April 2018 Issue of Wines & Vines

Getting Faster, More Efficient on the Crush Pad

Wineries invest in new equipment to reduce harvest-time manpower while also enhancing fruit quality

by Andrew Adams

Pam Starr has been making the wines of Crocker & Starr since the winery's founding in 1997. There's always room for improvement, however, and this past harvest she added some new, custom-built equipment to the Napa Valley winery's crush pad.
     Starr, who owns the estate winery with partner Charlie Crocker, purchased a custom-built sorting table and elevated conveyor from Burgstahler Machine Works in St. Helena, Calif. The vibratory table is fitted with screens, a juice-recovery pan and an air knife that ejects raisins, leaves and other light MOG. "It is not necessary to staff the table with people sorters, as the table does a pretty fantastic job," she said.
     Most people in the wine industry would agree it's become more difficult to find quality workers, and it likely won't get any easier in the future. One way to reduce the need for manpower is to enhance equipment, and many wineries are doing just that. Improved crush pad and cellar equipment also helps to maintain or even enhance wine quality.
     Starr said the conveyor was customized to the height of the fermentation tanks at the winery, which produces 4,000 cases. The conveyor enables her crew to send sorted and destemmed berries gently and quickly right to the tanks. "Both the sorter and the elevator expedite the processing with fewer hands, and both assist in higher quality both from a sort-specific and gentle process approach," she said.
     With the new set up, Starr said she typically only needs two workers to process grapes on the crush pad, while a third can focus on quality control.
     Florent Merlier, head winemaker at Van Duzer Vineyards in Dallas, Ore., said he made two significant investments in equipment for the winery that produces 17,000 cases per year of Pinot Noir and other varietals. One was a dosing and sorting table from Euro-Machines. He said the Scharfenberger VS5 table has a double grid that proved exceptionally helpful when he had to harvest in the rain. "We picked some fruit later, toward the end of the season, under some mild rainfall. It was fairly interesting that the shaking was pulling off surface water on the berries, while the grid was hauling off the water from sorting," he said. "I ended up with pristine fruit at perfect maturity and chemistry, even on a rainy day."
     The other piece of equipment was a new electrical hoist made by Dayton Hoist for lifting the lids of the winery's variable-capacity tanks. "It makes the process easier for my workers and safer, as they are far away from 'the action' in the case of a cable failing from extended age," he said. "I've seen it happen."
     At Isenhower Cellars in Walla Walla, Wash., owner Brett Isenhower also invested in a new sorting table to help with the production of his Bordeaux and Rhône variety wines. Isenhower produces 3,500 cases and opted for a Milani table from equipment supplier Criveller. "I was able to increase the speed of processing and able to remove more stem jacks and undesirable berries," he said. "The juice screens enabled me to get rid of shot berries and the other MOG as well-definitely an improvement in processing efficiency, and hopefully a minor improvement in wine quality."
     Isenhower added that next year he is hoping to replace his old destemmer with a new one to reduce the number of broken stem jacks and increase the number of whole berries headed for the fermentor. He said he's interested in machines that use a raking action rather than a cage with paddles.
     Jason Keever, director of production at his family's Keever Vineyards & Winery in the Napa Valley, said the winemaking team at the 2,000-case winery "absolutely love" the WECO optical sorter, which was purchased for the 2017 harvest. Since the winery was built in 2006, all sorting has been done by hand. Cellar crew and interns would dump FYB bins onto a shaker table that led to the destemmer, and six to eight temporary workers would perform post-destemming sorting.
     "Over the past four harvests, we have had more and more difficulty getting as many sorters as we would have liked," Keever said. "In harvest 2016, I was lucky to get three people with 48 hours' notice to sort fruit. We were not willing to risk wine quality by letting more and more MOG find its way into tank, so we had to make a change."
     The change was investing in the new WECO machine that Keever said does an excellent job of sorting at a rate of about 2 tons per hour. "The limiting factor is how fast we can dump FYBs on our first sorting table," Keever said. "The WECO could easily do that and more, but I can only dump bins so fast."
     While the user interface was a bit daunting at first, Keever said a WECO technician helped him get the hang of it so he could get back to the work of harvest. "I don't have time for a steep learning curve," he said. "I was able to quickly dial the WECO in so that I was getting clean fruit in tank."

