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Interest is surging in mobile bottling

Interest is surging in mobile bottling

Larry Walker

The mobile bottling concept will have been around for over 20 years in California by the turn of the century – they were common before that in Europe – and in the last few years there has been a surge of interest in mobile bottling on the part of wineries. In fact, the interest has been so strong that several wineries have started joint venture portable bottling lines with other wineries and it is said more are on the way.

It all seems to have started in 1978 with a company called Mobile Wine Line, still owned and operated by the Drummond family in Galt, California. Eva Drummond said that they have winery customers who have been with them from the beginning.

When Chateau Bottlers started in 1980, it was only the second mobile line in California, although things are a bit more crowded these days. Don Hudson said the competition hasn’t hurt Chateau Bottlers. “We have a lot of loyal clients. I hope that with the competition there is, the quality will stay high throughout the business,” he added.

Chateau covers Northern and Central California with a line that includes an Orbit sparger and air cleaner, a Bertolaso four-head corker and foiler spinner and a Mustang front and back labeler.

Chateau has the capacity to work with flange bottles and the heat-shrink neck ringers and will soon be offering heat-shrink front and back or wrap-around labels as well as cold glue labeling.

“The flange top bottles are certainly more trouble on the bottling line, but if that’s what the customer wants, that’s what we want to deliver,” Hudson said.

Besides the regular bottling line, Hudson also operates a separate labeling line that can go into wineries or wine warehouses and label and foil already-bottled wines.

“We’ve had that capacity for some time, but it always seems to surprise people,” Hudson said.

The latest operation, North Coast Bottlers, is a company set up by Stags’ Leap Winery, Matanzas Creek Winery and Kistler Winery. North Coast, which started last year, does take on other winery bottlings, but only if they can fit it into the schedule of the three owners, according to Robert Brittan, general manager and winemaker at Stags’ Leap.

Brittan said the move came about when he decided to replace the bottling operation at Stags’ Leap. “I realized that if I could get some other wineries involved, we could all have better equipment and afford to hire a full-time mechanic to keep the line running. I thought that with about 100,000 cases a year, we could do that.”

Brittan said that in the case of Stags’ Leap, the line was only used three months a year and each year it was almost like starting all over again to get it “tweaked and running right.” North Coast uses a Bertolasso filler and corker.

In Santa Barbara County, Eli Parker at Fess Parker Winery set up a mobile operation two years ago for much the same reason. “By getting help with the cost, I could afford a better line.” Parker has his Gai bottling line mounted on a 40-foot trailer, which enables him to get into some tight space situations at some of the smaller wineries in Santa Barbara County who use the service.

“It isn’t a real fast line, but most of our customers are only 4,000 to 6,000 case operations, so it gets the job done just fine.” Parker said the toughest problem over the first year has been keeping up with changes in bottle size and shapes. “The first year was kind of tough, but I think it’s working just fine from an economic standpoint now,” he added.

Eva Drummond of Mobile Wine Line agreed that higher speeds hurt quality control. “We aim for about 50 bottles a minute. There is faster equipment available, but we’re happy with what we have. We not only want to make money but we want to keep the winery in business, too.” She added that the Mobile Wine Line had seldom lost a customer, unless the winery outgrew them.

Like most of the lines, the Mobile Wine Line can do 375 ml, 750 ml and 1.5 liters. Anything else is a special customer operation. Mobile works within California and the line is built around Otto Sick, McBrady and Mustang equipment.

Estate Bottling, established in 1982, covers all of California, according to owner Bill Harrison. “When we first started, our problem was finding good equipment. We went to a lot of U.S. people and no one would take us serious. We ended up with the Italians who built to our specifications,” Harrison said. His line is built by Ronchi.

“It works like a dream. We have a labeler that can do front and back and heat-shrink,” Harrison said. Estate Bottling can also filter the wines if needed before bottling.

Many Estate Bottling customers have been with the company for eight to ten years, Harrison said. “Every fall, we sit down with our regular clients and schedule them for the year.

The Bottling Room started in 1986 with one line and added a second in 1989. According to owner Eric Peterson, a third line will be added. “We cover all of California and are thinking of expanding into Oregon and Washington,” he said. Peterson said his line can operate at between 30 and 60 bottles per minute, depending on winery and the package. Peterson said he thought the greatest improvements in all bottling since he started 11 years ago was in labels.

“The labels are just looking much better. We will be adding a pressure-sensitive labeler for front and back labels. Right now we have a Mustang New Jersey front and back labeler on one line,” he said.

Other equipment includes a McBrady Orbit Bottle Purger, a Horix filler and a Bertolasso corker.

Ryan McGee Bottling opened in 1995, although partners Andrew Ryan and Brian McGee had worked in the industry for several years, according to partner Mary Ryan McLaughlin. The line is fast, at between 90 and 95 bottles per minute, according to Mary McLaughlin. The 8-head Bertolasso corker is the key to the speedy operation, according to McLaughlin. Other equipment includes a Mustang front and back labeler and a McBrady Orbit sparger. The 24-spout gravity filler was custom built from 4D Machinery in Petaluma.

McLaughlin said there was a demand for the high-speed operation. “We have been very well-received and are presently booked through the middle of September. It’s a very friendly industry.”

Resources

Associated Winery Systems, Inc. 7714 Bell Rd., Windsor, Calif. 95492. Tel: (800) 228-0664; Fax: (707) 838-3164.

Chateau Bottlers, Inc., P.O. Box 368, Oakville, Calif. 94562; Tel: (707) 963-2323; Fax: (707) 963-2338.

Estate Bottling, P.O. Box 338, Rutherford, Calif. 94573; Tel: (707) 963-5705 or (510) 376-0215.

Long Island Bottlers, a mobile co-op line operated by four Long Island wineries. Contact, Ray Blum, Peconic Bay Vineyards, (516) 734-7361.

Mobile Wine Line, 9601 Robson Road, Galt, Calif. 95632; Tel: (209) 745-2871.

Ryan-McGee Bottling, 1370 Trancas St., Napa, Calif. 94558; Tel: (707) 258-9388; Fax: (707) 257-8220.

Fess Parker Bottling Line, P.O. Box 908, Los Olivos, Calif. 93441; Tel: (805) 688-1545; Fax: (805) 686-1130.

TechnoQuip, Inc., 5700 Robinson Creek Road, Ukiah, Calif. Tel: (800) 577-1220. Techn-Quipp, owned by Sandy and Dave Stipp, operates two portable Alfa Laval filtering machines throughout California.

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