June 2016 Issue of Wines & Vines

Well Equipped for Crush

How new grape-processing and fermentation equipment helps wineries improve efficiency and wine quality

by Andrew Adams
Armbruster Rotovib destemmer
The Armbruster Rotovib destemmer is a popular pick by Pinot Noir producers who say the machine is gentle on grapes.

Based on regularly reporting about key equipment at new and updated wineries—and after checking in with suppliers and walking the trade shows of industry events—the Wines & Vines editorial team has compiled a collection of some of the newest and most popular crush equipment to help winemakers prepare for harvest season.

One of the most popular new destemmers is the Pellenc Selectiv’ winery system. Winemaker Tiffinee Vierra at Derby Wine Estates purchased one of the machines after first seeing it at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, Calif. She had been on the hunt for equipment for the new winery that Derby built in a renovated, historic building in downtown Paso Robles, Calif. (See the Technical Spotlight feature in the August 2015 issue of Wines & Vines for details about the project.)

“I never liked the results of the traditional destemmer, and I was always hoping that somebody would have the forethought to create something that was more gentle and effective at separating the berries from the rachis,” Vierra said.

Since learning how to calibrate the machine for the best results, the winemaker says she has been very happy with the performance of the destemmer and sorter.

Christy Griffith Ackerman is the winemaker at Lazy Creek Vineyards in Philo, Calif., who oversaw the construction of a new winery at the well-known estate in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. (See the March 2015 issue of Wines & Vines for details.) Lazy Creek specializes in Pinot Noir, and Ackerman said buying a Pellenc was a major investment—but one that proved worth the cost.

“Once you get it dialed in, it’s like black marbles,” she said of the destemmed grapes.

Some of the newest wineries by Pinot specialists in the Russian River Valley AVA of Sonoma County opted for the German-made Armbruster Rotovib destemmer. Heidi Bridenhagen helped plan the new MacRostie Winery & Vineyards facility dedicated to Pinot Noir production (see story in the January 2016 issue). The winery opened in time for the 2015 vintage, and Bridenhagen said she chose an Armbruster because its destemmer action could be fine-tuned to suit the size of berries, which the machine plucks easily off the stems.

Benovia Winery, which also opened a new winery exclusive to Pinot production in 2015, invested in an Armbruster for similar reasons. The machine is available through Scott Laboratories in Petaluma, Calif. The Rotovib can also be paired with an additional sorting table.

One of the newest wineries in Napa Valley, Cairdean Vineyards, purchased a Bucher Vaslin Oscilys for its new crush pad (see the February 2016 issue of Wines & Vines). The machine features a swinging cylinder to gently remove berries that fall onto a roller sorter table.

Conveyors and grape dumpers
The new Bucher-Vaslin destemmer at Cairdean is part of a crush pad that also features a Tom Beard bin washer to clean bins once they’ve been dumped and emptied of grapes as well as a Scharfenberger inclined belt conveyor for cluster sorting. The conveyor leads to the Bucher, which empties onto a Milani shaker table used for berry sorting. The whole system is designed to process grapes at around 2.5 tons per hour and be efficient and simple enough to be managed by just one employee.

The crush pad at the new Epoch Estate Wines facility in Paso Robles also features a Pellenc destemmer and Iso-Flo shaker tables by Key Technologies. After grapes are destemmed and sorted, the grapes are collected in stainless steel bins that are dumped into open-top, concrete tanks through a stainless steel hopper designed and built by custom metal fabricator Steve Rinell & Associates. “We don’t like to pump must,” said associate winemaker Peter Turrone. (Read more in the October 2015 issue.)

Michael Shaps Wineworks, the winery and custom-crush facility in Charlottesville, Va., has steadily expanded since 2010. The most recent expansion (see the December 2015 issue of Wines & Vines) occurred after Shaps bought out his partner in 2014 and included a new crush pad and winemaking cellar. The crush pad is designed to handle half-tons bins or lugs, and most grapes are dumped into a Sthik-manufactured hopper that feeds into an A-5 crusher destemmer. If needed, some grape lots undergo additional sorting with a C.M.A. Tommy table. Almost everything on the crush pad came from Prospero Equipment.

