Postmodern Winemaking


Showstoppers From SIMEI and Enovitis

February 2012
by Clark Smith
CLICK PHOTO TO PLAY VIDEO: See the VITECO Cane Pruner in action.
Who loves you? During Thanksgiving week 2011, 48,000 winery personnel and growers from 90 countries gathered in Milano (that’s Milan, Italy, to you), as they do every two years. SIMEI is the world’s largest wine equipment show—four times the size of the annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Occurring in the third week of November, SIMEI attracts hardly a single American. So I sacrificed my turkey dinner with family to tell you all about it. You’re welcome.

The show encompassed 716 suppliers from 25 countries around the world and covered 800,000 square feet at the Fiera Milano Fairground, a construction marvel built in 2006 that would be impossible to undertake today. An additional 400 viticultural and horticultural stands comprised the adjacent Enovitis show, which also folded in olive oil production.

I’m sure I missed much. Even racing around during the event’s five-day run, it was still impossible to review the offerings of every stand. Besides substantial assistance from my colleagues in the international press corps, I was aided in my quest for the best by the selections of SIMEI’s Innovation Prize Committee, composed of technical specialists from wineries as well as university researchers. In addition to the four top innovation awards, the committee designated 12 works worthy of special mention.

Let’s put ourselves in perspective. The number of U.S. wineries has grown from 200 in 1970 to more than 7,000 today. Meanwhile, Italy alone boasts more than 80,000 wineries, and Europe as a whole supports half a million, few of which operate in English. Bottom line: Americans are way behind the innovation curve.

Walking around the fairground, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Gleaning my personal picks, I have organized this embarrassment of riches into six categories.

An ingenious and well-designed system to automate the pre-pruning operations of vineyards cultivated in Guyot or arched cane systems, the VITECO Cane Pruner presented by Niederkumbd, Germany-based ERO deserves a mention, even though these systems are rare in the U.S.

After a preliminary manual pruning, this machine uses two contra-rotary stars that seize and chop vine canes and drop them to earth for subsequent disking. An innovative lifting system for horizontal support wires strips off prunings and feeds them into the shredder head, completely clearing the wires of canes and tendrils. The system is then ready for wires to be repositioned and new fruiting canes tied off, considerably reducing manual work.

Particularly well-suited to large plantings, this machine might tip the balance away from cordon architecture in new plantings of Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio in Monterey and Lodi. Curious growers should check out the video at

In Germany, essentially everything is Guyot, but row lengths may be too short for a mechanical system to pay off. Pruning systems are a chicken-and-egg phenomenon. Innovations like the Viteco have the potential to change the math and alter grower decisions about trellising systems.

I suggest that new plantings of varieties that benefit from cane pruning, as well as growers of large plantings in cool premium regions where smarter vine management pays off, consider this mechanical edge in new and possibly existing plantings.

Analytical innovations
Since its introduction in 2003, the FOSS WineScan has developed a reputation for efficient, accurate and quick determination of complex parameters in wine. Acquiring a lofty reputation for delivering a nearly complete wine panel, its inability to measure SO2 seemed a thoughtless omission. But sulfite determination turns out to have been no easy add-on, requiring a completely different principle and hardware.

The new WineScan SO2, released this year by FOSS of Padua, Italy, moves beyond single-phase architecture. Now the sample stream is split into the liquid NIR, used as before for all other determinations, and an equilibrium gas phase methodology based on the FTIR principle that allows determination of free and total sulfur dioxide. The acidified sample is sparged, analogous to the aeration/oxidation method, but it is not trapped by H2O2, and instead the gas phase concentration is detected directly through infrared submitted to Fourier Transform mathematics. As with A/O, red wine FSO2 readings include pigment-bound forms and any other species in rapid equilibrium with the molecular species of free SO2, which is the volatile form. The sample is then heated to obtain total SO2.

An exciting aspect of the Foss architecture and accuracy is that an un-acidified sample might allow winemakers to estimate for the first time the true molecular SO2 in red wines by measuring the equilibrium quantity partitioned in the headspace. Pigment-bound SO2, which has long been included in the free SO2 of standard methods, has been shown to be ineffective in suppressing acetobacter.

