This article first appeared in the Autumn, 2021 edition of The Wine and Viticulture Journal. Published by Winetitles Media, Adelaide. https://winetitles.com.au/wvj/
By Mark O’Callaghan
Managing Director, Wine Network Consulting, Healesville, Victoria. Email: email@example.com
Picking the brains of experts in engineering and design with parallel interests in the wine industry, Mark takes a look at the various factors shaping the construction of next generation wineries.
Build your winery for the next 30 years, not what happened in the last 30”. I’ve used that line so often that it can feel a little cliché but it still resonates because of its practical utility. Although we have been making wine for about 8000 years and some things are stable, the ground is shifting beneath our feet — literally and dangerously in some cases.
With so many financial stresses testing the wine industry since the early 2000s, it is no surprise that investment has been slow compared to other fields, but that is changing. The long investment horizon for vineyards and wineries demands careful consideration of every aspect, including the economic, technological, market, political and climatic outlooks.
This piece is not a comprehensive ‘how to’ for development or ‘where to’ in predicting the future, but more of a primer on next generation winery thinking, albeit with solar energy omitted due to its extensive coverage. To explore these themes, I spoke to some very sharp minds in engineering and design, who just happen to be very attached to wine.
Thoughtful design today is as important as ever, of course, but there is more to it than clear workflow and planning for expansion. It also takes time and this is easier said than done. It is easy to criticise wineries from the last growth phase but these were often built under immense time pressures and it wasn’t the engineers’ fault that the forecasts were wrong and the winemaking methods changed.
For some insights into modern building design, I spoke to Frank Butera. A consultant with ARUP (an engineering company which builds things from airports to stadiums), Butera is also winemaker at Bass River in Gippsland.
“We like to do the holistic approach when we do buildings, so that goes to things like the orientation of the building to minimise the need for temperature control in the first place. If it is temperature-sensitive, then you look to features like making the north wall shorter, positions of the hardstand areas or overhangs, locating the refrigeration to the south and using sunlight. All of these things can make a massive difference,” Butera said.
Another focus is the use of air gaps — multi-layered systems of materials in the walls or roof.
“Don’t forget that the roof is the largest panel of the building. Air gaps can greatly reduce transfer of heat and external noise, all with much less mass of material. It can be expensive up-front but pays dividends over the long-term. We’ve had great results with this approach in designing airport terminals,” Butera added.
Other aspects that should be front-of-mind in new buildings are integrated Wi-Fi and other broadband infrastructure, plus passive airflow and other systems that use ambient air to cool the internal spaces. When it comes to future uses of buildings, flexibility and expansion plans are glossed over too often.
Conceptually, these things are straightforward but the design and execution is trickier. As much as many winemakers like to think they know a great deal about many things, it is best to bring in specialists to get it right. In Butera’s view: “It’s the sort of thing that architects and engineers will touch on at university in a small module but some will specialise in what we call ‘building physics’. They work with materials, airflow, heat transfer and the fine detail of solar panels. If we’re talking buildings of the future, an ESD (environmentally sustainable design) consultant has to be at the table with the architect and the client from day one.”
Some estimates are that the global wine industry loses US$10 billion annually to extreme weather and natural disasters¹.
Even over the last 10 years we have seen heartbreaking devastation from bushfire and earthquake across many wine regions and we all know it is only a matter of when, not if, these things happen again. For his take, I spoke to Jordan Bartlett from Proactive Design, a facility resilience consultant who integrates business continuity with building code requirements and actual outcomes and happens to be the husband of Sandrine Gimon — a colleague of mine at Wine Network.
With spectacular footage of wineries burnt out or collapsed tanks and barrels from earthquakes in the news, it is easy to forget that the impact of disasters can still be acute even if the building survives. During large fires, services such as electricity and roads can be the first to be lost and sites can be totally isolated.
“It is the recovery time that kills most businesses. In the planning for disasters like fire or flood, you need to be able to operate in what’s called ‘island mode’,” Bartlett said. “It’s pretty self-explanatory but businesses should identify the ‘must haves’, the maximum allowable outages and the service levels required. When the power is out, sure, you can use the chain for the roller doors, but if there’s no light, water or flushing toilets, the buildings can be uninhabitable and fruit quality can collapse.”
