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Feature Article from the August 2016 Magazine Issue

Product Focus: Racking Wands

Two inventors led the way with pressurized barrel-racking wands

by Andrew Adams
Racking Wand

Two of the industry’s leading pressurizing racking wands were developed on California’s Central Coast. The more recent of the two was the Rack-It-Teer, invented originally to solve a brewer’s problem, but the pioneer in the field was the Bulldog Pup, which turns 30 this year.

The Bulldog Pup
In the mid-1980s, California Pinot Noir was something of a novelty, and it wasn’t uncommon to find rustic winemaking equipment at most wineries. In 1986, however, Don Othman released a new racking wand that he designed to be gentler on both the wine and the barrel. “You have to have reverence for the wine and reverence for the barrel,” Othman told Wines & Vines.

A skilled engineer and metal fabricator who came to San Luis Obispo, Calif., in 1974, Othman had been inspired by a separate innovation, the silicone bung. The new technology could compress against the bunghole, forming a seal. Othman designed a racking wand with a gas inlet tube and wine outlet tube in the same stainless steel cylinder. The bung formed a seal, and when inert gas entered the barrel via the inlet, it forced clean wine to flow up the outlet pipe under pressure.

Othman visited winery clients with a portable welding rig on his 1950 A20H-model Mack truck, which can be recognized by its bulldog hood ornaments. He called his fabrication company Bulldog Manufacturing, and he named the new racking wand the Bulldog Pup.

The Bulldog Pup proved to be a hit with winemakers, and Othman applied for a patent soon after releasing it. Unfortunately for Othman, the U.S. Patent Office deemed the device too simple for a patent. “Obviously, they just didn’t know anything about making wine,” he said.

That wand has since been sold to wineries around the world and can be found on the fittings board of many premium wineries.

Before the development of pressurizing racking wands, most winemakers used either gravity or their pumps to rack clean wine off sediment. “Every pump, no matter what it is, is going to bring a certain amount of shear to your wine,” Othman said.

The design of the Bulldog Pup took off, and many variants of pressurizing racking wands are on the market today. “Anybody who is anybody in Pinot Noir has to push with gas,” he said. Still, Othman is surprised by how the technology has been embraced by more than just Pinot houses. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the Bulldog Pup would go from Pinot Noir and run the gamut of wine.”

Othman and a buddy still assemble and weld each Pup by hand. He reported that demand remains strong, and the trend of craft breweries using barrels has opened up a new source of clients.

Othman’s manufacturing business is not his only tie to the wine industry. In 1995, he and his wife Gwen opened Kynsi Winery, and in 2001 they developed their own vineyard. The winery currently produces between 3,400 and 4,500 cases per year of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and red blends.

The Rack-it-Teer
Tony Pratt, who runs a Paso Robles, Calif.-based welding and fabrication business, has worked with many of the wineries in California’s Central Coast region. In 2007, he started collaborating with brewers at Firestone Walker who wanted a reliable racking wand that could withstand the caustic chemicals used for brewery sanitation. “They asked me, ‘Why don’t you come up with something so we don’t need to buy a new one every three months?’” he recounted.

Pratt soon invented his own variation of the pressurizing racking wand with a couple of unique features that earned it a U.S. patent. It’s called the Rack-it-Teer.

“What sets the Rack-it-Teer apart is that it features a cam lock on the bung to make securing it in the barrel quick and easy,” Pratt said. “The bung can also be equipped with optional locking fingers to provide even more stability.”

Even though he first started working on the wand for the brewery, when his winery friends heard he was working on a racking wand they started offering suggestions. “We designed this for the brewing industry, and then a bunch of guys in the wine industry wanted one,” he said.

One winemaker suggested adding a flashlight holder near the sight glass, while another suggested a lees cup. The lees cup is at the end of the racking wand and helps keep lees separate from clean wine getting sucked out of the barrel. Gas enters the barrel through the bung rather than the wand itself, and Pratt says that prevents the gas from stirring up any lees.

In addition to his welding work, Pratt had earned a reputation for invention after developing The Toad pumpover irrigator in 2001. “Anytime I come up with something, people are adamant to see what I have,” he said. “I’m not really a designer, but people will come to me with a problem, and I’ll try and fix it.”

After working with the team at Firestone Walker on a few prototype racking wands, Pratt applied for a patent and received one in 2007 for the wand’s locking mechanisms. “We already knew it was going to work. We ran it at Firestone for two years before putting it on the market,” he said. “When it hit the market, it just kind of blew out of proportion.”

The wands are produced in Paso Robles and have been sold to wineries around the world. Pratt said he produced about 200 in 2015.

Invented by Don Othman in 1986, gas pressure racking wands inject nitrogen into a barrel to pressurize it and force the wine out through the wand into transfer hoses. Othman’s “Bulldog Pup” is credited with helping to greatly enhance the quality of American Pinot Noir, and in the years since its invention several other wands have come onto the market. Most wands can also fit kegs for topping.

TCW’s pressure racking wand is available in 32-inch length for standard barrels or 42-inch for puncheons. A sight glass is included, and wand height can be adjusted with the knob on the top of the wand. Price: $697.

The Vintner’s Vault’s Golden Retriever wand is fully adjusta ble to any length. The pressurizing bung can be used on other standard wands. The wand comes with a welded sight glass and adjustable tip for lees. Price: $625.

The Bulldog Pup features a 36-inch stainless-steel wand with a sliding brass adjuster that allows for up to 9 inches of height adjustment, depending on lees level. A sight glass is standard as is a 0.25-inch brass ball valve for the gas inlet. The wand is also available with an open end to fit a check ball valve or an extension for puncheons. Price: $695.

The Rack-it-Teer wand comes standard with a sight glass, curved hose connection and flashlight holder next to the sight glass to free up both hands of the operator. The standard bung fits most bungholes, while an optional bung with lock fingers can provide even more stability. The wand comes with a lees cup with adjustable height screw and can also be fitted with an optional no-drip, sanitary foot valve. Price: $1,300.

Valley Pipe and Supply’s racking wand features a quick-connect bung with two lock levers. The wand can be adjusted for lees level and also has an adjustable screw on the tip of the wand. A sight glass is optional. The company also sells a complete topping cart that features a tri-clamp adapter to fit the opening on a keg. Price: $395.

MoreWine!’s racking wand features a stainless steel lock-down mechanism and compression bung to create a tight seal. The wand is 31 inches long with an adjustable lees pin. The wand is sold without a sight glass, but one is available from the supplier as an option. Price: $229.

The Wines & Vines Product Focus feature is not intended to provide a definitive listing of all available products in a particular segment or provide any comparative analysis, but rather serve as an overview of what’s new or available and also of potential interest to readers as determined by the magazine’s editorial staff.

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