Wineries rely on utility power, until it’s not there- then what?

PG&E Crews work to restore utility power in the hills above St. Helena October 18, 2017

I’m winding down a 2 week stay away from home, where my company has been deployed to a natural disaster, providing generator power and generator fueling services to people in need because of no utility power.

I’m speaking specifically about the fires that have ravaged Northern California. This is obviously a huge tragedy, and I don’t want to take away from the huge amount of loss people have experienced, or the numerous deaths that have occurred as a result. But, for the purposes of staying focused on the intent of this article- I want to speak to it’s title.


Why these particular fires couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the Wine Industry.

1.) WATER!!!

Even though Governor Brown officially declared the drought to be over as of April 7th, 2017 , Californians have been reluctant to celebrate victory and the wine industry has taken considerable action to preserve what water is available. Unfortunately, one of my customers had to sacrifice their water reserves to defend their estate (But more on that below).

2.) HARVEST!!!

It’s been a weird weather year for us which has caused a little confusion among the vineyards. It was hot. Then it was cold. Then it was hot again (for a minute. Then cold- you get it. (More on that here) Needless to say, when the fires broke out, there were still grapes to be picked. Unfortunately this is a time sensitive activity and the vineyards to pick in evacuation zones could not be tended to.

3.) PROCESSING!!!

This is part science, a lot of art, and mostly a lot of hard work! Yes winemakers get all the credit (or most), but it’s well deserved. This is another time sensitive process where one misstep can ruin an entire year for the winery. There are temperature controlled environments, operations of pumps, and presses that all rely on electricity to power the equipment.

So what happens when the power goes out at the winery?

NO WATER PRESSURE: The customer I mentioned above needed to protect his winery from the nearing fire. In fact, when my partner and I got to his winery, the fire was within a 1/2 mile from his estate. He and his estate manager had been working for several hours already, powering up small pumps with even smaller generators to pump water to his sprinklers that they had strategically placed around the property. But the 6000w gas generator wasn’t enough to move the large volume of water needed to soak his place. We used a 45kVA mobile generator to tie into and power his entire well pump system allowing him to soak his property sufficiently to adding a comforting layer of protection from the approaching devastation.

NO POWER TO OPERATIONS: Another customer we helped, was right in the middle of processing. They had been without power (or access to their winery) for 48 hours and potentially millions of dollars worth of product was going to be lost if they were not able to get power to the chillers to cool the juice, and power to the pumps to conduct the “pump-overs”. If they couldn’t do the “pump-overs” then they would risk the juice being damaged by “smoke taint” among other things.

“The pump overs can certainly help mitigate smoke taint, and without the generator power to perform this function they risked not being able to exhaust this as an option for mitigating that smoke taint. However, unfortunately the pump overs alone are not always going to remove the smoke taint — so the juice may be damaged with or without pump overs. They do need to perform pump overs regardless (with or without issues of fire/smoke taint) so having that power during that critical time period is a non-negotiable…and that’s why the service you were able to provide was critical to that continuity of winery operations.”- Emily Rutter, SBGHR, MBA- Senior HR Business Partner at E. & J. Gallo Winery (Central Coast & WA)

We brought them a 100kVA (overkill) and tied the generator into their main electrical distribution panel to power up all of their essential items. We got them working within 2 hours of being onsite, and as soon as they were able to access their winery, they were able to get back to work. Tests results aren’t in yet, but they are hopeful that there was no smoke/ temperature damage to the juice.


HOW TO AVOID (OR MINIMIZE) DAMAGE WHEN DISASTER STRIKES

The best solution would be to have a backup generator installed, and annually maintained and tested so that it is ready when needed, but a few other solutions could be:

  1. Purchase a generator on a trailer with cables that can be moved around the winery to power different things when needed. Make sure it is large enough to do what you want.
  2. Install a “quick connect” connection point so an emergency generator can be easily plugged in, by anyone (with operating instructions).
  3. Have a Disaster Response Plan in place. This can be as simple as a printed Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), or an actual contract in place with a generator company who reserves a generator for you, and brings it to you when needed (assuming they can access the property.

Thanks for taking the time to read!! If you found this article worth reading please hit that hand clap button, and of course you can share it too!. If you want to get more free advice or even a consultation, you can contact me here: mike@keepitpowered.com