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December 2012 Issue of Wines & Vines

Small Wineries Choose Tanks

Where do eastern winemakers look for stainless steel tanks?

by Linda Jones McKee
Tanks are pretty simple, right? Originally they were made of clay, then wood or concrete, and now from stainless steel. Winemakers can get them in a practically limitless range of sizes—with or without jackets for insulation and cooling, with valves and manways and a variety of attachments that permit stirring, punching down, pumping over and removing seeds. Call your local supplier, and you can get whatever you need.

Or can you? Like many things, some stainless steel tanks are better than others. All tank manufacturers can obtain quality stainless steel, but not all companies have the same level of skill for welding techniques or understanding of the wine industry to make tanks that suit a particular winemaking style. For small wineries in the East, quality often comes with a high price tag—both for the tank and for the freight to get these large, heavy objects to a location not in a mainstream wine-producing region.

The first place a winemaker east of the Rockies may go to look for tanks is Prospero Equipment. Originally based in Pleasantville, N.Y., the company now has offices in New York’s Finger Lakes region and California. The company offers both standard and customized stainless steel tanks with options such as automatic punch down, pump over and seed-removal systems. Standard tanks include fixed-capacity tanks, variable-capacity tanks, stackable tanks, punch down fermentors (with and without seed removal) and small variable-capacity tanks. The tanks from Prospero are all imported from SK Group in Slovenia. The company’s catalog is available for downloading on the Prospero website,

Tanks made in America
Two of the companies making stainless steel tanks in the East are Vance Metal Fabricators in Geneva, N.Y., and Custom Metalcraft in Springfield, Mo. Vance Metal Fabricators began business in 1880 as a boiler manufacturer. It now produces tanks for a number of different industries and can supply tanks for the wine industry with capacities from 250 to 8,000 gallons. According to Chris Jennings, vice president of sales, Vance is known for making very stout tanks. “If the building falls down,” Jennings told Wine East, “the tank will still be standing. We produce our tanks to high quality standards, deliver on time and have very loyal customers.”

When Vance began making wine tanks, company officials thought they could produce “standard” sized tanks. They soon discovered that many factors impact the size and shape of tanks that wineries need: Ceilings vary in height, doors are different widths, some winemakers want to control temperatures, others don’t. Today the company has a line of standard sized tanks, but it also creates customized tanks for wineries’ special needs. The welds on all tanks are ground to a smooth finish so tanks can be easily cleaned. While they have made some variable-capacity tanks and a few stackable tanks, Vance mostly produces the basic stainless steel workhorse tanks that every winery needs.

Custom Metalcraft specializes in producing square tanks. Their TranStore storage and fermentation tanks are designed for small-batch processing and are available in a range of sizes from 180 to 2,000 gallons. The tanks up to 550-gallon capacity are stackable to three high; stackability combined with the square shape allows small wineries with limited floor space to maximize the number of gallons in tanks per square foot.

Nikki Holden, managing partner for vineyard and winery equipment sales, told Wine East that new clients with small wineries often need flexible, portable and easy-to-clean equipment. “If a winery has two people working harvest, it’s very important to them that the tank welds are smooth so the tanks clean easier.” She also noted that the dimple-style jackets on TranStore tanks are heavy duty so that tanks and their jackets can withstand being moved around the winery.

TranStore wine storage and fermentation tanks have the following features:
• 304 stainless steel construction
• Extended drum neck
• 22.5-inch diameter top-fill opening with 2-inch sanitary connection installed in center of the cover
• Food-grade gasket and lever lock clamp ring assembly
• Half-inch patented sloped bottom for near complete drainage
• 2-inch sanitary 90° elbow outlet in tank bottom for discharge with protective guard

Additional features that can be included:
• Dimpled heat-transfer jackets for cooling with glycol or water
• Additional manway sizes and styles
• Sample valves
• Pressure-relief valves
• Thermowell for temperature monitoring.

New tank options for eastern wineries
Albrigi, a company located outside Verona, Italy, is about to enter eastern North America’s winery market with its custom-made tanks. The company’s main focus in Italy has been to produce quality stainless steel tanks for small wine producers with specific needs. The company produces tanks ranging from 100 liters to hundreds of hectoliters in size, although the largest tanks are not exported outside of Italy.

In Europe, environmental regulations concerning the disposal of wastewater and the level of cleanliness of water are very strict (more so than in the United States.) Tanks by Albrigi are constructed using welding and finishing processes that result in interior surfaces that are so smooth the tanks can be cleaned using only hot water, with no chemicals added. Tanks are a major investment for a winery and last for a long time. U.S. regulations concerning water quality may become stricter, and even now wineries are increasingly trying to follow the best practices for the environment.

At Albrigi, technical details are viewed as being critical in making a quality tank. The gauge of metal must be heavy enough that the tank will not deform, and stainless steel finishes must be smooth enough that tartrates will not stick. Cooling jackets have to be constructed so that welds holding them in place don’t fail under high pressure (>5 bar.)

Albri gi offers tank configurations and accessories to maximize utility for every size of tank. Owner Stefano Albrigi told Wine East that tank accessories can be more important than the tank itself. Winemakers need to know the technologies they want, and Albrigi can provide the necessary accessories.

Tank configurations include delestage, pump over, batonnage and cold stability. Other accessories allow techniques such as headspace inerting, which uses manifold inert gas systems. The company designs a range of special accessory features for racking and the management of headspace.

Albrigi tanks for small wineries
This line of tanks was specially designed for small to medium-sized wineries and includes 90 different product models. These tanks, ranging in size from 3 to 60hl, are constructed using AISI 304L and 316L stainless steel and have mirror polished interiors. The inner welds are rolled and rounded so the tank is “self-washing.” Tank accessories are made using rounded and self-cleaning sheet metal shapes. This line of tanks includes:
• Minitank: 3-15hl
• Meditank: fermentation and storage tank with temperature control; sizes (in hectoliters): 20, 26, 34, 40 and 50
• Variable-capacity tanks
• Tanks with a rectangular footprint.

A few of the other Albrigi products are:
Compatank: Wineries can increase the amount of fermentation or storage space taken up by Compatanks by approximately 25% when compared with cylindrical tanks. Compatanks are not truly square or rectangular—the corners are rounded, and the sidewalls are slightly convex and have enough thickness to resist over-pressurization. The tanks, sizes 3-300hl, can be stacked, insulated and fitted with all the standard accessories for pumping over, gas inertization systems, fixed washing systems, thermometers and temperature probes.

“The everything tank” is a vertical, cylindrical fermentation tank with a specially designed full-disk rotating blade for punching down the cap.

Europalet: These palletizable tanks are designed to ferment, store and transfer small batches of wine. They come in 610-, 830-, 1,070- and 1,530-liter sizes and can be fitted with accessories such as large doors, conditioning jackets and temperature monitoring. Pressure-rated tanks with 1.3- and 3.6-bar ratings are available for sparkling wines.

Pressuretank: If a winemaker wants to make sparkling wine using the Charmat process (see “Charmat, Why Not?” on page 49), this pressure tank has been PED tested at 3, 6 and 9 bars.

This specialty tank was designed for carbonic maceration. A conveyor belt fills the tank with whole clusters through its front and top doors; it is fitted with mobile loading hoppers, conditioning jackets, thermometers and probes to ensure proper temperature control—plus CO2 injectors and a “washing plant” for cleaning up the tank at the end of the work cycle.

This tank is larger than many wineries east of the Rockies will find necessary. However, if a winery needs a fermentation tank in the 600-1,500hl size range, Turbotank has a patented automatic pump over system that may be attractive.

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