It is also the case that in some areas, deliberate outages are increasingly common as power companies are literally turning off supply during heatwaves and wind to reduce the risk of starting bushfires.
The situation is similar following earthquakes.
“The buildings might not collapse but the non-structural elements like plumbing and fire walls can be written-off,” Bartlett continued. “When the bigger earthquakes in Newcastle  and Adelaide  happened, they 28 www.winetitles.com.au were both relatively low-rise cities. If that happened near the Hunter or Barossa Valleys today, the situation would be quite different.”
In designing for disasters, it is best not to ask “what can I get away with?” and aim for minimal building code compliance. A good example — especially for Australia and California — is bushfire resilience. While there are now more reliable and sophisticated external sprinkler systems with pump redundancy, temperature sensors for self-activation and satellite connectivity, it is important to remember that these are last line of defence options — the Alamo. Impressive as they are, they are insufficient in isolation and one should design the building and landscape so that the fire cannot reach it in the first place and it is easier and safer to defend. According to Bartlett: “Remember for fire, it’s all about oxygen, heat and fuel, so don’t forget the simple things. Keep the surrounding grass green, use vineyards as buffers, no densely planted eucalypts near buildings, thoughtful design of gardens and landscaping, gutters that can be cleaned, closed off and flooded plus team training. Also talk to the local fire brigade during the design stage.”
With respect to resilience for earthquake, things such as tanks which are lower and wider, the need for catwalks (they can be eliminated in some settings), plus self-supporting barrel racks are a start but it is important to know how much displacement the structure is designed for.
“An external peer review of the design is important, but construction monitoring and post-build validation by someone who specialises in these things is essential. Typically, I’d say engineers are better at this than architects,” Bartlett said.
Independent services and systems such as some off-grid power and water can be as much about disaster planning or unreliable supply as they are for environmental sensitivity.
VINOUS EX MACHINA
The rise of the machines may have been slower in wine than other fields but with robots now dexterous enough to pick individual strawberries, expect to see more of it over the next decade, and in more places than just bottling lines. For a view on where technology is headed in the cellar, I spoke to Dr Simon Nordestgaard, senior engineer at the Australian Wine Research Institute.
When asked about the uptake of automation specifically, his view is that, “COVID may be an accelerator in terms of focussing the mind on keeping contact hours down and providing flexibility for staff”.
As for industry uptake of relatively new techniques and equipment, the interest has been in flotation (affordable, small batch systems), crossflow filtration (increasingly for lees and wine), pulsed air mixing of red ferments and gentler destemmers and sorting equipment, both in the cellar and on harvesters.
For developments just over the horizon, Nordestgaard is optimistic about in-tank sensors to monitor liquid levels and density (for tracking fermentation rate) plus emerging technologies using principles such as pressure measurement, radar, refractometry and tuning forks.
“We’re performing some tests this vintage and I’m confident that as these technologies become cheaper and are packaged suitably for wine, adoption will increase,” Nordestgaard said. “The benefits will include better oversight of operations, rapid notification of sluggish ferments and the ability to automatically control ferments based on their rate. Systematic data logging will also help improve and fine-tune winemaking, year-on-year.”
Another recent introduction is automated dissolved gas adjustment systems using membrane contactors. They can adjust dissolved CO2 levels up (including full carbonation) or down and remove dissolved oxygen in the same pass — very promising, especially for sites with bottling lines. “Next gen will be kit that can still be installed by your local electrician but it will have more smarts inside. Data collection, wireless communications and fewer cables will all be part of it. In the vineyard there are major developments happening in robotics and tractors that can perform tasks like under-vine cultivation without the previous chemicals, labour or diesel. This isn’t pie in the sky or science fiction; it’s happening,” Nordestgaard said.
THE FUTURE OF CONSTRUCTION
The common winery construction materials such as concrete, stone, steel, brick or insulated panels are well understood and we have all seen them in use over the years. As the eye-watering amounts of CO2 generated from cement production (approximately 1 tonne CO2 per tonne of cement) attract more attention, however, interest is growing in other options, so I also asked Butera for his take on interesting materials for the future.
