Manufacturing Tanks for Wineries to Withstand the Unpredictability of Natural Disasters and More!

By: Cheryl Gray

  Although wineries have plenty to consider when selecting the tanks that will store their wine, earthquakes are not at the top of the list for most. However, if a tank can hold its own during an act of God, there’s a good chance it offers multiple protections for a winery’s most precious commodity: wine.

  While natural disasters are out of human control, there is at least one manufacturing company touting earthquake-proof products. Enter Onguard Seismic Systems, with offices in New Zealand and Sonoma County, California. While the company has clients where earthquakes are most prone, there is also customer interest, it says, in the protection its tank equipment can offer to wineries in the Midwest and the Southern United States. According to the company, more than half of New Zealand wineries use Onguard-equipped tanks. Other global clients include those in Chile and Italy. In addition, Onguard is working to supply its first systems in Australia. Company founder and CEO, Will Lomax, explained how he believes tank safety standards have evolved.

  “The U.S. wine industry is decades old, and many tanks have been built to traditional standards with little regard to earthquake performance. Unfortunately, some tanks are still being built without adequate consideration of earthquake risk. In some areas, there is an attitude of ‘nothing can be done’ when the ‘Big One’ strikes. We have shown that something can be done, and our engineered systems have proven this in actual earthquakes.

  We provide seismic systems for tanks that include comprehensive, holistic, certified structural engineering designs and supply of our patented energy-dissipating seismic dampers. This gives our customers the ultimate peace of mind, safe in the knowledge that they are equipped with the world’s best, and earthquake-proven, means of protecting their lives and livelihoods.”

  Lomax pointed to 2016, when he said that more than 300 tanks equipped with Onguard systems survived an M7.8 earthquake in New Zealand. According to Lomax, while there was neither wine loss nor tank damage under products bearing his company’s moniker, while virtually every other tank that contained wine in New Zealand was severely compromised.  

  The outcome was far different in 2013, when Lomax watched the devastation caused by another earthquake, which prompted him to create Onguard Seismic Systems. As a structural engineer with some 30 years of experience in multiple facets of engineering, Lomax put Onguard on the frontline of protecting wineries from the catastrophic destruction of earthquakes by developing the system that thwarted disasters like the one that occurred in 2016.  

  “Onguard’s performance in this ultimate test was extremely satisfying, as was my appointment as the trusted advisor to the New Zealand government to lead the engineering recovery in time for the 2017 harvest. The wine industry prevailed, thanks in no small part to Onguard.”

  In California, where earthquakes are more common than in other parts of the United States, wineries are turning to companies like Onguard for tanks and tank equipment that can protect for the long-run. Among them is Vintage Wine Estates, a multi-million-dollar portfolio of wineries stretching from California to the Pacific Northwest. Rick Hughes, capital projects and facilities manager for Vintage Wine Estates, said that he witnessed the earthquake destruction in New Zealand, and his company has safeguards in place.

  “We have 2.8 million gallons of cooperage anchored with Onguard Seismic Systems. Seismic anchor systems are a code requirement in our seismic zone 7. Unfortunately, most all anchor systems are just that; they anchor the tank to a structural system, but do not help in a seismic event. Not only will the Onguard system effectively work in a seismic event, but the benefit is also the sustainability of the anchor. Simply reinstalling the inside of the anchor that took the brunt of the event allows the system to be up and functioning with little effort or capital.”

  Experts agree that knowing what to look for before buying tanks and tank-related equipment can avert headaches later. Lomax had some pointers.

  “Make absolutely clear that you require a complete, stamped structural design of the tank system: tank, anchorage, foundation and connected infrastructure (catwalks and services) that meets the requirements of the building code. This will ensure earthquake resilience, avoid the need for any improvements in the future and will ultimately help you sleep at night.

  We have personal experience helping wineries recover from the effects of earthquakes; the consequences are far-reaching, often unforeseen and can be devastating to your business and – worse still – your people.”

  Experts, including Lomax, understand the importance of strong building codes when considering the strength of wine tanks.

  “The current design codes in the U.S. are very specific and demand energy dissipation through ductile yielding of tank anchors – a well-founded earthquake engineering approach that is intended to offer solid protection to the tanks. Onguard is the only anchoring system that complies with this, but sadly these requirements are often overlooked or ignored. One of our missions is to generate awareness of these conditions with customers, partners and local jurisdictions.”

  There are changes at the city and county levels when it comes to enacting regulations designed to promote tank safety. Lomax provided an example.

  “Thankfully, cities and counties are becoming more aware of the risk that earthquakes pose to wine tanks and the need to mitigate this risk and are tackling this head-on. For example, tanks now face far more scrutiny in the permitting process, and we’re currently mid-way through a complete retrofit project for an entire winery in Napa County that was mandated by the county itself.”

  Lomax wants the Onguard system to become the industry standard in the U.S. and is working toward that goal, one, he adds, that has already been achieved in New Zealand.

  “The additional investment needed is minimal, if any at all, and we can often offer savings against traditional designs. We also retrofit existing tanks and on our travels are introduced to multiple tanks at multiple facilities which are clearly prone – to varying degrees – to earthquake damage. Having grown up in wine, we know the industry inside-out and have seen first-hand the consequences of living with earthquake risk and the many different types of tank failure and remediation. We’re the world leaders in this space, and our clients trust us to advise them on the levels of risk and, if necessary, work with them on a targeted program of improvement. The end result is always an earthquake-engineered, earthquake-ready facility that is as safe as possible to work in.”

  Another natural disaster that threatens wineries comes in the form of wildfires, particularly in California and other areas with severe drought conditions. National Storage Tank, Inc., headquartered in Santa Rosa, California, provides customers the option of having an on-site, dedicated fire protection water tank to protect wineries and vineyards. The company says the tanks are configured with a small footprint but have enough storage capacity to become a viable part of any vineyard or winery fire protection plan. National Tank Storage also provides wineries with stainless steel tanks for storing, mixing or fermenting wines with capacities of up to 650,000 gallons. Additionally, it offers wastewater and chemical treatment tanks, all designed to handle specific jobs in accordance with environmental regulatory requirements.

  On a relative scale, the day-to-day operations of maintaining safety standards for the tanks and tank equipment used in winemaking are as important as those that guard against natural disasters. Problems that may compromise the taste and quality of a wine are solved in part by choosing the right kind of tanks and equipment for the wine being produced. 

  California’s Rack and Riddle Custom Wine Services in Sonoma County provides a full range of wine production services for its clients. The company also produces its own brand of sparkling wine. Rack and Riddle deploys an old-world technique known in the industry as Méthode Champenoise to produce its signature product. This traditional French method of making sparkling wine requires the wine to go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which demands additional time, labor and equipment, including special tanks.

  Award-winning winemaking consultant Penelope Gadd-Coster, executive director of winemaking at Rack and Riddle, explains the variety of tanks and tank equipment needed for Rack and Riddle to produce a vast array of wines.

  “We use a mix of manufacturers for our stainless tanks that range in size of 1,000 gallons to 100,000 gallons. Since we specialize in sparkling wines, the tanks need cooling jackets, generally dimpled jackets. They are used for all parts of the process, from settling to pre-bottling. Stainless-steel is fairly easy to maintain.”

  While tank and tank equipment needs may vary, one thing experts make clear: Choosing the right products can protect against a natural disaster while at the same time averting potential day-to-day threats to quality control.

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