May 2018 Issue of Wines & Vines

Tools in Cap Management

Innovations in tank mixing as well as new devices for small-lot fermentations

by Andrew Adams

Lee Miyamura has worked at Treasury Wine Estate's winery near Paso Robles, Calif., since 1990. In that time, the winemaker and her team have significantly expanded production while also seeking to improve operational efficiency.

The winery's fermentation tanks had originally been outfitted with air pumps dedicated for running pumpovers for red ferments. "As we kept expanding that necessitated us to look at different methods for managing fermentation," she said.

That included a look at using compressed air for tank mixing, although Miyamura said she had initially been concerned about it speeding up fermentation and being too extractive. Initial trials were followed by an investment in the air mixing technology and now Miyamura has plans to retrofit some tanks for the system. "I've come to find I have a preference for Pulsair during the fermentation process," she said.

Pulsair was one of the first companies to bring compressed air tank mixing to the wine industry and now offers a wide line of products to conduct "Pneumatage" or winemaking using the method. Air mixing has been one of the most significant advances in cap management and this Product Focus report will look at that and some other tools for more traditional cap management. Several suppliers, mostly European companies, manufacture tanks with a variety of ways to mix, wet or break up caps but that will be the focus of another report.

Air mixing turns tanks faster
TWE Paso Robles, formally the Meridian Winery, ferments grapes from all over California for the company's premium wines priced $25 to $35. The winery has 138 fermentors that range in size from 24 tons to 72 tons. Each tank is turned about three times during a typical harvest. Miyamura said air mixing has proved a useful way to handle all those grapes and still account for vineyard and appellation variation.

The air mixing system is managed through a Pulsair control box but can also be monitored through the winery's tank temperature control system by Ignition, which is a software platform developed by Inductive Automation. The Ignition system works with the Pulsair controls as well as Allen Bradley process controllers on the cellar floor and is also used to monitor refrigeration, water use and even the status of cross-flow filters and centrifuges. Miyamura can monitor and control the entire system from her desktop and eventually from a tablet.

She said one of the handiest functions of air mixing is that if a fermentation in one of the big tanks, which can accommodate 72 tons, gets too hot she can quickly send a pulse of air through the tank that breaks up the cap and dissipates the heat faster than waiting for cooler juice to trickle through the cap in a traditional pumpover.

The winery's cellar supervisor, Guadalupe Gonzalez, also devised a quicker and safer way to empty tanks after fermentation. While the winery had already begun to sluice tanks out to empty them quicker and more safely, Gonzalez tried pulsing the tanks with air prior to sluicing. The time needed to empty a tank went from 30 to 40 minutes down to 10 minutes or less. "That has worked out brilliantly," said cellar manager Karl Knupper. "It's a pretty good benefit to our labor efficiencies."

Pulsing the tanks prior to emptying them will also flush out the carbon dioxide, making the job safer for the cellar worker even though the worker no longer has to enter the tank to dig it out.

Safety and efficiency are two selling points of Parsec's updated Tank Mixing M.I. system. The Italian supplier updated its SAEn 5000 winemaking control system to incorporate the function.

Andrew Beckwith, plant manager of the custom crush and private label facility ASV San Martin in Santa Clara County, California said he had the Parsec system installed on six, 16,000-gallon tanks in a trial during the 2017 vintage to improve labor efficiency and reduce the time to empty tanks. That trial has proved to be the first major project in which everyone - cellar workers, winemakers and ownership - have been happy with the results.

The cellar staff were "ecstatic" that they weren't going to have move a pump over set up for each of those tanks and "in terms of quality we got better if not the same as the current system."

Beckwith said the system allows cap management to be adjusted for every stage of the fermentation curve as well as for variety and winemaking style, and it can run a mixing cycle at 3 a.m. when the lights are off and the winery is empty. As a custom crush operation, it also provides a whole other set of data to provide clients. "It gives you a log of everything that has happened to that wine," he said.

He also saw a significant improvement in emptying tanks. What had taken up to 2 and half hours was reduced to about an hour and requires far fewer workers and no dig outs. The winery processed about 14,000 tons n 2017, and Beckwith said he hopes to retrofit 14 more tanks with the Parsec system.

Using the wine's energy
Evan Schneider of the company Vintuitive has a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford and a bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Using his experience in CAD and 3D printing he said he evaluated 30 different patterns for a pumpover device before settling on one he introduced in 2012 called the Lotus. "It uses the energy of the wine flow to rotate itself," he said of the Lotus. "It creates a uniform pattern without creating a mist and bigger droplets that don't bruise the wine."

Schneider has also developed an attachment to optimize the device's throw pattern for square tanks, either stainless steel or concrete. The square or circle attachments also help modulate the flow of a winery's pumpover equipment to further ensure a consistent pattern.

John Hazak, winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard, said most of the tanks at BV now have a dedicated Lotus and he added the uniformity of the devices helps ensure fermentation goes as desired. "If you have consistent, even coverage during pumpovers and eliminate the human error and chance that an irrigator might get stuck, there is a good chance that extraction and temperature management are happening as you want them to," he said in an email to Wines & Vines.

"With the traditional swing-arms, they are more finicky and likely to get stuck because they were installed slightly unbalanced or bumped by someone during an addition. Sometimes, it was just a matter of some grapes drying out in the pipe and preventing normal flow," Hazak said.

Fermenting in bins or small tanks means doing punchdowns. Doing many such small lots means an intern or two has to spend hours doing the strenuous work of managing each small cap. Punchdown equipment specialist RS Randall and Co. recently unveiled a new punchdown device designed for such fermentations. Owner Christopher Randall developed the device for a winery in Washington where small stainless steel "seed bins" holding 1.5 tons are commonly used for red wines. "I think it's an ideal solution that will do a thorough punchdown, while at the same time be easy to use and safe for the operator," Randall said.

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