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Oxygen-free filling line sets custom winemaker apart

New custom-crush and wine-bottling company Terravant Wine selects state-of-the-art bottle-filling monobloc to ensure the integrity of its customers' wines.
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FILED IN:  Machinery  > Case packing  > Case sealers
     

“Oxygen is the enemy to all wine.” That’s according to Mark Naylor, bottling manager of Terravant Wine Co., a new custom winemaking operation in Buellton, CA, that just last August began bottling ultra-premium wines for vintners in the Santa Ynez Valley and beyond. Designed from the ground up to be one of the most state-of-the-art custom-crush and alternating-proprietor facilities available, Terravant is attacking oxygen head-on with innovative filling technology that eliminates oxygen pickup during bottling.

As Naylor told Packaging World during a recent visit, Terravant is the first winery in California to use this technology, which consists of a filler with electro-pneumatically controlled valves, manufactured by Bertolaso S.p.A. (www.bertolaso.com) of Verona, Italy, and supplied by ColloPack Solutions LLC (www.collopack.com).
“We looked at several different bottling lines before we settled on Bertolaso,” Naylor says. “But the Bertolaso equipment has features that set it apart, which was key in the decision-making process. We wanted to differentiate ourselves from what everyone else was doing.”

Full-service winemaking

Since Terravant opened its doors last summer, its bottling technology is just one of the features that has distinguished the company from its competition. In Naylor’s estimation, Terravant is the only custom winemaking facility in California that offers everything from fruit sourcing and processing all the way through to case goods storage.

“We have the resources here to do things that other wineries would have to have performed off-site,” Naylor explains. “We are capable of bringing the fruit in right off the vine, and the wine never has to leave our facility for any outside processing until it’s complete.”

Terravant’s current production facility covers 45,000 sq ft and includes a large indoor crush area, a fermentation room, four aging rooms, and a bottling line. The operation is geared toward small to medium-sized ultra-premium winemakers, processing 4,500 tons of wine and bottling 300,000 cases per year. A future planned expansion to the facility will accommodate larger wineries.

For now, Terravant’s customers include California wineries requiring anywhere from 1,500 to 25,000 cases/yr. Among them are Ken Brown Wines of Solvang, Imagine Wine of Santa Ynez, Alere Wines of Nipomo, and Malibu Family Wines of Malibu. One label, Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post wines, may be recognizable to some movie and/or wine enthusiasts, as Buellton’s Hitching Post restaurant played a part in the 2004 feature film “Sideways.”

On the day of PW’s visit, Terravant was in the midst of an 8,000-case run of a 2007 Chardonnay for Gainey Vineyards of Santa Ynez. A local, family-owned winery, Gainey produces 18,000 cases of wine annually. For this lot, Terravant provided finishing and bottling services only to near bottle-ready wine delivered by tanker.

Oxygen pickup is eliminated

During the design of Terravant’s fully automated bottling line, the company looked for equipment that could provide the best quality, flexibility, and cost efficiency. Supplied entirely by ColloPack, the line includes:

• A four-station Bortolaso monobloc rinser/filler/corker/capper

• A Robino & Galandrino (www.robinoegalandrino.it) capsule spinner

• An Impresstik (www.impresstik.com.au) labeler, distributed in the U.S. by Tapp Technologies (www.tapptech.com)

• A Belcor case sealer from Wexxar Packaging (www.wexxar.com)

• An ID Technology (www.idtechnology.com) printer, and

• A Lantech (www.lantech.com) pallet wrapper.

Setting the pace for the line, which can run up to 60 bottles/min, is the 20-head low-vacuum filler, a model Olimpia 20/840. The filler is one component of a four-station Bertolaso Sincronia 16/20/4/3 monobloc. As explained, the system employs electro-pneumatically controlled solenoids on the filling valves and inert gas valves to enable a high degree of accuracy in controlling dissolved-oxygen pickup “both in the filling and in the processing of the packaging materials,” Naylor notes.

By packaging-material processing, Naylor is referring to the first station on the monobloc, the Neck Rins 16/840, a 16-nozzle neck rinser. Because empty wine bottles arrive at Terravant directly from the glass manufacturer, they do not need sterilization. Instead, the rinser inverts the bottles and blows dry, filtered, compressed air into them to ensure that they are free of dust or corrugate particles from the shipping cases. Next, the rinser nozzles fill the bottles with nitrogen to displace the oxygen inside.

“As it comes off that machine, in theory the bottle should be filled with nitrogen and ready for filling,” says Naylor. “And that would be the next process on a conventional bottling line.”

In contrast, when bottles are fed into the Olimpia 20/840 filler, a vacuum is pulled on each bottle, and any gas inside is extracted and then discharged outside of the filling process. With a conventional filler, as the wine is filled into the bottle, it displaces the gas within, pushing it up a vent into the filling valve and then into the filling bowl. “So if there is any oxygen left in the bottle, it goes right in on top of the wine in the bowl,” explains Naylor.

