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Steam-powered barrel of a time

Geoff Smith, director of Steamtech Systems, steam cleaning some barrels. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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Steam is making a comeback and this time it’s not to drive trains but to clean barrels at wineries and breweries in the region.

The barrels at Martinborough Brewery were set to get a sustainable scrub at a function to demonstrate the commercial uses of steam as a cleaner at last night and the weeds in the driveway may have got a blast as well.

Steam, one of the inventions that powered the industrial revolution, is a popular choice as a cleaner for those in the sustainable business movement because it doesn’t have the same health risks as chemicals and uses a lot less water than a traditional hose-down of equipment.

“It is a bit back to the future,” says Grant Lewis of Wellington-based Steamtech Systems.

The Escarpment Vineyard in Martinborough was the only winery he knew of in the region using steam to clean barrels at present so there was scope for it to be more widely used in Wairarapa.

Lewis said he first became interested in steam as a method of cleaning in the middle of a drought when he owned a paint and panel shop in Wellington, and he has since become an importer of steam cleaning machines, which cost about $10,000 plus GST when configured for wineries.

Most wineries used a hot water wash, which could use hundreds of litres of water compared with about three to four litres with a steam clean, he said.

“Steam is incredibly good to kill bacteria. It gets into the depth of the oak and releases all the old bacteria in the barrel,” he said.

Barrels were used for many years by wineries and using steam cleaning prolonged their life, Lewis said.

“It saves them money and it saves us water.”

Larry McKenna at Escarpment said there were a lot of ways to clean barrels, but his business wanted to do it without any harsh chemicals, which damaged wood.

“We want the barrels to be micro-biologically clean . . . if we don’t clean them properly, they go mouldy on the inside and the mouldy flavour gets into the wine,” McKenna said.

Steamtech sells the steam cleaning machines but Lewis says someone could buy a machine and set up a business that serviced smaller wineries who could not afford their own machine.

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