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Cambrian EcoVolt

Rombauer Vineyards won praise from the Napa County Planning Commission for its wastewater pre-treatment system. The system - Cambrian Innovation’s EcoVolt - is shown here in a photograph not taken at Rombauer.

Rombauer Vineyards received more Napa County Planning Commission attention for its water-saving efforts and new wastewater technology than its hefty wine production increase request.

“I would hope Rombauer would toot its own horn on this,” Commissioner Anne Cottrell said.

Commissioners on Wednesday approved a wine production increase from 880,000 gallons annually to 1.2 million gallons annually. A large figure that would usually generate much debate, but it sailed through.

In this case, it all came down to location. The Rombauer Vineyards wine production boost won’t happen at the family’s Upvalley winery, but rather at 601 Airpark Road in an airport industrial area warehouse that Rombauer has used since 2007.

“I’m happy they are in the industrial park,” Commission chairperson Joelle Gallagher said. “This is sited correctly.”

But Rombauer receives water from water-strapped American Canyon. It intends to make more wine without using more water. A new wastewater pre-treatment system made by Massachusetts-based Cambrian Innovation helped achieve this goal.

“I find this to be technology that should be encouraged, and we should be figuring out how to replicate this kind of thing to reduce water usage at wineries,” Commissioner Dave Whitmer said.

Cottrell was also impressed.

“It’s not only water-saving, its space-saving,” she said. “To be able to pack all that processing in a small area I think is good news for other operations in the valley.”

Rombauer Vineyards since 2007 has operated a crush, barrel storage and bottling facility in the warehouse. Richie Allen of Rombauer described water-saving steps the facility has taken and how the Cambrian system helps makes all of this possible.

One step is working with employees to use the correct amount of water when cleaning tanks and doing other operations. Allen called this “changing the culture in the cellar.”

Then there are what he called housekeeping matters.

“If you’ve ever worked in a winery, there’s a tendency to wash everything down with as much water as possible,” Allen said. “If you put a spray nozzle on, you can cut your water use by about 30 percent.”

Rombauer uses hoses to move juice from the crush pad to the tank farm. Allen said the traditional way to push wine through lines is with water. That takes a few hundred gallons of water each time.

Instead of water, Rombauer uses a nitrogen-propelled rubber bullet that fits snugly inside the line to push the wine. Then it cleans the line at the end of the day by pushing about 20 gallons of water through with the rubber bullet and by using steam.

Barrels must be washed yearly, and the facility has 14,000 of them. The traditional way of using warm water under pressure uses 5 to 6 gallons per barrel, Allen said. Rombauer has reduced this to 2 gallons by using the hottest water possible, hot enough to melt the tartrates off.

Winery wastewater, while not toxic, contains such things as juice and plant matter. All of the water-saving steps created very concentrated wastewater. Rombauer had to dilute the wastewater and lost water savings.

Also, when the system backed up, Rombauer hauled wastewater to the East Bay Municipal Utility District wastewater treatment plant in Oakland, Allen said.

Enter the Cambrian EcoVolt system that uses both anaerobic and aerobic processes to pre-treat wastewater. The system produces a highly treated effluent, a Cambrian press release said.

“The system exceeded our design expectations and handled all our wastewater during our peak period,” Allen said in the release. “For the first time in nine years, we did not have to haul wastewater to a treatment facility.”

Certainly, the Planning Commission was impressed.

“I know that takes a large capital investment. I appreciate you guys taking those steps,” Commissioner Andrew Mazotti said.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.