Growing & Winemaking

 

First Steps in Winery Flooring

June 2010
 
by Peter Mitham
 
 

The soft-soled shoes, the smooth finish of the cellar floor and a bit of water from whatever had been going on before my arrival: It was the recipe for a classic slip-and-fall, the black slapstick found in writs and court filings. I was lucky, however, and kept my balance.

Balance is one of the most common words used by wineries and suppliers when it comes to planning floors for tasting rooms, production areas and cellars. Aesthetics, function and sheer practicality have to work together to ensure that people stay upright and that maintenance is hassle-free.

Europe has it figured out: The systems on display at last November’s equipment show Salone Internazionale delle Macchine per l’Enologia e l’Imbottigliamento (SIMEI) in Milan, for example, included tiles, other flooring and drainage systems that blended function and contemporary design.

North American wineries, by contrast, typically work with variations on concrete. Often, aggregate is mixed with resin (either epoxy or polyurethane) to produce a durable flooring system. Traction is based on the size of aggregate used.

A good flooring system is worth the investment, says Rob Summers, winemaker at Hester Creek Estate Winery, just south of Oliver, B.C. He estimates that the floor in the new facility Hester Creek opened last year cost about $8 per square foot.

Hester Creek chose a urethane coating mixture known as Poly-Crete, a product of East Hartford, Conn.-based Dur-A-Flex. A layer about an eighth of an inch thin was troweled onto the concrete floor. Tank pads were left as bare concrete, because they didn’t need the extra protection. Coving around the production area and modular trench-style drains completed the flooring system, allowing water to drain easily.

“It’s a little more money, but it’s worth it,” Summers says of the drainage system, noting that the biggest problem he sees when he visits wineries is inadequate floor drainage. “If you don’t have adequate drainage or proper soaks, then you’re continually squeegeeing the floor, and there’s a labor component there, and there’s standing water. It’s a humidity issue, a slip hazard…it’s not worth it.”

Summers was attracted by the durability of the urethane finish, which he believes is greater than epoxy-aggregate mixes. A quick curing time and reduced off-gasing also were appealing. “Epoxy’s got some pretty strong solvents in it,” he says.

A year later, Summers has no regrets. “We love it; it’s been great,” he says. “You could hit it with a hammer, and it doesn’t even chip.”

    Traction vs. wear and tear
     

     
  • Knowing where traction is needed and the best type to have are key to a safe floor. Michael Jewell of flooring supplier Stonhard says footwear is important, but visitors can’t be expected to have the same traction as workers. And winemakers need to consider the wear on hoses and other equipment from flooring that has high traction.

    “If a customer’s walking through in street shoes, it’s going to be very slippery for them,” he says. “The winery needs to decide, ‘Where are those traffic aisles going to be for my tours?’ Knowing where the high-traffic areas are, particularly for tours, will help guide decisions such as whether to have an aggregate mix that provides better grip in one area versus another, where there may be fewer visitors and less traffic.

    “The great thing about a seamless floor, a pour-in-place floor, is we literally could make one very specific area more textured than another area,” Jewell says. “I could take that walking aisle, if you will, and make it more textured.”

    Traction is easier to get today than 20 years ago, when the common method was merely to coat the resin mixture with aggregate rather than incorporate it into the coating. It would wear off and require frequent maintenance if it was going to serve its purpose. “The texture’s really built into the system, so it’s much more permanent,” Jewell says.

    The floor’s pitch will also help keep moisture away from walking areas, reducing the chance of a slip-and-fall, and potential lawsuits. Drains could be arranged to demarcate walking areas, as well as to allow wine to be spit or dumped by tour groups.

    Jewell says a coarse aggregate would allow a better grip but also make cleaning a more difficult task. “You need to balance between slip-resistance and safety and cleanability. The more slip-resistant the floor, the more difficult it will be to clean,” he says. “Obviously, it can be cleaned, but it takes a little more work to keep it clean, and throughout the day it’s sometimes going to look pretty dirty.”

    Darel Allwine, cellar master at Col Solare in Benton City, Wash., opted for light texture on the 4,400 square feet of Stonhard’s Stonclad UT surface laid down at his winery. The goal was to avoid too much grain, which wasn’t so much an issue of cleanliness (easily accomplished with a good wash-down) but practicality: The grippiness of a highly textured surface wouldn’t just catch footwear but hoses and equipment. “It’s definitely a big difference between that and the light texture so far as wear and tear on the hoses and that type of thing,” he says.

