Semiconductor turns winemaker

Hiroshi Matsuzaka, CEO of former semiconductor plant in Japan, deploys ISO Class 5 cleanroom technology to winemaking

Hiroshi Matsuzaka, CEO of MGVs winery. Photo by Junya Igarashi

The ISO Class 5 cleanroom at Enzan Factory, a semiconductor plant in Japan, has been adapted to accommodate winemaking. Hiroshi Matsuzaka, CEO, decided to turn the vineyard on the company’s estate into a business. It was a strategic decision to diversify operations and move away from Asian tech rivals.

“We decided to make the change due to the stiff competition on price in recent years from overseas producers, specifically in the rest of Asia,” Matsuzaka tells me, adding that as Japanese domestic semiconductor manufacturers declined in competitiveness, his company looked for alternative business models that were not so easily replicated by its competitors.

Enzan’s core business focussed on processing semiconductor wafers, mostly dicing, grinding and processing electrodes on the back of wafers. The company’s monthly output – 16,000,000 pieces – was delivered to a customer base comprised of silicon wafer manufacturers in Japan, as well as compound wafer manufacturers. Local universities, research institutes and visual sensitivity filter manufacturers for cameras and other electronic equipment were also in its roster.

The 700 sq m production site operated machinery in a climate-controlled environment. Installed equipment included wafer mounters, vacuum sealers, dehumidifiers, pure water production units, drainage filtration units, chillers for air conditioning and external air purifiers, to name a few.

Winemaking

In 2016 Enzan received its liquor licence and Matsuzaka Green Vineyards (MGVs) entered the market in April 2017. Spearheaded by Matsuzaka, the company is driven by a love of wine fostered by a family tradition. He explains: “I took over this vineyard eight years ago. I love wine; my parents and grandparents grew grapes and they have been doing so for about 100 years. I wanted to focus on producing great wine, and this desire led to the establishment of our winery.”

Bottling wine in ISO Class 5 cleanroom

Some equipment used by Enza’s semiconductor plant is now part of MGVs’ operation. These include boilers, compressors, the ISO Class 5 cleanroom, pure water production equipment, drainage pit, external air purifier, pure water tank, nitrogen, waste water plumbing and a liquefied nitrogen tank (CE tank).

MGVs’ vineyard spans 3.03 hectares under cultivation. The company grows two distinctive Japanese varieties of grapes to produce its wines: Koshu grapes for whites and Muscat Bailey A, for red and rosé wines. Matsuzaka tells me that a Charmat-style sparkling wine will be available from 2018. “We will also have traditional-style sparkling wine, which is scheduled to be released in 2020,” he points out.

Technology and design

Matsuzaka is keen to explain how the existing cleanroom technology used by the semiconductor plant has been adapted to winemaking. He says: “The nitrogen system we used to prevent oxidation in the production of semiconductors has been repurposed to prevent oxidation in the production of wine. The cleanroom is used for hygiene control.”

Air shower enclosure and automatic doors separate the grape processing room from the fermentation area

The company is bottling wine in a cleanroom ISO Class 5; it features air circulation frequency of 25 times per hour. This, Matsuzaka says, helps prevent contamination from insects, such as fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) and other foreign matter. He explains: “Although the cleanliness of the bottle storage facility is not usually a problem for wineries, we decided to use our existing cleanroom technology for temperature control by forcing cooled air through a HEPA filter and thereby creating the perfect conditions for storing wines.” Matsuzaka believes that thanks to the innovative cleanroom design, it is easy to maintain conditions where no bacterial growth can occur. “Corners and other spaces across the cleanroom are given rounded surfaces to allow for easier maintenance of hygienic conditions,” he says.

There have been facility upgrades required to meet the demand of winemaking. “The floor was originally flat, but now that water is being used inside the facility, the floor itself has been reskimmed to create a gradient of at least 1%,” Matsuzaka explains. In the fermentation tank room, where a 5-metre tank has been installed, the ceiling fan filter units (FFU) and the floor grating were removed to make space.

An electric forklift moves inside the facility, so a door has been installed to allow the vehicle to move between rooms. “Furthermore, we have installed a sheet shutter that prevents the invasion of insects, and we also set up a double sheet shutter room structure before entering the fermentation and processing area,” Matsuzaka explains.

Other arrangements were made to improve water drainage. “The stainless steel gutter was welded at the same time as the floor gradient was changed to provide optimal functionality,” Matsuzaka says, adding that all the stainless steel joints feature round corners to reduce clogging and to allow for easier maintenance of hygienic conditions.

Speaking about quality assurance, MGVs’ chief says the company adopts quality control methods similar to that of semiconductor manufacturing.

Matsuzaka has made his dream come true. The decision to turn the cleanroom and the technology available for the semiconductor plant into winemaking is proving successful. MGVs current production capacity is about 25,000 litres and the outlook is to scale up to 70,000 litres, depending on the condition of the vine and its capacity for producing grapes.

The strategy for the next three years, Matsuzaka tells me, is to start selling aged wines and from this fiscal year to promote sales overseas.

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