Home Wine Industry Spotlights Unearthing Flavors: The Optima Steamer’s Impact on Paso Robles’ Whalebone Vineyard

Unearthing Flavors: The Optima Steamer’s Impact on Paso Robles’ Whalebone Vineyard

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Whalebone Vineyard, situated on the western edge of Paso Robles Willow Creek District, cultivates 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines that flourish in soil enriched with calcareous limestone. This distinctive terroir nurtures the production of flavor-forward wines from their dry-farmed vines. The hillside vineyard, perched at an elevation of 1800 feet above sea level, holds a fascinating secret — it was a submerged ocean floor millions of years ago, during the Miocene age. This ancient history left behind abundant marine fossils unearthed by the Simpson family when planting the vineyard in 1989.

Winemaker Jake Simpson explains the importance of the intriguing discovery: “When we gathered around the dining room table to name the winery, my dad decided we had to name it after the big boulders outside our tasting room, which are 30-million-year-old whale fossils.”

Simpson assumed the role of winemaker three years ago, taking the reins of the family-run winery founded by his parents, Bob and Janalyn Simpson. Their production typically yields around 4000 cases of wine annually, sourced from the estate and neighboring vineyards. Simpson acquired his winemaking knowledge through years of hands-on involvement at the winery and advice from seasoned Paso Robles winemaker Joe Farley.

One of the first tasks Simpson and his father undertook was researching steamers, which he had used at other facilities, including Hearst Ranch Winery, where Whalebone Vineyard does some of its production. Reflecting on this decision, Simpson remarks, “We’d never had a steamer,” and further elaborates, “It’s the first thing on everyone’s list for cleanliness. We used ozone and a pressure sprayer to clean our barrels before, and I couldn’t believe how much came out of the barrel when I used the steamer on barrels I thought were already clean.”

Their research led them to the Optima Steamer, a product offered by Steamericas, a leading supplier of commercial and industrial cleaning solutions specializing in vapor steam machines. Their choice was solidified when they learned that Williams Cleaning Systems, Central Coast distributor for Steamericas, had just opened a nearby showroom in San Luis Obispo, ensuring accessibility and support. Simpson’s father called General Manager Phil Petty, and Whalebone Vineyard acquired an Optima Steamer SE-II.

Simpson believes that “In the long run, cleanliness is key” and, after two years of regular use, has come to appreciate how Optima’s Optima Steamer SEII’s dry steam removes tannins from the barrels, resulting in an even better finished product.

“Old sediment and lees that build up in the barrel can promote bacterial growth,” he elaborates, “which means more maintenance of the wine in the barrel. A clean barrel makes for a clean palate, so you don’t have to check acid and Ph levels as often.”

Harnessing steam temperatures of up to 350°F, the Optima Steamer achieves nozzle tip temperatures of 212-240°F, allowing for swift and effective inactivation of microorganisms. Steam has been proven to be a potent ally against bacteria, yeast, and fungi, effectively preventing spoilage.

Drawing from his experience at Williams Cleaning, Petty underscores the Optima Steamer’s versatility, highlighting its dual role as both a highly effective cleaning tool and a disinfectant. He notes, “85% of wineries move to steamers directly from flooding their barrels, so they often don’t realize the Optima Steamer’s versatility.” This multifaceted capability extends to various winery components, from tools and valves to phones, bottles, and even upholstery, a testament to its exceptional performance and efficiency.

Installation of the Optima Steamer SE-II was a seamless process for Simpson, facilitated by Petty’s expert guidance. Simpson recalls that “Phil brought it to the winery and showed me how to heat it, adjust it for dry heat, and other operations in 15-20 minutes” With the steamer in place, as he puts it, “Away I went!”

The Optima Steamer SE-II’s efficiency is one of its most significant advantages. Whalebone Vineyard’s water and ozone consumption has dropped from 10 gallons to 1-2 gallons per barrel, translating to cost savings and eliminating hazardous ozone usage. Through its unique capacity to combine rehydration with sanitization, the Optima Steamer safeguards the integrity of barrels and promotes longevity by penetrating the wood’s surface and pores, reaching ¼’-½” into the wood to let the hot moisture eradicate hidden bacteria naturally.

The steamer’s benefits also extend to time savings since Simpson no longer has to hold a pressure washer while spraying all 10 gallons of water into the barrel. Instead, it takes only three minutes per barrel with the steamer, and he can even plug it in the barrels’ bung and leave to do another task. With over 120 barrels, that’s a lot of time saved.

The Optima also offers a patent-pending Wine Barrel Cleaning Tool that mounts to a standard Bordeaux barrel to ensure effective and efficient steam delivery and enable precise sanitation monitoring with its heavy-duty thermometer.

With another harvest coming up, albeit one delayed by close to a month thanks to the late summer, Simpson is enthusiastic about putting his Optima Steamer SE-II to work preparing the barrels and cellar for a new vintage of Whalebone Vineyard Bordeaux-style wines.

For more information on Optima Steamers, contact Phil Petty at Williams Cleaning Systems at (805) 550-0063 or P.Petty@wcsCentralCoast.com.

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