“The one I’m keen to see — but I don’t know of anyone who has tried it — is CLT (cross-laminated timber) in wineries,” he said. “It’s basically 20mm ply wood that is laminated together, maybe five or seven layers. It becomes your walls and roof with excellent structural and thermal qualities, plus you have very low carbon emissions. It’s used more in residential and some commercial buildings but it’s starting to emerge in manufacturing settings. Also, lots of basketball stadiums are being built these days using CLT, so you can certainly get the spans that you need.
“CLT is fast becoming a common building construction material for seismic regions. Laboratory testing proves that the structural integrity of the timber results in less fatigue when compared to conventional constructions.” (see images page 30)
When it comes to the inevitable questions around robustness, fire and cleaning, he is still optimistic.
“For a winery, the panels would probably be 150-200mm thick and due to its density, CLT chars at a much slower rate compared to non-structural materials. In most cases, panels can be replaced and any damage like that is easy to repair. As for hygiene, the approach would be location-specific because, ideally, it is a beautifully exposed material so you would only want to clad the areas required.”
When it comes to recycled materials, the first stage is incorporation into new builds but this is usually limited to recycled concrete in road base due to structural guarantees. The second stage is planning a second life for materials in the current build — the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ concept. According to Butera, “the first thing is to avoid synthetics or plastics because they’re not raw materials. They don’t really have a second life. There are aspects of design that plan for recovery and re-use after, say, 30-80 years of a building’s life, so talk through it with your ESD consultant who will also look at your carbon emissions”.
THE FUTURE OF WATER
One of the world’s sharpest minds on wineries of the future is Roger Boulton, Professor of Enology and Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Davis.
I have enjoyed his presentations at technical conferences for many years but my video discussion with him about the future of winemaking was a revelation. We have much to do.
Energy is important, of course, but Boulton is frustrated at the lack of interest in water.
“Water is key. It is the thing that the climate models cannot predict and we just don’t know how bad it’s going to get. Some water consumption can be over 10 litres per litre of wine and it is at its worst in small wineries. Using water and cleaning chemicals only once is just silly,” Boulton noted.
The UCD teaching winery was designed to run entirely on rainwater and has two water systems: one for toilets and landscaping, the other for high-purity cleaning water. Catching every drop from its roof and nearby buildings and using a small reverse osmosis (RO) unit ensures it is more like pharmaceutical grade water than simply sterile. Working with rainwater, the unit is proficient at removing all pathogens, viruses, toxins, agrochemical spray residues and all salts such as calcium and magnesium residues from bird poo. With rainfall similar to Mildura, the concerns about insufficient water are understandable but the key is in the extraordinary efficiency of use. The UCD winery has a prototype cleaning approach that is almost ready for commercial use and incredible in its efficiency, pulling net water use down to parity — one litre of water per litre of wine. It is a total re-think of winery chemistry that incorporates hydrogen peroxide (1%) and reverse osmosis, both of which are inexpensive techniques used on the International Space Station successfully for decades.
“The point is that you want to re-use 80-90% of the water and cleaning chemicals and by using potassium buffers instead of sodium ones. Sure, they’re more expensive but you only use a fraction of the usual amount,” Boulton said. A lot of this is cultural and there is a real momentum of experience — an inertia — and many people aren’t yet ready to incorporate the information into existing practices. You have to want it. I don’t expect winemakers to know how to do all of this but I do expect them to ask the right questions as they approach more efficient cleaning methods and the concept of solution capture, recovery and re-use.”
The UCD method, if implemented in a commercial cellar, would work as follows:
- rinse tanks as usual, remove the solids, then clarify and recover most of this water by filtration (for microbial load) back to the rinse-water supply;
- low pH (2.5) circulation phase (using potassium bisulphate) with 1% peroxide
- (generated in-house without the risks of high concentrations, delivery, handling
- or storage) using a conventional spray ball technique. With the isoelectric point of 316 stainless steel at around pH 3.2, this prevents positively charged adhesion which is the initial stage of biofilm formation. It also gives excellent microbial control at ambient temperature and eliminates sodium, phosphates, chloride, organics and nitrates from the wastewater stream. The water used is not dumped but recovered and returned for cleaning (sterile after nanofiltration (NF)) and re-use.