    Allwine’s experience since Col Solare installed a lightly textured surface in November 2009 has prompted him to consider a medium texture for the flooring when the barrel rooms are surfaced.
    P.M.

Durability was also a concern at Ontario’s Southbrook Vineyards, which completed the move into its new facility in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2008. Proprietor Bill Redelmeier knows of people who use glass tile, hardwood or lay down industrial carpeting in parts of their wineries, but he opted for concrete when aesthetic value, ease of maintenance and the various drawbacks were considered.

“There’s no one perfect material,” Redelmeier says. “I’m willing to put up with the s hortcomings of concrete—as in don’t ever drop a glass on it. Other people would say, ‘We want an industrial-style carpeting.’ Yeah, it looks nice, but it looks terrible if it stains.”

To balance durability with aesthetics, Southbrook burnished the floor of its tasting room. The finish is tough enough to handle movement of stock but doesn’t draw attention to itself, letting Southbrook’s wines capture the eye. The production facility, on the other hand, was specially designed to handle the movement of heavy equipment, and it features an epoxy coating troweled on at a cost of $5 per square foot.

“The new production facility took over a former machine shed,” Redelmeier says. “We said (to the former owner), ‘How thick was the floor?’ and they said six inches, which is what we needed, but then we said, ‘Now can you guarantee it’s six inches everywhere, and not four inches some places and eight inches other places?’ And they said, ‘Well, we think so.’”

That wasn’t good enough for Redelmeier, who poured six more inches of concrete atop the existing floor, where Southbrook’s tanks and racks now sit. A ramp leads to the upper area.

To provide extra protection for the floor from tanks, which can weigh 20 tons or more when filled, all of it resting on three or four feet, winemaker Ann Sperling deployed hockey pucks as plates under the tank feet. Plates are necessary to spread the weight of the tanks and protect the concrete from damage, preserving its integrity and extending its life.

“We’re Canadian,” Redelmeier says. “You can use stainless steel, and we were quoted something like $330 apiece for a little six-inch steel disc. But at our local equivalent of Pep Boys, Canadian Tire, it’s 79 cents each for hockey pucks.”

The floor, with its trench-style drain, is also eminently washable—something Redelmeier wasn’t going to do without after making wine for 15 years at Southbrook’s old facility, a former dairy barn. The floor couldn’t be cleaned or sterilized. It didn’t make a big difference to the wine, but have a spill and you’d know it once the molds and vinegar bacteria got growing.

“You’ve got to be able to wash the floors,” Redelmeier says. “What you really don’t want to have is a wine spill—or more particularly, earlier on in the year, a juice spill—and then you rinse it off, but it doesn’t get rinsed off 100% perfectly, and then the next thing you know you get fermentation and all sort of nasty smells coming out of it.”

Still, cleaning can damage even a well-laid floor if the floor isn’t designed to handle the cleaning solution or temperature of water used.

Michael Jewell, vice president of marketing with Maple Shade, N.J.-based Stonhard, says wineries and other food processing businesses (which make up about a third of Stonhard’s business) often use its Stonclad UT product because it’s resistant to thermal shock.

A winery might have a floor that’s chilled from beneath because it’s atop the cellar, while the area above might be washed down with hot water, leading to a temperature difference of as much as 100°F, Jewell says. The shock as hot water hits the colder floor can cause expansion, sudden cracks and other degradation (just as when hot water is poured on a frozen glass, or vice versa). The product costs between $6 and $12 per square foot, Jewell says, “depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Coving, floor configuration and whatever else affects the ease of construction will also affect pricing, but the expense will be worth it, extending the life of the floor from a mere three to five years to upwards of 15 or 20. “It’s not unusual to see one of these floors last 15 to 20 years, and not need anything in that timeframe other than keeping it clean and maintaining it,” Jewell says.

Our Northwest correspondent Peter Mitham is a freelance agricultural writer based in Vancouver, B.C. Look for his weekly dispatches at winesandvines.com Headlines. Contact him through edit@winesandvines.com.

 

 
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