In the next phase of the Bertolaso-engineered filling process, the valve refills the bottle with an inert gas, in Terravant’s case, nitrogen. After this step, the filler begins to dispense the wine. If the wine is of a type that is particularly susceptible to oxygen, the electro-pneumatic controls allow Terravant to stop the filling process halfway, and remove the gas from, or “sparge,” the bottle a third time before filling resumes.

The last step in the process is also unique to the Bertolaso equipment, Naylor relates. Just before the bottle comes off the filling valve, the valve fills the bottle’s headspace with an inert gas under pressure, forcing any excess wine back into the spout. This self-leveling process ensures fill accuracy and further protects the wine against oxygen pickup until the bottle reaches the next station.

Depending on the customer’s requirements, the bottle will then advance either to the third station, a Delta 804 R four-head corker, or the fourth station, a Sigma 603 three-head screw-cap applicator.

The monobloc’s operation is controlled via an Allen-Bradley PanelView Plus 700 operator interface from Rockwell Automation (www.rockwellautomation.com). Up to 25 different filling programs can be stored on the system, saving information on the number of filling phases required for each job and the duration of each phase. It is the number of phases engaged and their duration that determine the speed of the filler, Naylor explains.

Features provide flexibility

Another feature of the Bertolaso monobloc that Naylor says ensures the integrity of the wine is its positive-pressure enclosed system. The monobloc is surrounded by cabinets and topped by hoods that employ blowers and HEPA filters. As filtered air is pumped into the cabinet at a higher pressure than the ambient air outside, it produces a clean-room environment inside the cabinet. This allows Terravant to bottle any type of wine, regardless of the season, without fear of contamination.

As Naylor explains, during harvest season, there is a lot of yeast from the skin of the grapes in the air. If the yeast reaches the wine, especially one having residual sugar, it can restart the fermentation process, creating carbon dioxide inside the bottle. This CO2 buildup eventually can push the cap off the bottle, “which is a really bad situation,” he says.

Also ensuring a sanitized filling environment, the monobloc has a Clean-in-Place system, which Terravant uses each morning before starting up the line. The CIP system automatically sanitizes every surface the wine will come in contact with during production.

Since Terravant deals with a range of customers, requiring a variety of bottle sizes and shapes, the monobloc’s flexibility and ease of changeover are also essential. As Naylor explains, the wine industry typically deals with three standard volumes: 375-mL “half bottles,” 750-mL “standard bottles,” and 1.5-L “Magnums.” Using the monobloc, Terravant is easily able to accommodate virtually any shape/height of half- or standard-size bottle by adjusting the infeed and feedscrews and the height of the machines. The company is more limited when it comes to the Magnum, he says, as wider-width bottles require special parts on the filler that allow it to fill every other bottle. “But a lot of our clients don’t use the large-format bottles very often, simply because there is not a huge market for them,” he adds.

Customer-focused selections

After being filled and either corked or capped, bottles on Terravant’s packaging line proceed to the Robino & Galandrino monobloc capsule spinner, a Superbloc F6T. Capped bottles move directly through the machine to the outfeed. Corked bottles receive a capsule—made of tin, film laminate, or polyvinyl chloride—to the top and neck of the bottle. At the second station, the bottle is swept up onto a carousel where a rotary turret tightens tin capsules. Interchangeable thermal heat-shrink heads accommodate film and PVC capsules.

The next machine on the line is the Impresstik 3000 VAC in-line pressure-sensitive label applicator. Although Terravant had originally specified a rotary-style labeler, Naylor says that they switched to the Impresstik because it allows front and back labels to be applied from a single web. On a rotary applicator, separate webs of label stock are required. “For a lot of our smaller clients, it was just not financially viable for them to change from having their labels on a single roll,” he says.

“Impresstik labelers are the most versatile and easiest machines to use,” he adds. “Their accuracy and flexibility are fantastic.”

After labels are applied, bottles are carried by conveyor to the end of the line, where operators do a visual quality check and hand-pack the bottles into cases. Cases then move through a BEL 270 fully automatic hot-melt-glue case sealer, equipped with a Nordson (www.nordson.com) PROblue 7 adhesive applicator. Immediately following, an ID Technology Model 250 label printer/applicator, equipped with a Sato (www.satoamerica.com) M-848 5Se print engine, prints and applies 5 x 5-in. p-s labels. The labels can be printed with the winery’s logo, along with the bonded winery number, the alcohol content, and a bar code.

An ergonomic pallet-positioning system helps operators assemble pallets, which are then moved by forklift for stretch-wrapping by a Lantech pallet wrapper.

Terravant toasts to success

After operating the bottling line for a relatively short time, Naylor is very positive in his assessment. “Mechanically, the equipment has worked flawlessly,” he says. The only issues encountered thus far have been related to the control system and software, he relates, and in those instances, “ColloPack has been very responsive.”

With this equipment, Terravant is perfectly positioned to provide quality winemaking and bottling services to the many vineyards nearby. “This is a huge wine-producing area—there are more than 150 labels just in this area,” says Naylor. “With this packaging line, we can bottle wine with the lowest dissolved-oxygen pickup that’s currently available. So there are some very unique things about our facility that—as far as we know—no one else is offering anywhere in California.”

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