Enological products supplier Dal Cin Innovative of Lombardi, Italy, received a special mention for its cold water-soluble granular bentonite and also demonstrated its effectiveness in removing animal fining agents such as casein and albumin. The material’s effectiveness against these potential allergens was determined via a new ELISA Assay (Enzyme-Linked Immuno-Sorbent Assay) that Dal Cin Innovative developed specifically for wine applications.

Tanks for all tastes
This year’s SIMEI sported a large number of auto-vinification tank systems of every stripe. Manufacturers presented widely varied approaches to automated cap management, temperature control and the handling of lees, seeds and pomace to suit every winemaking style and whim.

Growing U.S. use of dedicated pump-over systems in facilities such as Mondavi Woodbridge, McManis and Lange Twins demonstrates the feasibility of the required outlay. Now European manufacturers are taking the dedicated fermentation tank to the next level by exploring a wide variety of ways to automate fermentation control.

Automated fermentation systems have a number of advantages over manual pump overs. Besides the obvious labor savings, automated systems can deliver precise and repeatable regimens day and night—or they can be programmed to respond to tank temperature, Brix level, CO2 evolution rate and other sensor-driven feedback parameters. Cross-contamination among tanks is avoided, and the wrong tank is never pumped over—a common hazard when line-of-sight hook-up verification is unavailable from atop the catwalk.

The Selector System earned Della Toffolla’s manufacturing partner Gimar a special mention. Similar to automated systems long in use in port production, the Selector accumulates 10% of the tank’s volume in a chamber at the top of the tank. The liquid is then released by the lowering of a disk that also spreads the liquid to the sides of the tank, where it creates a vortex that lifts and gently separates the cap, irrigating it from above and below. A lees-suspension system dubbed EliControl can be installed, allowing pumped wine to rotate a blade positioned near the tank bottom.

Ghidi’s patented ONDA tank injects a bubble of compressed air, CO2, N2 or argon from the bottom, mixing the cap on an automatic cycle without pumping. The fully enclosed design includes seven windows along the side of the tank, giving the winemaker complete visibility into the process. Studies at the University of Pisa indicate that the delicate mixing results in lower lees and higher phenolic extraction.

Gortani’s Soft System combines its Enomatic automatic pump-over system with a plunging process that uses one or two long-stroke augers to enable cap management variable throughout the various stages of fermentation and accommodating musts ranging from 20% to 90% of tank capacity.

I was impressed by the quality of Albrigi’s nearly invisible vertical welding, which employs only mirror-polish sheets and carries a 25-year warranty. This inventive stainless steel tank maker seems never to run out of innovative design ideas for automated cap management, offering no less than 10 different approaches. The Volvotank contains a disk that rotates on a horizontal axis, gently and thoroughly mixing the cap and precisely controlling its temperature using a glycol cavity within the disk. Ideal for conventional Bordelais fermentations, it is also ideally suited for Amarone-style fermentations of current vogue. Other choices include:

The Monofulltank (who comes up with these names?) contains a piston that plunges horizontal paddles through the cap, then retracts, rotates 15° and repeats. This mechanism can be retrofit to existing tanks, and oxygen may be injected as desired.

Palitank, a delestage sytem for 2,000- to 20,000-gallon tanks, contains four horizontal bars in a star pattern that breaks up the descending cap. Returned wine irrigates the cap from above.

The Pluviatank gives gentle irrigation on small tanks by pump over from above; alternatively, the Robotank employs a motorized rotating sprayer.

The submerged cap Supertank is limited to 4,000 gallons, but it is an economical, labor-free gentle means for complete, continuous wetting for easily extractable varieties. It’s quite cheap and easily removable for subsequent storage.

Large fermentations cannot be handled by mechanical punch down, flood irrigation or submerged cap. For these fermentations, the TurboTank (designed for 15,000- to 200,000-gallon fermentors), a central spindle with an integrated heat exchange system, pumps liquid on a programmed cycle.

