In this region, a fruitful and productive area, harvest time can last from July to November, but typically, the weeks and months in between them are the ones when most of the activity occurs. To ensure the bright acidity that winemakers seek, grapes for sparkling wines are normally the first to be picked, proclaiming the beginning of a thoroughly intensive but eagerly anticipated time of the year. The next wines are sauvignon blanc and other aromatic white wines, chardonnay, pinot noir, reds (such as merlot, cabernet franc, syrah and sangiovese), cabernet sauvignon and lastly the late harvest wines from grapes left on the vine longer than usual to intentionally let them get riper.
“Harvest time in late summer and early fall is an exciting time to be involved in the wine industry,” said Fred Heim, Continental technical manager who sells winery and brewery hose to distributors and their viticultural customers throughout an area in the mid-section of California that could be referred to as America’s Wine Belt. The “belt” stretches approximately from Sacramento, the state capital, to the San Joaquin Valley some 300 miles (480 Km), an area about three-fourths the size of France. In addition, the state of California has vineyards as far south as San Diego. Regardless, “When the grapes are ready to be harvested,” said Heim, “there is non-stop action until every grape is picked and processed.”
And non-stop is an understated phrase to describe an annual California activity that can involve between 325,000 to 400,000 workers across the state; generate $57.6 billion (€49.6 billion) in annual economic activity; pay $7.6 billion (€6.5 billion) in taxes and $17.2 billion (€14.8 billion) in annual wages, and generate another $7.2 billion (€6.2 billion) in revenues from an annual average influx of 23.6 million tourist visits.1
“Once the vintner tells us that the vineyards are ready for harvesting, we work 24 hours a day, seven days a week for sometimes more than two months straight,” said Cellar Master, Pablo Polanco of Rutherford, California’s Frog’s Leap Winery who has been in the business for 28 years. Frog’s Leap is also a Continental wine hose customer. “When harvest happens, our vats become full, and it is important to use a dependable, clean sanitary hose that we can rely on to transfer our wine for the multiple process we perform.” Frog’s Leap primarily uses Velocity Beverage Transfer hose and Nutriflor Clear.
Hose, composed mostly of synthetic rubber or polyvinylchloride (PVC), is indeed an integral component in the winemaking business, but in the world’s timeframe, it is a relative newcomer to the ancient business.
For several thousand years since the earliest known evidence of grape wine was discovered in the territory of Georgia in 6,000 BC,2 wine was transported from one process to the other via clay pots. Fast-forward a few thousand years to the 1700s when leather hoses were used to replace buckets for transporting water to extinguish fires as well as wine transport. However, in 1821, Irish immigrant James Boyd, living in Boston, patented his invention for rubber-lined, cotton-webbed fire hose and subsequently, there was a need for hoses in a variety of industries and uses such as winemaking. Continental started its hose production in the 1880s in its Hanover Vahrenwald plant.
Today, hoses are solidly entrenched in the winemaking business, and, unsurprisingly the choice du jour replacing the old clay pots, leather “hoses” and other similar vessels that would transport grapes and wine from stage to stage along the process that involves five major steps: harvesting, crushing, fermentation, aging and finishing a sixth step – tirage – is needed in sparkling wine production.
“Hoses to the wine-making business are like arteries to the heart,” said Continental’s Heim. “Nothing in a winery works without those vessels, and while they are just one part of the process, you couldn’t make wine today without them.”
One Continental hose customer is Hess Collection Winery, a company that uses over 2,000 feet (609 meters) of wine hose. Hess was established by Donald Hess, a native of Switzerland, who “built the winery to combine his love for art and wine under one roof,“ said Robert Galvan, Hess’ cellar master. Donald Hess built his winery to satisfy his passion for art, and the winery houses Hess’ gallery and collection of fine art next to the tasting room – hence the name Hess “Collection” Winery. However, wine production remains the focal point, and the hose is a vital part of the process. “We like the EZGlide wine hose for the wine production process – blending and tank-to-tank wine transfers” said Galvan. “It’s easy to slide around and two workers can easily move it from vat to vat.”
