June 2017 Issue of Wines & Vines

New Equipment for a Safer, Quicker Crush

Wineries invest in the latest equipment for sorting, destemming, pumping, pressing and fermenting

by Andrew Adams

New and established wineries are taking advantage of the latest winemaking equipment to trim labor costs and make winemaking operations safer and more efficient.

Optical sorting systems and new technology that enables a winemaker to remotely manage and monitor multiple pumpovers may require a large initial investment, but the efficiencies and savings in labor help make those costs pencil out.

For the 2016 vintage, Tamber Bey Vineyards in Calistoga, Calif., invested in a new Vitisort optical-sorting machine by Key Technology. Winemaker Fredrick Deliveret says the machine reduced the amount of overtime paid during harvest and delivered clean grapes. “To me it’s true that this is the only way to sort,” he said. “Overall it’s a huge improvement.”

Deliveret said sorting and processing can now be handled by a forklift driver and cellar worker, allowing the interns to start pumpovers earlier and be finished earlier. (See the related Technical Spotlight article.)

Tamber Bey uses a Bucher Vaslin Oscillys machine to destem the grapes prior to sorting with the Vitisort. Titus Vineyards uses the same destemmer in its new winery, which was built in time for the 2015 harvest. The Oscillys employs a swinging cage that separates the berries from their stems with centrifugal force.

At Titus Vineyards, the Oscillys is fed with an elevated conveyor by Carlsen & Associates and then emptied onto a shaker table for berries to undergo additional hand sorting. Winemaker Stephan Cruzan said he was impressed by the Oscillys. “Any stems that came through were really pretty big actually; they were really easy for the sorters to pick out, so the fruit going into the must pump was really clean,” Cruzan said in a September 2016 report about the new winery.

Also built in time for harvest, the new Davis Estates winery in Calistoga uses an Oscillys destemmer, but owner Mike Davis also purchased Bucher Vaslin’s R1 optical sorter. Destemmed and sorted grapes are transferred from the winery’s central crush pad with either a must pump or a custom-built machine that mimics a gentle gravity transfer.

Davis worked with Wayne Burgstahler of Burgstahler Machine Works on the machine, which has a stainless steel hopper at its base and an elevated conveyor that carries berries to the top hatch of tanks. A hinge near the machine’s base allows the conveyor to be lowered so the apparatus can be moved in and out of the cellar.

Investing to ‘micromanage’ crush
To gear up for this coming harvest, the Missick family, which owns Bellangelo Winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York, purchased a sophisticated destemmer as well as a mechanized receiving hopper, additional forklift and a Willmes Merlin Press. The destemmer is an Armbruster Rotovib distributed by Scott Laboratories in Petaluma, Calif.

“We wanted to take every precaution to ensure premium fruit is processed by premium equipment from the crush pad to the bottle. We also wanted to make sure that quality control could be micromanaged at every stage of a wine’s development, once the fruit reached the winery,” Chris Missick said in a news release about the new equipment.

The latest investment follows the purchase of a destemmer, crusher, must pump and tanks from Geneva, N.Y.-based Vance Metal Fabricators in 2012. (The Missicks purchased the winery in 2011.) “We wanted to bring in some of the best, gentlest new equipment available to the wine industry,” said Greg Missick, father of brothers Chris and Matt Missick, who oversee operations at the winery. “I’m also someone who thinks in terms of building in redundancy, and this will allow us to do that. Should a major piece of equipment go down during crush, we will only be set back in the time it takes to start another piece of equipment.”

At Viader Vineyards’ winery in Napa Valley, director of winemaking and operations Alan Viader said he wanted to upgrade his destemmer but not get too far removed from the Bucher Vaslin Delta E2 the winery purchased in 1998. The latest version of the Delta E2 features a variable-drive motor that Viader says lets him “really dial in the speed, resulting in better destemming at slower speeds.”

Viader also purchased two new destemmer cages made of polypropylene material that are gentler on the fruit and beater arms designed specifically for small-cluster, hand-harvested fruit. A new vibrating table set beneath the destemmer provides an even flow of grapes to the must pump.

“We are able to remove any jacks or other MOG during this stage of the process,” Viader said. “I only have one other guy working with me in the cellar, so the entire operation had to revolve around efficiency and a two-person operation. We can easily handle up to 10-15 tons per day on this system.”

The must pump also was updated for 2016 with a new model by Bucher Vaslin. Viader said he was quite impressed with the pump’s gentle action in moving berries to tanks. “The quality that I’ve seen in the tank is vastly improved from before, and the overall system is seamless and easier for us to manage, even in the heat of harvest season,” he said. “The berries look like a pile of blueberries in the tank instead of a mixture of berries and juice. The improvements have definitely increased our efficiency and overall quality from what I’ve seen already.”

Travis Awe, cellar master at Antica Napa Valley, said the winery has been working with Prospero Equipment Corp., which imports equipment from Italian supplier CMA. The winery was one of the first in the United States to try CMA’s Dream destemmer, which also uses a centrifugal destemming action. “Right off the bat we realized what a great machine it was, as it only sent out perfect berries at the other end.”

But with it being brand new, there were a few issues. “We gave a list of what we would like to see done to the machine to improve it, and they came and took our first one away right after harvest,” Awe said via email. “We received a brand new machine in the middle of 2016 with the majority of the recommendations done. We had a great harvest in 2016, and the quality of the fruit coming out of the destemmer and sorter was fantastic.”

