Winegrape growers facing severe restrictions on how much frost-protection water they can tap from waterways key to spawning protected fish will have some federal funds to help build ponds to store winter rains or install water-saving equipment.

"The next hurdle is to get the state water board to modify permits for some people to allow them to use [the reservoirs]," said Sean White, general manager of the Mendocino County Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation District.

The State Water Resources Control Board recently warned growers to manage use of watersheds with protected fish, which peaks as overhead sprinklers are turned on during frosty nights, or face restrictions. Yet the board has been slow to approve hundreds of water-rights applications, some of which are for on- and off-stream ponds for irrigation and frost-fighting and have been pending for years.

The conservation district oversees Mendocino County water rights that supply water to 4,000 acres of vines and ranchland in the upper Russian River as well as seven cities. The district joined a grant-writing effort by Napa-based water-conservation effort Fish Friendly Farming, a project of the California Land Stewardship Institute.

That group's executive director, Laurel Marcus, brought together the conservation service, the district, the institute and Mendocino County Farm Bureau to form the Northern California Wine Country Agricultural Water Conservation and Water Quality Improvement Program for eligible property owners in the Navarro, Russian and Napa river watersheds of Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa counties.

The program won a five-year, $5.7 million grant from the conservation service's Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, created as part of the 2008 Farm Bill and administered by the U.S. Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Available through the wine country program this year will be $500,000, with $1 million in 2010 and more each year thereafter.

This money will help growers who have already started off-stream reservoir projects or want to install streamflow meters or upgrade watering equipment to more efficient versions, according to Mr. White.

For grant eligibility details, contact Carol Mandel in the conservation service's Ukiah office at 707-468-9223.


Such concerns about increasing regulation of water use for irrigation and frost control prompted Soquel-based farming software developer SureHarvest to work with Constellation Brands to add a Soil & Water module to its Farming Management Information Systems product for handheld and laptop computers.


Orion Warehousing Services, focused on receiving shipments of barrels rolling into wine country and preparing them for delivery to winery cellars, launched in 20,000 square feet of Stravinski Development Group's new 411,000-square-foot wine warehouse at 644 Hanna Court in American Canyon.

The stars for Orion started aligning last fall, according to co-owner Debbie Payton, who was production manager for Oeneo Closures USA in Napa for the past seven years. As she was finishing her MBA, Ms. Payton was talking with co-owner Eric Mercier, president of Premium Wine Cask in Napa since March 2007, about starting an ancillary barrel business.

"He saw a need for more local barrel warehousing other than in Benicia and Suisun City and one other locally," she said.

Oakland-based barrel broker Artisan Barrels now uses Orion as its central warehouse for the thousands of units it imports each year and is Orion's largest customer.

It is a tough time for the barrel business, Ms. Payton notes. The record month-long frost of spring 2008 cut production at enough wineries to leave them with leftover new barrels from last year. Now the sluggish economy and scaling back of high-end wine sales has prompted wineries to not spend as much on barrels.

"They are also ordering a little later than usual, which causes problems for European manufacturers, who typically shut down in August, and then start producing barrels for the European market," Ms. Payton said.

"Barrel season" typically spans July through September as wineries prepare for harvest. Orion will be supplementing fees for barrel processing and storage revenue with casegoods storage. Barrel fees, not including volume discounts, are $6 a barrel for processing shipments and $5 each per month for storage past 30 days.


Another tenant of the Stravinski Development Group's new big house of wine on the hill is wine packaging services provider Vinpak, which Keith and La Rae Kaarup started in 2003 in south Napa.

One of the company's key customers is Valley Wine Warehouse, owned by the Stravinski family. Instead of devoting staff to trucking wine back and forth from Valley Wine's warehouses and handling it in its facility, Vinpak will have the wine in the same building, as Valley Wine has expanded into 644 Hanna Court as well, according to Mr. Kaarup.

That means more of Vinpak's staff will be available for services such as removing, replacing or applying labels for bottles or cases; export labeling; custom packaging; case and wooden box repacking; shrink wrapping; and applying wax and capsules to closures.


Ascentia Wine Estates undertook a high-tech lighting retrofit in the Geyser Peak Winery production facility and warehouse in Geyserville that is estimated to cut electricity demand for operations by 52 percent, said to be equivalent to the removal of 931,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions a year or 91 passenger vehicles on the highway.

High-wattage high-intensity, T-12 fluorescent and incandescent lamps were systematically swapped, based on lighting-needs assessments by Energy Industries of Honolulu, with LED, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), and T5-HO and T8 linear fluorescent fixtures.

As is increasingly more common in wineries and warehouses, motion sensors activate fixtures only when workers are present.

Submit items for this column to Jeff Quackenbush at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4256 or fax 707-521-5292.