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Spain-based Rivercap is setting up manufacturing plant in Benicia to make polylaminate and PVC plastic capsules to top wine and spirits bottles.

The 26,500-square-foot plant will "increase responsiveness" for Rivercap customers in North America and tighten the partnership between the capsule supplier and its exclusive distributor on the continent, according to Jose Saenz, chief executive officer of Rivercap USA Inc.

"I am confident that our new manufacturing center will streamline our operations, elevate the customer experience, and enhance the relationship between Cork Supply USA and Rivercap," Mr. Saenz said. "We will be in a position to build long-term strength and success."

The new plant, scheduled to open Dec. 1, will be located next to the headquarters of Cork Supply USA, which in January became the exclusive distributor for both Rivercap and Sparflex capsules to North American vintners and distillers. Cork Supply USA already had been distributing Rivercap capsules.

In April 2010, France-based sparkling wine foil and wire hood specialist Sparflex and Rivercap announced they would combine wine and spirits plastic capsule production at Sparflex's Ukiah plant, which opened nearly four years ago.

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Two Napa Valley wine properties sold recently for a combined $51 million to investors from China, and more Asian investors are shopping for local luxury assets.

A Fremont-based affiliate of Goldin Financial Holdings, a Hong Kong-based publicly traded company, purchased the 40-acre Sloan Family Winery property in Rutherford on June 10 for $40 million, according to property records and regulatory filings. The deal didn't include the Sloan brand, which had been fetching a few hundred dollars a bottle since its first release in 2004. The property has a French chateau and several thousand square feet of cave cellars.

In a regulatory filing explaining the purchase, Goldin Financial Chairman Pat Sutong wrote that wine in Hong Kong and the rest of China has become "a social status symbol especially among the newly formed middle classes in China."

"The demand for wine is increasing at extremely high speed," he wrote. "With the implementation of tax free policy on wine since 2008 and the huge demand from China, the board considers that Hong Kong [will] gradually became one of the world’s largest wine auction centers."

In addition to the Sloan purchase, Goldin Properties Ltd., which is building a 20 million-square-foot Goldin Metropolitan city-like development in the Tianjin southeast coastal suburb of Beijing, plans to spend $30 million building a wine distribution center in China big enough to store 7.7 million bottles of wine. Goldin Financial got into wine sales last year and sold the equivalent of $12.8 million.

In another 40-plus-acre Napa Valley deal, the Zhang family acquired the Frazier Family Estate Winery vineyard and private residence on Lupine Hill Road and Rapp Lane overlooking Napa Valley Country Club. The Frazier family filed for Bankruptcy Court reorganization protection late last year to allow time to sell the properties to pay debt.

Zhang's Winery Inc., based in San Marino, acquired the Lupine Hill Vineyard in April for $3 million, or $205,000 an acre. The adjacent family home, winery, 11-plus acres of vines and 9,800 square feet of wine caves sold to the Zhang family the following month for $7.9 million, according to public records and listing broker Robyn Bentley of St. Helena-based Wine Country Consultants. Ming Hua of Dawa Investment & Realty of Pasadena represented the Zhang family.

Ms. Bentley said luxury goods--hungry buyers from China are eager to find "the best of the best" wine properties.

"I probably talk to Chinese investors twice a week," she said.

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Evan Engber of BioEngineering Associates is designing three projects to shore up and restore fish habitat along more than 1,000 feet of Russian River banks in Sonoma County on property owned by Treasury Wine Estates Americas, Ferrari-Carano and the Diaz family.

Treasury Wine plans to bioengineer a total of 365 linear feet of severely eroded bank on the west side of the river near the Alexander Valley community of Asti, where the wine company has a major winemaking facility.

The goal of the project, according to the July 19 permit notice from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, is to revegetate the riparian edge as well as enhance and create fish habitat. The comment period ends Aug. 9.

Ferrari-Carano winery wants to stabilize, revegetate and bring back fish habitat along 497 feet of the east bank of the river about a football field-length south of the Highway 128 bridge at Geyserville. The comment period ends July 27.

Manuel and Carol Diaz applied to work on 260 feet of the east bank along River Road near Cloverdale. The comment period also ends July 27.

***Stone Edge Farm, an organic farm and winery located in Sonoma Valley, last week unveiled a 5-kilowatt fuel cell system called ClearEdge5, supplied by Hillsboro, Ore.-based ClearEdge Power, to reduce the electricity needed to run irrigation pumps and lights as well as to produce heat needed for operations.

Stone Edge Farm proprietor Mac McQuown expects to save 49 percent on the business' electricity bill and prevent 24,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the environment annually. The refrigerator-size system is projected save the winery more than $250,000 on total energy costs over 20 years.

Fuel cells use an electrochemical process to convert natural gas to electricity and heat.

Some North Coast farms and wineries such as Straus Family Creamery and Clos Du Bois have used bacterial action on dairy and winery waste to create natural gas, or biogas, to fuel boilers and generators.

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[caption id="attachment_37121" align="alignright" width="194" caption="Better Barrel offers wine-by-the-glass programs a cask-like look to a bar-top chiller dispenser."][/caption]

Santa Rosa-based inventor Greg Snell, who launched the WinePod "micro-winery" device and wine blending club service last year, has released a combination four-bottle bag-in-barrel wine dispensing device and wine chiller, all encased in a small countertop wooden keg with tap.

Called Better Barrel, the container holds a 3-liter  vacuum bag and is targeted at restaurants and venues that sell wine by the glass. The first 100 units are scheduled to reach the market in October at a retail price of $199. For details, visit www.betterbarrelwine.com or call 408-205-4850.