The Noveltank handles carbonic macerations. The Criotank manages fermentations down to 40oF, while the Frigotank is designed for sub-freezing cryo-maceration and cold stabilization.

Not currently sold in the U.S., the VinPilot system from WFT Winetechnology is worth looking into as a control system adjunct to programmable fermentations, offering the novel idea of altering automated operation for different stages of fermentation using feedback obtained from measuring evolving CO2 exiting the tank (see The software also permits controlling fermentation according to a pre-set temperature curve and can provide an early warning system for stuck fermentations.

Novel press designs
SIPREM has long been the world’s most inventive wine press manufacturer. I first encountered them 30 years ago with a tank press that employed water instead of compressed air—not exactly a good idea, but you had to admire their penchant for outside-the-box thinking. This year they have two interesting offerings that appear to have some real practical value.

If you are on a rampage to exclude oxygen, the SottoVuoto Vacuum Tank Press is as ingenious as it gets. Prior to axial feeding, the press is first purged with CO2 gas that may be captured from fermentation tanks and recycled through a blimp-like reservoir above the tank. Rather than using compressed air to drive the membrane, a high vacuum is pulled on the juice side, making it physically impossible to press with more than one bar. For an even more reductive process, grapes can be fed to the crusher with an Alcryo100 device that generates CO2 snow to blanket the crushing process and remove field heat. Alternatively, a vacuum assist enables axial loading of whole clusters. SIPREM touts sensory studies at the Universities of Ancona and Udine showing enhanced aroma, body and richness of both whites and reds.

The system can hardly be said to honor the KISS principle, and skeptics will point to the unreliability of vacuum systems. Oxygen isn’t always a bad thing, and follow-up treatments such as oxygen dosing might be required to avoid problems with pinking and reduction in whites as well as color-fixing in reds.

The problem with tank presses is that they are a batch process. Screw presses, for all their shortcomings, are a dream in terms of process flow. Now SIPREM gives us the best of both worlds with the Continuous Membrane Press, surely the first of its kind. During rotation, between pressing cycles, an internal helix moves pomace through a series of five pressing chambers of increasing pressures controllable by the operator, discharging dry pomace continuously. CIP is automatically controlled. F orty to 50 feet in length, it’s hardly the small footprint of a screw press. On the other hand, the SIPREM system (available in 12 to 40 tons per hour sizes) does not require ice or press aids to get started, and it is more tolerant of stop-and-start operation than other continuous systems.

New filter technology
TMCI Padovan of Vittorio Veneto, Italy, has completely rethought cross-flow filtration and come up with Dynamos, a simple, robust, low-energy, low-labor, continuous system for turning press wine into clear juice and toothpaste without the use of filter aids. Inside a sealed chamber fed by a peristaltic pump rotating at 250 rpm, disk-shaped polymer 0.1μ membranes clean themselves by their own rotation, assisted by surface scraping rather than fluid flow. Internal spiral channels direct filtrate to a central collection tube until flow approaches zero, triggering discharge of 80%-90% solids, followed by back flush with your choice of gas or filtrate.

The main concern with the Dynamos system is capital expense. A $50,000 machine outputs 15 gallons per hour (gph), and for 300gph you’re looking at $350,000. Still, with today’s Cabernet prices, a properly scaled system could pay for itself in a single vintage.

Della Toffolla has fine-tuned conventional cross flow. Of the many formats available, they have fixed on the advantages of ceramics for handling up to 2% solids (1,000 NTUs). Once plagued with fragility problems, ceramic materials are now much more robust. The near invulnerability of ceramics to heat and chemical abuse make them easy to clean and sterilize, tolerating up to 80°C and pH levels from 1 to 13. Their inert surface lacks zeta potential (charge) and thus retains no color, flavor, polysaccharides or bacteria. An aluminum/titanium-oxide coating determines pore size, asymmetrically applied to facilitate cleaning. The Della Toffolla system employs 6mm ID tubes to accommodate high solids and automatically backflushes with filtrate using nitrogen pressure on a timer. Amazingly small and portable, these well-made workhorse systems come with a 10-year warranty and range from 30 to 170 square meters at a cost of $65,0000-$300,000.

