Piper Underbrink grew up working cows on her family’s 4600-acre cattle ranch, learning about art from her musician mother and wine from her lifelong wine collector father. When she announced she wanted a break after college, he suggested she try a harvest internship. She ended up at Flowers Winery and fell in love with working in the lab. UC Davis and other California winery positions cemented her conviction and credentials. In 2020, she bought the highly-rated Privé Vineyard in Newberg, Oregon, from founders Mark and Tina Hammond, moving in just a week before the Oregon wildfires. Luckily, her new home and business were spared.
Her goal has been to maintain the quality and traditions established by the Hammonds, but she had a few ideas of her own that she implemented after taking ownership. One was to add an Optima SE-II steamer, an all-electric 3-phase stainless-steel steamer from Steamericas, which she bought through Carson Equipment in Portland.
“It was the first thing I bought as a business,” she laughs. “The previous owners had been using ozone instead of a steamer. What I love about steam is that I know what’s happening because I can actually see it — there is visible steam coming out of the tank, the barrel or whatever. So, if you see steam, you know it’s sanitizing.”
When you watch the steam fill a tank or barrel, you can watch it slip behind and into difficult-to-reach areas like inside nozzles and other nooks and crannies that are often impossible to reach using boiling water or chemicals like ozone. When cleaning wood barrels, dry steam penetrates the wood’s surface and pores, reaching up to ½” into the wood to kill hidden bacteria naturally.
“There’s an option on the Optima where you can choose wet or dry steam, and we almost always choose the dry steam,” adds Underbrink. “It’s a good way to conserve water because, as we are well aware, currently there are a lot of droughts, even in Oregon. To be able to steam makes our winery more efficient with time and water usage because wine requires a lot of water to make it and to clean up everything. We use much less water than ozone, and it’s better for the environment.”
The Optima Steamer uses a fraction of the water during sanitation, and the lack of wastewater and elimination of chemicals help to deliver an eco-friendly solution that allows wineries to comply with the Clean Water Act.
Focus on quality
When it comes to the quality of sanitation, steam is proven to inactivate most microorganisms. At a temperature of over 212°F (100°C) for 5-10 min, steam will destroy all active bacteria, yeast and fungi. Dry steam will even combat the microbes that cause spoilage in those yeast strains resistant to low pH, high alcohol or SO2.
“Steamericas is unique because we invest heavily in validation as part of our product R&D, employing 3rd party laboratories to perform microbial challenges,” says Yujin Yoo Anderson, General Manager at Steamericas. “The same Optima Steamer units are widely deployed in the food processing and packaging industry, and food safety is their foremost priority. When we say our product can eradicate Brettanomyces or listeria (which can be fatal), we have to stand behind that claim as these are serious matters.”
In fact, the Optima SE-II exceeds many of the highest international safety standards, including OSHA-approved (bearing ASME and NB stamps) and CSA-certified (Canadian-compliance) models. In addition to three different safety features that protect against over-pressurizing, it has layers of protection to preserve the pump in case of machine malfunctions or user errors. Plus, maintenance on the filters and probes is easy, even with someone who has, as Underbrink claims, “ZERO knowledge of mechanics and machines, like me!”
“The Optima Steamer has completely revolutionized the way we sanitize the winery,” Underbrink notes. “It has allowed us to be more efficient, cutting our work with the tanks, various stainless tools and hoses in half. It is a relief not to worry about sanitation and cleanliness. We get such a deep clean with our barrels, and they always come out smelling great!”
Steamerica’s powerful Optima Steamer saves time, energy and water while giving wineries confidence that their winemaking equipment is thoroughly sanitized.
For more information, visit www.steamericas.com.
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