Awe said the winery also invested in a new CMA peristaltic pump with a larger diameter so it can move more grapes. “We find this is the most gentle way for us to transport the fruit to our fermentors,” he said. “Our main concern, as always, has been keeping the quality of the fruit as high as possible going into tank while still keeping up with our fruit coming in.”

Pellenc’s destemmer remains another popular choice for new wineries or those seeking to upgrade their crush pad equipment. The owners of the new Materra Cunat Family Vineyards winery in Napa Valley credited the Pellenc with huge improvement in quality in an article by Ted Rieger. “The sorter is easily adjustable to allow us to adapt our sorting based on grape variety, berry size and the condition of the fruit”

Washington vintner Charles Smith opened his new Jet City winery and tasting room for the 2015 harvest. Winemaker Brennon Leighton has his choice of using a Pellenc destemmer or a more traditional Bucher Vaslin destemmer and crusher.

Making punchdowns easier and safer
The processed grapes are collected in 1.5-ton stainless steel bins and placed in a large open area in the Jet City cellar for fermentation. During harvest, the winery can be filled with up to 150 of the small fermentors, and handling all of those little open-tops had been a laborious and tedious job. To help speed up the process, Leighton commissioned an automatic punch-down machine for the bins that was built by J&M Specialty Welding in Mabton, Wash. The device can be rolled from bin to bin and is easy to operate. “For that many bins, it used to take five guys and one extra person to do the Brix at the height of harvest, and it would take them 2.5 hours to get all the punchdowns and Brix. With this new machine, it takes three people 1.5 hours, and it improves safety,” he said in a July 2016 feature about the winery.

The company also produced a punch-down device for the winery’s 16 oak fermentation vats by Tonnellerie Boutes and nine concrete tanks by Nomblot. Leighton said it was important for him to have a punch-down device that would enable anyone to perform a punchdown at the winery. “It’s a pretty male-dominated world on the cellar floor, and a lot of that has to do with lots of fairly vigorous, high-labor jobs. I really wanted to cut that labor down so anyone could do any job at any time.”

Leighton said one other major piece of new equipment that was a big improvement at the winery was the Bucher Vaslin XPlus 80 press. The membrane press adjusts the press pressure based on the flow of juice as well as other parameters chosen by the operator. Leighton said he can often see the same juice yields at much lower pressures. “It’s really, really incredible. When the flow rate drops and it hits max bar, it just shuts off.”

Pumpovers at the push of a button
While many wineries stick with the traditional method of manual punchdowns or setting up pumpovers by hand at each fermentation tank, several new ones are equipped with automated pump-over systems.

The first crush at the Materra Cunat Family Vineyards winery in Napa Valley occurred in 2015 and was built to facilitate high-quality winemaking. “We started with a blank slate,” owner Brian Cunat said. “We put more money into wine-production technology and equipment for providing our winemakers with the best tools to make wine, instead of putting as much money into architectural appearance and facilities not directly related to winemaking.”

Investing in a Pellenc sorter is an example of that focus on quality. “The sorter is easily adjustable to allow us to adapt our sorting based on grape variety, berry size and the condition of the fruit,” said consulting winemaker Bruce Regalia.

The winery tanks are all from Santa Rosa Stainless Steel and range in size from 1,100 gallons to 2,500 gallons. Each tank has its own fixed pump from Burgstahler Machine Works for pumpovers.

The same system is in place at Davis Estates winery, where the owner said he hopes to see big savings in labor costs by using the system to remotely monitor and run pumpovers. The winery has 24 fermentation tanks that include eight oak vats by Tonnellerie Radoux, eight concrete tanks by Sonoma Cast Stone and eight steel vessels by Santa Rosa Stainless Steel.

Fermentations in all of the tanks can be monitored with the Gen II system from either a central terminal in the winemaking offices or from a tablet or smartphone. “I’m not afraid of software and technology, so what we wanted to do was take old-school winemaking and merge it through the new technology and come up with the best processes,” Davis said in a November 2016 article. “We figure it will save us about 150 hours a week, once we get going, in labor.”

Producers of premium Pinot Noir typically take a more hands-on approach, and that was evident in features about two wineries that focus on the Burgundian variety.

The new Domaine Roy & Fils winery in Oregon uses hand sorting for both clusters and destemmed berries. Winemaker and general manager Jared Etzel said in a December 2016 article by Peter Mitham that he checked out optical sorters but decided he preferred having his experienced cellar team inspecting the grapes rather than a machine. “When you have them hand sorting the clusters, they’re touching it. They’re using more of their sensory (abilities) to judge what is correct and what isn’t correct.”

Sorted clusters are destemmed with an AMD 206 destemmer; after another round of hand sorting, the berries head to 2.2-ton JV Northwest fermentors or 4.6-ton concrete tanks by Italian supplier Nico Velo, which is distributed by Ipak Wine in Paso Robles, Calif.

Roar Wines in San Francisco is the winery and custom-crush facility owned by the Franscioni family, which owns several vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.

The winery’s crush pad has a receiving hopper that can be positioned to feed a Puleo Vega 10 destemmer. Both pieces of equipment are from Carlsen & Associates. For clusters that need a little extra sorting, the winery recently invested in a Milani sorting table by Criveller.

While small, the Puleo SF-36 press is a good fit to handle the production of Roar Wines as well as the custom-crush clients. “It’s a relatively small press as we have some relatively small-lot sizes, but it’s perfect for our tank sizes. It’s small enough that you can do one bin but big enough to so that we’re not here all day trying to do 6 tons of Chardonnay—and it’s not going to take us four loads to make it happen,” winemaker Scott Shapley said in an article in the February issue of Wines & Vines.

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