be used for humidification came from Cakebread’s own well, Mee Industries performed a thorough water analysis before designing and installing the system. Based on the test results, the system included a reverse osmosis (RO) system to achieve the desired water quality. Normally some calcium is added to the water to soften it after passing it through an RO system, but Cakebread did not want anything but pure water being added to the air, so the softener was skipped. As a result, due to the corrosive nature of pure water, PVC rather than the usual steel piping was used until entering the barrel aging room where stainless steel was used. In addition, since the winery conducts public tours and tastings, the humidification system had to be hidden from view.
“The aesthetics of the whole barrel room are very important to us so we routed the pipes above the air ducts,” said the COO. “We didn’t want the humidification system to be the first thing people notice when they visit.”
Better Control Leads to Lower Losses
The final design consisted of high pressure pump units to deliver 1000 psi purified water to swirl jet nozzles (.006″ orifice) spaced every ten to twenty feet. Each nozzle produces about one gallon of fog per hour. After the first Meefog system was in place, the winery built a second 20,000 foot barrel room so it could separately age its red and white wines. Each room has its own Moon Valley control unit and Meefog system to maintain the optimum environment for each type of wine.
In addition to the humidity control, the system benefits the bottom line by cutting topping losses by 20%. With Cakebread vintages selling for upwards of $100 per bottle, the savings add up quickly.