When Rodney Strong Vineyards built its new 10,500-square-foot fermentation facility in Healdsburg, California, the family-owned winery sought out highly specialized equipment that could optimize operations and product handling. That included finding a pump that could adeptly irrigate the fruit caps, which are the solid mass of grape skins, stems and seeds that float to the top of the fermentation tanks, and prevent them from hardening. After exhaustive research and testing, Rodney Strong Vineyards installed air-operated double-diaphragm (AODD) pump technology that provides energy efficiency, reduced maintenance, cleanability, reliability and gentle product handling for optimum fermentation of its luxury wines.
Founded in 1959 by former ballet dancer Rodney Strong, the award-winning winery helped put Sonoma County on the map for world-class winemaking. It helped transform the area’s reputation as farmland where apples and prunes were the leading crops into one of the finest wine regions in the country. Strong was an early innovator in the industry, making wines from a single vineyard rather than blending grapes.
Today, Rodney Strong produces about 830,000 cases of wine annually. The winery focuses on cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot and zinfandel. To keep up with growing production and to enhance product quality, Rodney Strong recently built a state-of-the-art cellar with 51 stainless-steel, 6,000-gallon fermentation tanks. One of the critical components of the tanks is the AODD pump used to irrigate the fruit cap during fermentation.
The wine producer installed Wilden Saniflo FDA pumps with the Pro-Flo SHIFT Air Distribution System (ADS) to prevent the fruit caps formed at the top of the tank from hardening. Known as “pumping over,” the operation requires the pump to draw juice from just above the seed layer near the bottom of the fermentation tank and pump it to the top of the tank. The juice is sent through a flinger device and an oxygen-inducing nozzle that spread the juice to completely cover the cap and keep it wet. Juice is pumped for 20-minute periods up to three times per day.
Like many wineries, Rodney Strong originally used centrifugal pumps to irrigate the fruit caps. However, the centrifugal pumps tended to grind and break up grape seeds that are sucked in by the pump and become part of the flow. The ground seeds introduced a high quantity of tannins into the wine, which adversely affected product quality. This drawback prompted the winery to find a pump alternative that would reduce or even eliminate grinding the seeds.
“We had strict requirements that the pump provide gentle product handling, energy efficiency, ease of cleaning and operational reliability,” says Manuel Villanueva, cellar master for Rodney Strong.
Passing the test
The winery worked with Pumping Solutions, Inc., a pump and process equipment supplier that has a long history of working with the wine industry, to determine the best pump for the vineyard’s requirements. After testing various AODD, centrifugal and progressive-cavity pumps, Rodney Strong decided to use an AODD pump, which offered shear sensitivity and gentle product handling that circulates the liquid during the pumping-over process without damaging the juice. In addition, an AODD pump maintains the air pressure and required flow consistently.
“The AODD pump was clearly the best in helping to extract the juices as well as control the desired tannins and color from each grape varietal that we put in,” Villanueva says.
Rodney Strong then conducted a battery of tests to evaluate AODD pumps from various manufacturers. In addition to reviewing performance, quality, energy efficiency and ease of maintenance, the company was particularly interested in pump-air consumption. “We were utilizing a smaller air compressor, so our goal was to find an energy-efficient pump that could be driven by our current equipment,” says Justin Seidenfeld, a winemaker at Rodney Strong.
“Our tests showed that the Wilden pumps with the Pro-Flo SHIFT ADS require less air consumption to provide the same liquid flow as pumps from other manufacturers, giving us much greater efficiency and energy savings,” Villanueva says.
The patent-pending Wilden Pro-Flo SHIFT ADS reduces air consumption by incorporating a unique air control spool that automatically restricts the amount of air going into the pump during the latter part of each stroke. This eliminates overfilling the air chamber and results in reduced energy consumption. By optimizing air consumption, the Pro-Flo lowers energy and operating costs, achieving up to 60 percent savings over other AODD pumps, according to Villanueva.
Beyond the energy and cost savings, Rodney Strong says the pumps offer cleaning advantages. “In addition to meeting FDA standards, cleanability was a very important factor to consider in our evaluation process for efficiency and labor savings,” Villanueva says. “In comparing designs, we found that the Wilden Saniflo FDA pumps provided superior cleanability. They utilize tri-clamps for extremely quick disassembly and assembly to save labor in the sanitization process. In addition, the overall pump design makes cleaning easy. We know that good sanitization processes help assure you produce a good wine, and that’s part of maintaining our high quality.”
To further enhance sanitation, Rodney Strong installed the Wilden Full-Stroke Integral Piston Diaphragm. Santoprene encapsulates the outer piston, eliminating cracks and crevices where bacteria can hide.
“The Wilden one-piece diaphragm makes it significantly easier for the pump to be cleaned at the end of the season when we’re done with our cap management,” Seidenfeld explains.
Rodney Strong also discovered that the Full-Stroke Integral Piston Diaphragm is more efficient than conventional diaphragms. The full-stroke design provides increased displacement per stroke, resulting in higher productivity for enhanced flow rates and 115 percent greater suction lift. This operational efficiency allows for fewer strokes for the same performance, which reduces energy consumption and extends diaphragm life.
Since installing 16 Wilden pumps in its tanks, Rodney Strong has been pleased with how the pumps have helped the winery enhance its energy efficiency, reduce labor costs and improve product quality. The winery has ordered an additional 43 pumps for its cellar.