Popular pick with Pinot producers
For winemakers already in the market for a new destemmer, the Armbruster Rotovib, distributed in the United States by Scott Laboratories, continues to be a popular pick.
     Ben Papapietro, part-owner and winemaker of the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir producer Papapietro Perry Winery, said he chose to buy the Rotovib because it already was being used by other Pinot producers, and he was able to see it in action. He said Scott Laboratories in Petaluma, Calif., is relatively close if the machine needs to be serviced.
     "The other destemmers were either too expensive or didn't offer the same ability to process Pinot Noir grapes as gently," he said. "The vibrator aspect allows for gentle berry separation that is necessary for high-quality Pinot production. Having used this piece of equipment, I can say that it lives up to its promise of clean separation of fruit from the rachis."
     David Lattin, winemaker at Emeritus Vineyards, which produces nearly 9,000 cases of Pinot Noir in Sebastopol, Calif., said the decision to purchase a Rotovib was made by his predecessor, who wanted to get more whole berries in the tank than what the winery's older machine could provide.
     Because Emeritus' setup is to destem directly into open-top tanks, Lattin said they needed something about the same size as the older destemmer. "We move our open-top tanks directly under the destemmer and needed a machine that was similarly sized, operated with minimal vibration, was easier to clean and kept more of the berries intact," he said.
     Lattin is also working with grapes that are picked at the "low end of the ripeness spectrum" and at night, so they are crisp and potentially very juicy. He said he was very happy with how the Rotovib performed.
     At Ampelos Cellars in Lompoc, Calif., owner and winemaker Peter Work produces about 4,000 cases of Pinot Noir and RhÔne variety wines per year. In 2017, he had access to a G&D chiller system. He said better temperature control helped produce better wines and made harvest easier because he no longer had to move tanks into a cold room to chill them. "By using the chiller and a bunch of quick-connect hoses, we were able to keep the fermentors on the floor and just hook them up as needed," he said. "This created a much more stable fermentation process, which resulted in better binding of esters and other flavor components and resulted in a better wine. We also spent less time moving equipment around."
     Wines & Vines reports on new wineries throughout the year, and several of those feature the latest equipment and innovations in grape processing as well as fermentation technology.

Larger production, custom crush
The new Riboli Family Winery in Paso Robles, Calif., is designed for small-lot premium winemaking as well as large-volume processing. The family-owned company recently purchased a Pellenc Optimum harvester, and grapes from that machine typically can go straight to the fermentation tank. Otherwise, the crush pad also features a Pellenc Selectiv' Process Winery L destemmer. For larger lots coming in on gondola bins, the winery uses a Brix Buddy auger from P & L Specialties.
     The winery has two presses: a Diemme Enologia Velvet 150 press as well as a Puleo SF70 press. For fermentation, the winery has 50 tanks by Santa Rosa Stainless Steel that include 10 open-top tanks that can hold 19 tons and also have lids so the tanks can be used for storage. When they're filled with fermenting must, the caps on the open tops are managed with a punch-down device from R.S. Randall.
     All of the closed-top tanks that can hold 40 tons of must have individual pumpover pumps that are controlled by a TankNet system that can be used to set pumpover schedules as well as monitor and control tank temperature. "Not many people on the Central Coast have that," Riboli said of the dedicated pumpover system in the article first published in the July edition of Wines & Vines. "But when you look at the efficiency of the labor, we just felt in the long run it would be efficient and this year (2016) it did prove, very, very useful."
     The temperature and humidity of the winery's expansive 50,000-square-foot barrel room are controlled by a Smart Fog system as well as the TankNet network. One of the other major investments at the winery was a Clocina wastewater treatment system. The water treated with the membrane bio-reactor can be used for landscape irrigation or sent down the city sewer.
     One of the newest wineries in the Napa Valley is a Rutherford custom-crush facility owned by Bart and Daphne Araujo. The Araujos purchased the property and permit for a winery from a group of Japanese investors after they had sold their namesake winery and Eisele Vineyard to a French wine company.
     Named Wheeler Farms, the winery features the very best in winemaking equipment and is home to several small brands, including Arrow & Branch, which use it for production as well as hospitality.
     The crush pad features custom-built receiving hopper by Wolf Welding & Fabrication and Iso Flo vibratory sorting tables by Key Technology. After sorting, the grapes are fist destemmed with a Bucher Vaslin Delta Oscyllis and then sorted with a Delta R1 Vistalys optical sorter. When Araujo was speaking to Wines & Vines for the article in the October 2017 issue of the magazine, he said he had long been skeptical of optical sorting until he saw the latest generation of the machines in action. "I have to say it's truly amazing," he said. "The differences in the technology over the decade are extraordinary."

Inside the winery, client winemakers can choose as little or as much intervention as they'd like to manage fermentation. All of the tanks are closed system, with individual pumpover pumps managed through the VinWizard system. The double-walled tanks are also produced with 47 stainless steel by Canby, Ore.-based JVW and range in size from 4 to 7 tons. The winery also is equipped with two Bucher Vaslin presses, a JLB basket press for whites and XP30 membrane press for whites. "We're here to give the client exactly what they want. This system allows us to do it with very little labor," said winemaker Nigel Kinsman, who oversaw the design and outfitting of the winery. "With the closed system, the health of the wine is protected from a microbial standpoint from cross-contamination, and there's significantly less losses of wine."

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