Filtrox AG, a Swiss outfit, got a special mention for their remarkable Fibrafix pad, which can reduce as much as 100ppt (that’s a lot: the threshold is about 4ppt) of TCA or TCB down to less than 1ppt. Both an impressive analytical table and my own nose provided convincing evidence that the method is both effective and easy on the treated wine. Although normally associated with cork taint, TCA also occurs in wine cellars (there’s a reason we call it a “musty” aroma), and if you bottle with screwcaps, the marketplace has near zero tolerance. The best news is that Fibrafix is distributed in California by Heyes Filter Products and in Oregon by Pacific Winemaking LLC.

 A new lees filter membrane doesn’t sound very sexy, but this one blew me away. The revolutionary design of Erbsloeh AG’s new monofilament septum, dubbed eSan-Filtertuch, costs no more than conventional cloths. However, it not only improves flow but yields far drier cakes, and in concert with its long-fiber VariofluxxP perlite/cellulose body feed, it is a snap to clean, all it takes is a quick rinse. Imagine a lees filter you can’t smell from across the room!

Bottling innovations
The Gai family’s GAI Macchine Imbottigliatrici has, since its inception in 1946, led the world in the manufacture of small bottling systems. “Our systems are built to last decades,” explained Gugliemo Gai. “Nobody replaces a bottler because it wears out; they do it because there is some new thing they have to have. To survive, we have to innovate continually.”

After all these years, Gai has finally developed what we all really wanted all along: a universal system with no change parts. “Making things simple is a very complex undertaking,” Gai said. The system includes spring-loaded stars and adjustable screws that can handle diameters from 60mm to 150mm. For systems of 4,000 bottles per hour and up, the adjustment is handled automatically, with adjustable fill and bottle height by PLC. For slower systems, adjustments must be made by the operator, but in much less time than changing out stars. The break-even point for large systems is about five sets of change parts, and for small systems about three sets. I add my own kudos to Gai’s special mention; this innovation was definitely worth the wait.

Finally, the fourth Top Innovation Award went to Gruppo Bertolaso for its Superblock automated integrated bottling system. The recognized top dog in large bottling systems has outdone itself in producing a quality control supervisor’s dream machine.

The Superblock monobloc offers complete traceability. That used to mean a cut-code with the bottling date. Now a unique code tracks each bottle through all phases, allowing precise determination of which filler spout, corker head and spinner position were employed in its packaging.

The awards committee examined innovations too numerous to recount here, which improved product quality, enhanced functionality, productivity and safety, and decreased materials consumption. Sealed pressure filling enables use for both still and sparkling wines at room temperature—in glass as well as PET containers, with slow, controlled depressurizing to minimize foaming. Laminar filling is followed by an over-pressured inert gas injection that assures standardized fill height by blowing out excess wine. A malfunctioning valve is automatically detected and skipped by the PLC. Options include four different filler tap types (all of which are designed without springs in contact with the wine), automatically self-leveling cams and a fully automated CIP system.

For those not so blessed, Microwine SRL received a special mention for its novel anti-condensation industrial heater, which uses microwave energy to rapidly and efficiently bring chilled sparkling wine to room temperature, greatly easing labeling.

Viva Italia
These Italian guys aren’t done developing important innovations that will hit Europe decades before they reach America’s shores. The one universal theme? “We’re interested in looking for an American distributor.” Translation: Not happening.

Basic principle: Want it done right? Do it yourself. Corollary: Especially when it involves travel in Ital y, your wife may not disagree on this point. My Thursday dinner in Milan wasn’t Mom’s cooking, but it was not at all bad. Now is the time to start approaching your family about an Italian Thanksgiving in 2013.

Clark Smith is winemaker for WineSmith and founder of the wine technology firm Vinovation. He lectures widely on an ancient yet innovative view of American winemaking.

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