Most wineries in the United States, even the oldest labels, don’t have the luxury of leaving the chemical alchemy of producing wine to the harmony created by hundreds, even thousands of years of legacy production.
So Fall, even while harvest is still under way, is a perfect time to start thinking about the technology upgrades you can make to put you ahead of the competition.
“When harvest is slowing down, and every little ‘bug’ or process you want to tweak is still fresh in your mind, that’s the time to start the conversation,” says Jared McClintock, ICC NW Sales Support. “It’s a wonderful time to start talking and developing out your plans for the New Year, so you can hit the New Year strong, focused, and ready for a right-design upgrade.”
Start the upgrade conversation early because:
- Custom design and manufacturing take time
- Planning early gives you the jump on competitors who leave it to the last minute and may have to settle for a one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf tank or other production pieces
- Upgrades can cut costs, increase efficiency, and improve product quality and consistency
- Adding custom crush capability to the mix can generate additional cash flow during normally slow times
“There’s a saying, ‘wines are made in the vineyard,’ so what happens in the winery can be very simple and many wineries have remained fairly low tech,” says McClintock. “But even boutique wineries are looking more and more to technology to help them control what they’ve painstakingly curated out in the vineyard.”
Whether boutique or custom crush, any winery can benefit from advances in temperature controls, cap management, pumps and piping, and innovations like clean-in-place tanks.
This is especially important now, as the “State of the Wine Industry 2018” report by the Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division has found that “…after more than 20 years of straight-line growth trends, total volume growth is leveling out.”
The SVB report further notes: “Winery owners, who have seen grape prices escalate markedly over the past five years, are finding that cost increases are difficult to pass on to new consumers.”
Upgrades can help defray the impact of rising grape prices while allowing wineries to maintain prices that don’t send their customers in search of cheaper alternatives:
Self-Emptying tanks: One of the biggest factors in winery profitability comes down to tank turns – how many times can you fill and empty that tank or vessel in one harvest? And that depends on the tank. If it’s not a self-emptying tank that disgorges the must, you’re losing a lot of money in the form of tank turns and manpower.
“Standard tanks were designed 30 or 40 years ago, and they’re great for a certain thing, but they’re not designed to empty themselves, so that means workers have to go inside to shovel them out and additional safety staff is required,” explains McClintock. “Emptying a 100-ton red fermenter would take about four hours and three or four workers be done in a half hour to an hour with maybe two workers if you have a self-emptying tank.”
The same can be said about cleaning the tank, once emptied. With clean-in-place provisions, the tank can be cleaned safely and efficiently without the need for employees to handle strong chemicals and enter the vessels. Chemicals can be filtered and reused, further expanding operational savings.
Cap management: Circulating wine to help in temperature and C02 management is another winemaking standard that has benefited from technology, whether the method of choice is punch down or pump over. Tanks can now include air mixing to break the cap and reduce heat, mechanical rotators, rack-and-return, and other systems for cap management.
“We can control the temperature of a vessel very efficiently, both during fermentation and for actual wine storage,” says McClintock. “We can design to minimize the skin shearing that increases tannins and particulates, as well as safety considerations due to the buildup of C02.”
Automation: Every stage of fermentation can be monitored and managed through the use of automated technologies for cap management and other processes. Connecting automated systems to the internet reduces staff time by allowing off-site management of mixing cycles at any time of day or night.
“Using automated systems, we can give wineries tighter control of their fermentation parameters, minimize exposure to air, and even reduce water use,” says McClintock.
Tank design: Tanks today can range from that simple, age-old standard to sleek and statuesque beauties suited for a showroom. Tank geometry is paramount, varying depending on the type/s of wine being produced and the size of the winery. Cooling jackets add another layer of temperature control, no matter the environment.
“After 37 years of building large beer fermenters with a steep cone at the bottom, we applied that design to wine tanks to create a safer, faster method for emptying and cleaning tanks with fewer chemicals,” says McClintock. “You’re able to clean that tank down to the bare steel and know that you’re not accumulating unwanted chemicals, volatile acids, molds or mildews, or off-flavors from the previous batch—those don’t exactly produce the type of terroir you’d want in your wine.”