- high pH (11.5) circulation phase (peroxide is probably optional here but it is still 50% effective at pH 11), using potassium hydroxide and this volume is also recovered, re-filtered, cleaned (NF) and re-used;
- final rinse with sterile water which is also recovered for re-use.
The only two cleaning chemicals bought by the UCD winery are granular potassium bisulphate and potassium hydroxide, so at the end of the cycle the only discharge is low-concentration potassium sulphate at pH 7. It also has no BOD or COD and needs no pH adjustment for aerobic or anerobic treatments. The retentate from the RO/NF processes is then used to flush toilets and there is no need for an effluent pond, including the associated expenditure, complexity, regulation and reporting. More importantly, there is no long-term destruction of the clay component of soils by fragmentation from sodium salts.
“I’ve always liked the quote attributed to Henry Ford — whether it’s true or not — that if I asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. All these technologies are available right now but it is about unravelling where we are, stepping back and then going down a different, more sustainable and more environmentally-responsible path,” Boulton said.
Like many new technologies, the concepts are easier to incorporate into new builds during the design phase. The two main ways that Boulton’s method would probably be implemented in commercial settings would be with a mobile skid-mounted unit containing two tanks — one with the cleaning solution and one for recovery — or a ring main system. These service lines could be plumbed around the winery for both delivery and return of the low- and high-pH streams, with the return lines taking the used volumes back to a dedicated clean-in-place (CIP) room to pass through the NF membrane ready for re-use. The engineers needed to build a system like this are probably not found in the wine industry but there are firms that specialise in CIP. Perhaps the more difficult thing is finding the wineries to go first. Adoption in existing wineries might be needed to establish a commercial-scale proof of concept and the solution chemistry will be unlike the widely used practices today. It is an unusual alignment of pH buffering, surface charge, high redox potential peroxide, ambient disinfection, sustainable chemistry and on-site water capture and use. It also integrates worker safety and wastewater treatment.
THE FUTURE OF GLASS
Being just old enough to remember the final years of reusable milk bottles (I was too young for the same with beer), I have often wondered about the potential for the reintroduction of a scheme like that for wine. On the use of glass, Boulton’s frustration is also clear.
“I have a [empty] 1960s Grange bottle in my office which has ‘this bottle remains the property of Penfolds’ embossed on it and I’m waiting for a bottle return program so I can get it back to them. We have to move to a return program, not a recycle scheme where bottles are smashed and melted down with a very silly waste of energy, including the associated emissions and other resources. Where is the winery that wants to take them back and re-use them? How do we set up the local systems like a meaningful deposit scheme and the infrastructure? It might mean we have to agree on a limited number of shapes but that wouldn’t be the end of the world,” Boulton said.
The future of glass, with its single-use practices, will probably see a reduction in other settings too, such as an increase in the uptake of modern keg designs for wine.
For the wine industry to re-visit the reusable bottle, it would be tricky and it is another example of what economists call ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. That is, it is in nobody’s individual self interest to invest the time and energy to make it happen, even though it benefits everyone. There are probably important lessons to be learned from the introduction of the screw cap too. In the 1970s, the market was unprepared and rejected it at great cost to the wineries who advocated it — being right was not enough. When it re-emerged in the 1990s, the caution of many producers was understandable but they also made the mistake (the Clare Valley Riesling campaign notwithstanding) of beginning at the commercial end of the market, inadvertently sending a message that cork was king for fine wine.
If reusable wine bottles are to stand a chance, the project will probably have to include — if not be led by — the top houses and their best wines. Redesigning bottles and retro-fitting packaging lines would be one thing but re-establishing deposit and return systems that encompassed everyone from large chain stores to the best fine wine merchants would be something else entirely. Does anyone have the stamina for it? It would certainly be simpler to just kick the can down the road. After all, the current system works very well for bottle suppliers.
CAN WINE BE CARBON NEGATIVE?
Yes, it can. And yes, it should. My chat about CO2 emissions from fermentation with Roger Boulton included more disappointment about the wine industry’s move to exclude them from the carbon calculators but it was certainly the most exciting discussion about chemistry I have ever had.
