When it comes to wine, taste is key. Any good winemaker knows that anything that touches the winemaking equipment (e.g., barrels, bottling lines, etc.) can leave residues or contaminants that affect the quality of the final product. That’s why it is vital to invest in the best possible cleaning systems to ensure facility equipment can be cleaned, sanitized, and sterilized. For this reason, many winemakers turn to steam cleaners.

Understanding Washing and Sanitizing of Wine Equipment

Wooden barrels and large aluminum barrels wine factoryHidden microorganisms that collect in winemaking equipment can spoil wine during the production process. Effective washing and sanitizing of wine equipment removes organic and inorganic contaminants to a level where they are no longer a threat.

During the washing process, various washing agents break down contaminants so they can be washed away. Washing typically combines soaking equipment and gentle agitation to remove materials before sanitization. Not every washing agent is compatible with all materials used in winemaking equipment, so it’s essential to understand how specific chemicals affect different materials.

While the terms sanitization and sterilization are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. Sterilization eliminates all living microorganisms with the use of specialized technology. Sanitization removes microorganisms to a level at which they are no longer a threat.

Autoclaving is a highly effective sterilization method that exposes equipment to high-pressure saturated steam at 250 °F (or 120 °C) for 15-20 minutes. Pouring boiling water onto equipment will not have the same effect and can even damage equipment.

What Wine Equipment Can Be Steam Sanitized?

Steam cleaners are ideal for cleaning a wide range of winemaking equipment. Some of the equipment often subjected to steam cleaning and sanitizing include:

  • Wine Barrels: Oak barrels are huge investments for wineries. Steam cleaners are effective at wine barrel cleaning and sanitizing without damage, ensuring they remain useful throughout their expected service life. The penetrating ability of the steam produced allows for the removal of old wine, tartrates, and tannins that can affect the taste of the final wine product. If needed, the steam can also be used to rehydrate the barrels.
  • Bottling Lines: Steam cleaners are effective and efficient at cleaning and sanitizing bottling lines. Unlike cleaning systems that utilize water or chemicals, steam cleaners can evenly distribute the steam throughout the lines since gravity is not working against it. The steam is completely safe for cleaning and sanitizing all parts of the bottling system, including the lines, the filters, the monoblocks, and the spouts.
  • Tanks: Many substances can stick to and build upon the walls of storage tanks. The hot and dry steam produced by steam cleaners breaks down these residues and deposits. Once they condense, the contaminants can be removed easily through the drainage outlet of the tank. While a cold water rinse may be necessary to remove any remaining residue and deposits, no chemicals are needed to clean and sterilize the tank.

In addition to these types of equipment, many other components and systems found within wineries can be cleaned and sanitized with steam. Examples include pipes, flanges, and taps.

How to Clean and Sanitize a Wine Tank

To learn how to sterilize winemaking equipment, follow this thorough cleaning process that removes particulates and dissolves residue before sanitizing:

  1. Begin with a cold-to-warm high-pressure rinse where water is no warmer than 109 °F. For the highest level of effectiveness, direct the spray at an angle to the surface being cleaned.
  2. After pre-rinsing, apply a strong inorganic alkaline solution (such as soda ash, caustic soda, sodium metasilicate, or trisodium phosphate) to dissolve food wastes and acid soils. Follow instructions to avoid damage to stainless steel due to the corrosive effects of these alkalis.
  3. Follow washing with a high-pressure, cold water rinse.
  4. After washing, sterilize to completely eradicate microorganisms. Steam is an ideal sterilant because it is noncorrosive, penetrates a variety of surfaces, and is effective against wine microorganisms. Steam sterilize for 20 minutes at 180 °F.

How To Clean and Sanitize Bottling Lines

Due to its effectiveness, steam is one of the most popular methods for sanitizing a bottling line. However, it is recommended that all areas that will come into contact with steam be cleaned first. The washing process follows the same basic procedure used to clean the wine tank.

Begin with a cold water high-pressure rinse. Follow the pre-rinse with a mild alkaline solution before completing the process with a final cold water, high-pressure rinse. Before beginning sterilization, complete a visual inspection of the filter housing, filler bowl, filler spouts, and other areas for dust or foreign matter that may come into contact with the wine.