Galvan added, “We like the cleanability of the hose; it’s sanitary characteristics and light weight – which saves on the back.” Hess also uses Velocity Beverage Transfer hose.
California is one of only five agricultural regions in the world that has a Mediterranean growing climate, producing more than 400 commodities, more than any state in the United States. More than one-third of America’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California3. And grapes? The number two-rated top-value commodity in 2016 was grapes coming in at $5.58 billion (€4.81 billion). If California were an independent entity, it would be the 4th largest producing country of wine in the world!
It is not difficult, then, to imagine why Continental is so active in pursuing business in this area. In wine consumption alone, Americans drink more wine than any other country in the world. In 2016, the U.S. consumed 949 million gallons, or 2.94 gallons annually per person. But with more than 1,200 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas, or wineries) the state of California produces more than 81 percent of America’s wines and, unsurprisingly, the United States is the world’s fourth largest producer, just behind France, Italy and Spain. In 2017, California shipped 241 million cases of wine that grossed $35.2 billion (€30.3 billion) in sales – one-third of the world’s sales. The U.S. exported $1.5 billion (€1.3 billion) and California’s share of that was 90 percent.4
On a global basis, while the industry’s annual growth rate is about 1.1 percent, its sales are a solid $103 billion (€88.7 billion) annually, and that comes from a relatively small number of businesses, estimated at about 78,000 worldwide and employing just 267,225.5
“California is a big market for us and the state’s wine region is extremely important to our growth strategy,” said Laszlo Dobo, Continental’s product manager for industrial hose. “We are constantly developing new constructions for our hose products to meet a steady and consistent demand from our customers especially in California.”
Continental hoses that are popular among the wineries in California include: EZGlide wine hose; Velocity Beverage Transfer (clear), Vintner Microband, Gray Flextra LT, and Nutriflo Clear. However, Dobo and his colleagues are excited about Continental’s new offering in the wine hose market – Vintner Reserve beverage transfer hose.
New to the market this harvest season is Continental’s Vintner Reserve wine hose. “This particular hose is the product of years of research and feedback from our distributors and wineries,” said Dobo. “It is a lighter, more flexible yet sturdier option for beverage transfer while still maintaining compliance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards.”
Jason Rodriguez, technical sales manager for AEB, a Continental distributor in Lodi, California, says, “Our equipment customers are very demanding especially since the harvest time is so critical to the winemaking process. “That’s one reason why we recommend Continental hoses because they exceed our customers’ requirements.”
One of Rodriguez’ customers is Turner Road Vintners, a part of the large beverage conglomerate, Constellation Brands, Inc. that owns such famous labels as Corona and Modelo beers, Svedka vodka and Mondavi and Woodbridge, just to name a few. TRV produces six to eight million cases of wine a year from vineyards across California. Ryan Flock, senior winemaker for TRV said, “We prefer rubber hoses in our wineries because during the process from grapes to finished wines, and the food-grade quality of the hose is vital to our operations.” TRV primarily uses Continental Velocity Beverage hose, a popular hose for many of the valley’s wineries.
While the replacement of hose in wineries is at staggered intervals of 8-10 years, the opportunities for Continental remain endless. “The United States is still the No. 1 consumer of wine in the world, and Continental has a strong presence there,” said Dobo. “And while there has been a production shift from ‘old country’ to ‘new country’ wines as well as growth in China up approximately 19 percent in vineyard surface area6, Continental will always remain a solid competitor in wine and beer hose, both in the U.S. and the rest of the world.”
1 U.S. Wine Institute
2 Euronews, 21 May 2015
3 Based on USDA ERS figures published as of Feb. 7, 2018
4 Wine Institute of the United States
6 eVinyard, International Organisation of Vine and Wine, Statista