Monday, March 11, 2013

Buying Equipment--The Money Drain Really Begins!

You know the old maxim "It takes money, to make money"?  Well, it's certainly true for winemaking!  As you can probably guess from the preceding posts about the winery construction, finishing a basement (let alone custom outfitting a room as a winery) is not an inexpensive proposition.  I'm certainly capable of tackling small home improvement projects by myself, but I'm very glad to enlist the services of Custom Contracting Inc to handle the complexity of a basement finishing project.  As constructions hurtles towards completion, I'm also faced with the rapidly approaching need to upgrade my equipment to handle an ~5x increase in production myself.  Going from 100 gallons/year to 500 gallons/year doesn't sound like that big of an increase, but when you're doing all the work by hand and by yourself there are technical challenges in moving 1/2 or 1 ton lots of grapes through the fermentation and aging process.  Anything that can take a little of the muscle work and backstrain out of the process would be quite helpful.

I mentioned in the last post that I spent last week at the Eastern Winery Expo in Lancaster, PA.  One of my primary reasons for going this year was to wander around the trade expo and visit the equipment manufacturers/retailers.  Often times, they bring equipment with them as display items and since they are traveling, they usually bring the smaller scale equipment that they sell.  Perhaps not what the big boys are looking for, but right up my alley!  The chance to actually touch and poke a machine rather than looking at online or catalog photos is invaluable.  I went with the goal of making decisions on 3 key pieces of equipment to make my life easier:  1) destemmer with a must pump, 2) transfer pump, and 3) bladder press. 

I'd been looking at a destemmer from a source in CA, but was curious if I could find one closer to home to save on shipping.  I've been using a motorized crusher/destemmer that has served me well, but it's a basic home winemaker's unit that really crushes the grapes to smithereens and makes a rather good-sized mess.  Transferring the crushed must from the tubs that I usually set underneath the machine to the fermentation bins also requires a fair bit of back muscle work.  My goals for a new unit included gentler fruit handling, a must pump that will take care of transferring the must into the fermenter, and ease in cleaning.  Turns out that I found everything that I needed in a Zambelli Gamma 25 destemmer from M&M in Hartford, CT!  They don't just do grapes & juice, but also equipment!  An almost exact copy of the destemmer from CA for a comparable price but without the shipping costs.  The picture below was provided by Napa Fermentation Supply who also sell the Zambelli line of crushers & destemmers but more for the West Coast crowd.  The fun part will be getting it from M&M to Westford, and out of the truck once it's home, but I've got some ideas to accomplish that task.

The next big ticket item was a bladder press.  I've been using a 120L ratchet press that was manufactured in 1939 by a Chicago ironworks company.  That venerable piece of history used to inhabit a home winemaking shop in Boulder, CO but made it's way to Ann Arbor, MI after the shop closed when the owners retired.  I used it for 2 years in Ann Arbor and then lugged it to MA where it's served my purposes nobly with few complaints.  But I wanted to upgrade to a faster press with less likelihood of bacterial contamination.  Imagine my delight when I walked into the Expo Trade Show to find the first booth inside the entrance was Oesco Inc, suppliers of orchard and vineyard management products from right here in MA, and they had a 120L Lancman stainless steel bladder press on display!  You'll probably be wondering why I'm not looking for something larger than 120L.  Truth is that I'd love to get a bigger unit, but I'm a little constrained by what will fit through the residential-size door of the winery room.  The 120L bladder press should need only 2 pressings to process my 60 gal batches, so it should fit my needs for the next 4-5 years at least.  If I really need additional throughput, I can always get a second press and have 2 running side-by-side.  The nice folks from Oesco were quite happy to wheel and deal a little, especially if I would take it home with me from the show so they didn't have to lug it back to MA.  And that's exactly what I did--right through the teeth of Winter Storm Saturn!  The amusing part of the drive home was the double take looks from drivers as they passed me wondering what was this R2D2 looking thing in the back of the truck.  The picture of my new toy below is from the Oesco website.

So the final item was a transfer pump to move wine around.  I was really wanting a flexible impeller pump with a variable speed drive that would be large enough to handle some must gunk (not the just crushed berries, but fermentation sludge).  Oh..and could I find one that ran on 110V single phase power??  I'll duck so that the electrical engineers don't hit me all at once.  I've been poking around several suppliers but the only pumps I was finding that operated on 110V single phase were single speed.  In theory they would work, but 9 gpm output speeds meant that I'd have quite a stream of wine roaring from tank to barrel with very little control.  I was really quite pleased to find that The Vintner Vault has realized that I'm not the only guy with those technical requirements and manufacturers a Vigor Mini pump for us small guys in mind.  They aren't cheap, but offer everything that I was wanting, along with a remote control!  I chuckle that running the Mini at its rated full power speed of 25 gpm, I'd be able to transfer an entire barrel of wine in 2.4 minutes!  Won't need that kind of speed, but there's certainly room to grow with this pump.  I was told that they can't keep these things in stock and are awaiting a shipment of pump heads from Europe to arrive before they'll have any for sale.  Unfortunately, I couldn't bring one home with me, but my name is on the waiting list.

So it was a very good trip to PA.  Spent quite a bit of money but met all 3 equipment decision goals.  Also chatted with grape growers, yeast providers, label printers, cork sellers, bottle sellers, etc, etc, etc.  Came home with about a ton of pamphlets from just about everybody at the show.  Lots of material to read in the future when I need to make more decisions.



Greg said...

Are you selling your old crusher destemmer?

MA Winemaker said...

I probably will, but waiting until I actually receive the new one. Need to make sure I can get through the spring Chilian harvest before letting it go!

Cozmo said...

What kind of fermenters are those? I've been enjoying reading all your old posts about this construction.