Follow these steps for steam sterilization.

  1. Obtain a source of steam that will be plentiful enough to handle your set-up.
  2. Select a wine hose that will safely allow steam to flow through it. Use this hose for all the connections steam will pass through.
  3. Attach the hoses as if preparing to pump wine through the filter to the bottling line.
  4. Leave all valves downstream of the steamer open, and turn on the steamer to initiate the creation of steam. As steam appears, partially close valves to allow the steam to flow throughout the system.

Winemakers typically steam for at least 18 minutes, but 25 minutes or more is also considered safe.

How To Clean and Sanitize Wine Barrels

Unlike the stainless steel tanks used in the winemaking process, wooden barrels allow wine to soak into the surface. To effectively remove these microorganisms during steaming, barrels must be thoroughly cleaned before sanitation to remove solids, tartrate coatings, or color from the barrel’s surface.

Immediately upon emptying, invert barrels to the 6 o’clock position to drain. Use a barrel washer with a rotating spray head to rinse with cold, high-pressure (100 to 3,000 psi) water for three minutes. Then, steam sterilize at over 212 °F for 5 to 10 minutes to destroy all active bacteria, fungi, and yeast.

Dry steam has gaseous properties that allow it to reach a quarter to a half inch into wood, using moisture and temperature to naturally kill bacteria. Its saturated vapor can penetrate the wood’s surface and pores better than heat alone. Steam can also combat yeast microbes resistant to high alcohol and low pH that are known to cause spoilage. In only a few minutes, dry steam can rehydrate and sanitize barrels with just a half gallon of water per barrel.

Why Is Steam Cleaning the Best Way to Sanitize Winemaking Equipment?

Given the conditions commonly found in wineries—i.e., high humidity, temperatures, and sugar content—microorganisms can grow quickly in winemaking equipment. Steam cleaners—also sometimes referred to as steam generators—are a safe and effective solution for cleaning and sanitizing wine equipment.

When in contact with a cold surface, dry, saturated steam from steam cleaners condenses into water, depositing all of its heat energy onto that surface. This process of vaporization and condensation delivers far more heat than is conducted by contact of a surface with hot water. Therefore, steam cleaning is far more effective in achieving sanitization or, if in contact for long enough, sterilization, of surfaces.

Steam can also clean and sanitize areas that are inaccessible by boiling water or chemicals since it penetrates farther than heat alone and diffuses evenly without being counteracted by gravity. Additionally, it melts away residues, removes deposits, and kills microorganisms without requiring chemicals or specialized removal methods, making it an eco-friendly and efficient cleaning and sanitizing solution.

Swash™ Delux for Winery Sanitation and Barrel Cleaning

Standard Features:

  • Built in accordance with A.S.M.E. Miniature Boiler Code
  • A.S.M.E. CSD-1 Compliant
  • UL Listed and labeled under UL 834
  • Dual Pressure Controls (UL 353)
  • High Pressure Safety Reset. (UL 353)
  • Low Level Cut-Off (LLCO) (UL 353)
  • 100 psi Safety Relief Valve (A.S.M.E. Section I – V-Stamp)

Multiple Accessories Available

Menikini® Steam Master Wine

Standard Features:

  • CE Compliant
  • Low Level Cut-Off with alarm
  • High/Low Pressure Selector
  • Low Pressure 1.3 bar (19 psi) for Wooden Barrels
  • High Pressure 5.5 bar (80 psi) for Steel Tanks
  • 7.5 Bar (109 psi) Safety Relief Valve

Contact Electro-Steam for Your Winery Steam Cleaning Needs Today!

If you need steam cleaners for your winery, turn to the steam cleaning experts at Electro-Steam. We’ve provided electric steam generators for over 65 years. Equipped with extensive expertise in the food industry, we can provide quality steam cleaning solutions for a variety of sanitary applications.

To learn more about our winery steam cleaning products, visit our wine-making/bottling page or contact us today.

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