“It is one of the most concentrated releases of CO2 in the world — almost pure, with saturated levels of water and ethanol vapours. Venting it directly out of the cellar is excellent from a safety perspective and can be good for ferment monitoring but, importantly, then sequestering it is very easy,” Boulton said.
There have been some impressive early efforts around the world at capture and storage but the business networks to make it part of an ongoing supply chain aren’t quite there yet. According to Boulton, the chemistry and the cycle can soon look like this: fermentation CO2 is bubbled through a solution of calcium hydroxide, spontaneously forming a solid calcium carbonate, or chalk, precipitate; this could be sold to companies who use it to grow algae on an industrial scale (carbon is usually the limiting reagent in algae production) which is used to make C5 and C6 biofuels or single-cell proteins for food that even the vegans are happy with; this downstream processing would regenerate the calcium oxide, which wineries and breweries would buy back and re-use.
Some of the early sequestration efforts have been compromised by the price of calcium oxide and used other cations but there is no comparable use for sodium and potassium carbonate at present. Unfortunately, they cannot complete the cycle in the same way, so calcium will be key.
NEXT GEN SAFETY
One of my pet hates about many winery environments is the noise but, fortunately, acoustics is a speciality of Frank Butera.
“There is a lot you can do with the shape of the building and the materials, so you should discuss that with the design team. It is easy to exceed the daily noise dose, so it really is a safety issue and there are some simple things that improve acoustics ten-fold,” Butera stated. “One of the best from a design perspective is the ceiling but then you also have layout considerations like positioning or sound-proofing noisy equipment or swapping reverse beepers for flashing lights on forklifts.”
Some of the other design modifications with safety implications in recent years include CO2 venting and elimination of catwalks as discussed earlier.
NEXT GEN FOR GEN NEXT
If COVID reminded the wine world of one thing during 2020, it is the importance of relationships and selling direct. To this end, it is more important than ever that a winery works well for hosting trade and public visitors, making their experience more memorable. This goes to the heart of the concept that everything we do is linked to marketing and telling our story, and it should be embedded in winery design.
Beyond the obvious features like landscaping and the aesthetics of the public spaces, there are important layout considerations for the working winery. In short, design your winery for Instagram and position the most attractive areas where they can be seen, shot and posted. When it comes to hosting visitors, ensure that it is safe and comfortable to take groups through and you have spaces that are easily re-purposed on weekends for wine club dinners, long lunches or wet weather contingency sites for weddings. We have discussed acoustics already, but this might be as simple as upgrading the staff toilets to be ambulant, or the lunchroom to accommodate catering companies.
It is also prudent to remember things that for many are the new normal and decide whether and how they are included. This will include features such as electric car charging, public Wi-Fi, a pet policy and facilities for baby change and bikes.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Our wineries now need to work harder, smarter, cleaner and safer. New and existing sites must read the room and look at regulation around the world with respect to carbon trading and other requirements, like labour and the environmental standards of trading blocs or supermarket chains — whether one likes them or not. Building this thinking into winery design will make the future easier.
At the regional level, there is also a lot to work through. Roger Boulton reminded me that there is more pharmaceutical value in grape skins than in the wine we make from them but it is expensive to extract. Also, if we want to get serious about marc disposal and greenhouse gasses, we need to stop composting and emitting methane and use biodigestors with gas capture instead, but these can only be tackled at the regional level and we’re back to the Tragedy of the Commons: who is going to start it? When does it take 10 wineries to get a regional biodigestor going? Who could you partner with to manage seasonal fluctuations and ensure continual feedstocks?
Another scarce resource that these aspects of future wineries needs is time. Time to re-think and re-design. Replicating existing methods is relatively straightforward but troubleshooting new ones needs time, energy and persistence.
Mark O’Callaghan is senior consultant and director at Wine Network Consulting, www.winenet.com.au
The author would like to thank Leticia Chacón-Rodríguez, winery manager and winemaker at the University of California, Davis, for her assistance with the research and images used in this article.
Mark O’Callaghan is Managing Director of Wine Network Consulting. Based in the Yarra Valley, but working on projects around Australia, the UK and China, Mark is a regular contributor to various wine industry bodies and wine show judge. The views expressed here are his own.