When equipping the new MacRostie winery, Bridenhagen chose a Sutter EPC 25 membrane press rather than a basket-type press. She said she realizes using such a press runs counter to what’s more commonly found at other Pinot wineries, but she likes getting a little oxygen into the wine when it’s still young. “I like to air it out; it cleans it up a little,” she says.

Bridenhagen also conducts about 100 small-lot fermentations of just 1 ton each, and the Sutter EPC can handle small lots like a basket press. “You can literally press 1 ton of pomace, which is not very much fruit, but that is in line with fermenting everything separately,” she said. “You might as well be able to press it all separately if you want to.”

While Benovia’s expansion was all about adding extra space for Pinot Noir production (see the May 2016 issue of Wines & Vines), winemaker and part-owner Mike Sullivan also purchased a new 80-hectoliter Willmes membrane press from Scott Labs for all of his Chardonnay pressing at the winery’s older facility. The new press can accommodate 5 tons of whole-cluster grapes and has made white wine production much easier. “That was a nice addition, a good investment,” he said. “That helped us out a lot.”

Basket presses remain quite popular, especially the Bucher Vaslin JLB, which is a key piece of equipment in many new wineries. Kosta Browne Wines opened a new winery in 2013 in Sebastopol, Calif., and bought a second JLB for its new home. Winemaker and founder Michael Browne said the press could process 5 to 6 tons in one 45-minute cycle. “The quality of the press wine is way better, and we can turn this thing all day.”

Larger volume production, of course, requires larger presses. Crew Wine Co. in Yolo County, Calif., purchased a new Diemme AR 150 press as part of a 100,000-gallon wine production expansion.

Tanks and fermentation management
Several of the wines produced at Epoch in Paso Robles are made with Rhône varieties, which winemaker Jordan Fiorentini said do exceptionally well fermenting in concrete. The winery made a big investment in the material, installing 10 custom-made tanks by Vino Vessel in Paso Robles as well as a few eggs by Nomblot and tulipes by Italian supplier Nico Velo.

Law Estate Wines, also in Paso Robles, first crushed grapes in its new winery in 2013. Winemaker Scott Hawley opted to install 22 concrete tanks from Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Sonoma Cast Stone. Hawley had compared concrete to steel and oak and decided to go with concrete because of the material’s effectiveness as an insulator, and because it works well with Rhônes. The custom-designed, unlined concrete tanks have a bit of taper, which causes a slight convection current in the juice that keeps more fluid in the cap, making punchdowns easier. Once fermentation is complete, the pomace can be raked directly from the bottom hatch of each tank into the basket of the winery’s JLB press. (Read more in the November 2015 issue of Wines & Vines.)

Cairdean in Napa installed 36 new stainless steel tanks by Criveller, and most of those are equipped with a VinWizard system that monitors and controls temperature as well as operates an automated pumpover system on most of the closed-top tanks. Associate winemaker Cody Stacey said the VinWizard system makes running pumpovers during harvest easy, and it lets the winery’s custom-crush clients keep close tabs on their wines.

He said the program could be adjusted for each wine lot by the number of pumpovers, length and temperatures. “It will allow you to program an entire cycle from the very beginning,” Stacey said.

At the new Comstock Wines facility in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County, the owners installed a TankNet system for temperature control and monitoring (see the April 2016 issue). The system will also issue a text or email if there are any sudden changes in tank temperature—or if a tank temperature is no longer within a preset range.

“We’re able to adjust temperatures within each of these rooms as well as for each tank remotely from a phone,” winemaker Chris Russi said.

While the 12 new Westec open-top tanks at Benovia are equipped with valve screens to make pumpovers easier, the preferred way to manage caps is with punchdowns. Sullivan, the winemaker, said he prefers the extraction and tannin profile from punchdowns and purchased two pneumatic plungers by “punchdown guru” Chris Randall of R.S. Randall and Co. in Brisbane Calif.

The punchdown devices at Benovia are suspended over the tank tops by two rails and set on multiple axes of motion, which makes it easy for cellar workers to reach every part of the cap. The plunger itself is slightly concave to ensure the pomace at the point of contact is forced down into the tank rather than just sliding off to the side.

Real-time temperature information is relayed to a Gen II Super Control system by Refrigeration Technology Inc., which also installed the winery’s heating and cooling glycol system. The tank information can be accessed via a monitor in the winery lab or through a smartphone and can be incorporated with Winemaker’s Database.

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