Napa firm buys Sebastopol operations designed to extract alcohol from wine

  • Eric Dahlberg, president of WineSECRETS, with two of the distillation columns at Vinovation, the Sebastopol wine services company purchased by WineSECRETS. Reverse osmosis filtration and distillation are key parts of the filtration technology at the Sebastopol company.

A Sebastopol company that many winemakers consider their secret weapon against problem vintages has sold its California operations to a Napa wine services firm.

Vinovation, which specializes in high-tech filtration to remove excess alcohol and other unwanted substances from wine, has sold its Sebastopol operations to WineSecrets Inc. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Vinovation was started in 1992 by winemaker Clark Smith to commercialize a patent he received on his reverse osmosis technology for the wine industry.

The process removes unwanted substances and excess alcohol from wine by forcing it through a semi-permeable membrane.

Once frowned upon by the industry, alcohol removal has become a common tool for winemakers seeking to reduce alcohol levels to avoid the "hot" sensation associated with some high-alcohol wines.

Wineries also seek to reduce alcohol levels to lower their tax bills. Wines with more than 14 percent alcohol are taxed at a higher rate than wines with less alcohol.

The process also removes a variety of substances that can taint wine, such as the yeast brettanomyces and volatile acidity, which can give wine a vinegary taste.

The company serves about 700 winery clients and processes about 2 million gallons of wine every year, said Brian Smith, who joined his brother in the company in 1998.

It's the second-largest company of its kind in the industry. The largest is Santa Rosa-based Cone Tech, which uses a different technology -- spinning cones and centrifugal force -- to achieve the desired alcohol adjustment.

Vinovation's technology is licensed to about 10 clients in the United States and to about a half-dozen overseas, he said.

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