Tips for optimising in-house bottling

Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine asked Australian & New Zealand Winemakers’ managing director Paul Baggio for some tips for smaller wine producers who have their own in-house bottling line on how to achieve the best results for their precious wines.

 

Introduction
For smaller wine producers, installing packaging equipment is a significant investment. Many producers choose to make this investment for reasons of control and the ability to manage their wine volumes more effectively. Certainly, being able to schedule lots of smaller bottling runs as required provides the ultimate flexibility for a wine business. The other often-cited advantage of having an in-house bottling line is that wines are stored better and fresher and enable greater flexibility when held in tank formats. We often have clients frustrated by not being able to sufficiently deliver their wines to clients as the demand is called upon. Having one’s own packaging plant offers greater flexibility all round from both a marketing and cash flow perspective.
For those who have made the significant investment in a bottling line, we offer the following advice to help ensure there is no impact on quality once the wine comes out the other end.

What’s the best setup to exclude oxygen for minimal cost?
The technology on modern filling machines has changed somewhat in recent years. For example, counter- pressure filling systems with double pre-evacuation technology (at very little difference in price compared to low vacuum and gravity systems) significantly reduce oxygen pick-up for some wine styles, and would enable greater flexibility to any wine packaging filler solution. Sparkling wine, prosecco and other value add streams could significantly benefit from an investment in a counter-pressure style filler over an ordinary gravity or low vacuum style filler. These fillers can disengage any CO2 saturation or the requirement for the filler to act as a gravity system, so both white and red wine filling are respected. Importantly, the business is given greater flexibility in operation if/or when desired. Gas management systems are simple and interesting pieces of technology that can be integrated into any wine packaging unit to facilitate the use of nitrogen gas to treat the build up of CO2 levels in all wine styles.

 

What is best practice for eliminating contamination from bottles?

Technology has recently evolved in the area of small-scale bottling technology. Once equipment used only in the larger- scale packaging arena, features such as electro-pneumatic filling, laminar flow and clean out of place (COP) (as distinct from clean in place) enable even small-scale packaging to achieve the BRC global standard.

Subject to the design of the rinsing unit being used and the types of wines being bottled, treatments will vary. Rinse duration is something to be very aware of when managing a bottling line. Some more sophisticated rinsing units can come equipped with dual treatments of acid and neutralising, water-peracetic acid rinse mixtures or even acid gas injections systems. Additionally, the shelf life of a wine in relation to low or no SO are further aspects to bear in mind. Many rinsing systems supplied with monobloc rinsing, filling and closure units significantly underestimate the exposure opportunities in rinsing. In many instances the speed of many mono bloc lines needs to be de-rated to enable suitable rinsing timeframes. The incorporation of residue rinsing solutions with filtered air could be of value.

Best time to make pre-bottling additions, such as S02?

24 hours prior to bottline would be ideal.

 

Cleaning and sanitising a bottling line

Use a caustic wash followed by a citric wash water flush and a steam clean for sanitising each morning.

 

Tips for bottle washing

For external bottle cleaning, there are bottle washing units available, though these are typically used in ‘tirage’ processes where bottles get stored, unlabelled, for a period to mature, and by virtue pick up dust and tend to

get dirty. New bottles probably don’t require outer bottle cleaning. However, it would be worth asking the supplier as to whether there are any silica residues. I’ve certainly seen this be an issue with some cheaper bottles. Silica residues on the outside of bottles can cause labelling issues, so be aware that outer bottle cleaning may be needed to ensure more effective labelling.

 

Testing filter integrity

The type of filters being utilised, such as ceramic membranes or pleated sheets, will influence the type of test. Bubble testing for ceramics and a pressure decay test for lenticular filters are customary.

 

Is there a need to periodically inspect filled bottles for contamination?

An inspection every hour, depending on bottling speeds, is recommended. Testing for contamination with a swab test prior to start up is also advisable.

 

Final comments

We find that wine packaging is an area of winery operations that winemakers are often somewhat reluctant to take on, with many in their comfort zone finishing the wine in the cellar area. However, like many other processes, wine packaging can quickly become less daunting after spending just a little time observing it. We encourage winemakers who would like a more hands-on understanding of how smaller winery packaging operates to visit one of our customers’ sites to acquire the necessary exposure and experience. Similarly, when customers purchase bottling lines, we can provide extended periods of supervision during installation and commissioning to enable a progressive learning ‘on the tools’ in their own winery.

As previously stated, the long-term savings in being able to schedule when and where your wine gets packaged is a significant advantage to a business’ versatility, cash flow and, ultimately, wine quality.

 

For more info on our bottling line equipment and technologies, please feel free to contact us directly.

 

*This article first appeared in Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine