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Custom Crush: Swiss Army Knife of Tank Design


An artful labor of love, the very idea of leaving your wine’s fermentation and aging to someone else seems like the ultimate trust-fall exercise.

Fortunately for the ultra-premium winemakers who have chosen to work with Wheeler Farms Winery in the Napa Valley, Wheeler’s high-tech custom crush facility includes the highly customized and artful design work of ICC-NW.

To bring the Wheeler Farms Winery vision of an ultra-premium facility to reality, consulting enologist Nigel Kinsman oversaw the specialized design and manufacturing of the winery’s advanced winemaking technology.

“The ICC-NW crew worked closely and really collaboratively with us from planning through design, manufacturing, and installation,” says Kinsman. “They were as invested in achieving elegant design and automated precision as we were.”

That elegance is easy to see in the gleaming rows of stainless steel tanks, highly polished inside and out for easier cleaning. Dedicated low sheer pumps and piping built into every tank create high efficiency as well as a sleek and sculptural aesthetic.

“We did a lot of things visually to make the tanks look stunning, clean, and refined,” says Kyle Sawyer, ICC NW president. “At the same time, they’re designed for high efficiency and flexibility so they can perform to the highest standard whether the varietal is a Cabernet or a chardonnay.”

When tanks are designed for a specific varietal, the dimensions are calculated to create the perfect height to width ratio for optimal fermentation and settling.

ICC NW has all your winery design needs covered—even 3D smart model design

As Sawyer says, “The more a tank has to do, the less perfect the ratio and its dimensions start to resemble sort of a general tank. That’s not good enough, from our point of view, so we build in a lot of cool things and these tanks end up being like a Swiss Army knife.”

For Wheeler, the ICC-NW Swiss Army knife of stainless steel winery tanks were outfitted with:

  • A pneumatic top manway lid called the Air Lift– large diameter and very heavy, the Air Lift lid lifts at the touch of a button, rotating out of the way for access to the inside of the tank. It saves on labor, is safer, and more ergonomic. It also creates a much better seal.
  • Insulation—the Wheeler tanks are nearly fully jacketed, insulated, and skinned, giving winemakers rapid and precise temperature control that saves hours and days, increases tank turns, reduces labor.
  • Temperature sensors—multiple sensors in many places for correct temperature readings help keep fermentation on track.
  • Self-emptying technology—reducing labor costs while increasing safety, self-emptying tanks eliminate the need for a cellar employee to climb inside the tank for emptying. They increase winery profitability by speeding tank turns and cutting the amount of labor required to empty tanks
  • Automated cap management—Circulating wine to help in temperature and 02 management, 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.

The Wheeler facility was also equipped with clean-in-place skids—saving water and reducing cleaning chemicals used during cleaning, and then capturing the water and chemicals for re-use. 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 and water can be filtered and reused, further increasing operational savings.

Planning for the Wheeler facility took a year. “It was an endurance race to keep pace with everything that was so near and dear to Wheeler, which is the sort of challenge and collaborative relationship we love to sink our teeth into because it inspires us,” says Kyle Sawyer. “It takes a lot of engineering and design staff to partner with clients the way we did with Wheeler and the way we do with all of our clients.”

ICC NW is an engineering and design partner you can trust to create visionary, compliant, and cost-efficient solutions. Click here to learn more.

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