Choosing Equipment That Keeps The Bar High

It pays to have the right tools for the job.

No matter what field you’re working in, you’ve always got your eye on new equipment to help you improve your process and your product.

Mira Winery’s latest equipment purchase comes from across the pond — an egg-shaped French Oak wine fermentation tank.

Mira co-founder and winemaker Gustavo Gonzales purchased the “Ovum” at French cooperage Tonnellerie Taransaud. The Yountville, California winery’s Ovum is said to be the first egg-shaped wine fermentation tank at any winery in the United States.

“When we visited the cooperage to buy our five-ton French Oak tanks, I saw they had a prototype of the egg stashed away,” Gonzales said. “That one had hoops holding it together. I was blown away by that one as I’m a pretty big math and art nerd.

“Not only was the Ovum built to follow the golden ratio, but the oak brings on a whole other level of aesthetics.”

Only two Ovum barrels are produced each year. Ovum saw its first application during the 2020 harvest, fermenting Chardonnay grapes as part of the multi-year conditioning process that will enable Gonzalez to use the wooden egg to maximum effect.

“I chose Chardonnay knowing that on first use, there would be more oak flavor passed onto the wine and I concluded that this varietal is the one that I could get away with being more oaky than usual,” Gonzales said. “In the future, I will use it on Sauvignon Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.”

The egg is also likely to play an eventual role in producing Mira’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon Schweizer Vineyard, alongside the winery’s five-ton French oak fermentation tanks that were imported specifically for the Schweizer Cabernet.

When asked whether prioritizing wine fermentation tanks was important, Gonzales’ answer was unequivocal.

“It’s very important!” Gonazales said. “I try to set up the majority of my wine’s profile during the very critical fermentation and maceration period so that by the time the wine hits the barrel, all it really has to do is age. Paying attention to the size, material and dimensions of the fermentation vessel rewards the wine with just that much more nuance and complexity.

“A five-ton tank behaves much differently than a 15-ton tank, even if they are made from the same material.”

In the lab, Sheldrake Point in Ovid, New York has a setup for aeration/oxidation measurement of SO2, including glassware, an aquarium pump (for pushing SO2 out of the wine), and a burette along with the equipment to measure titratable acidity, including a pH meter and a burette.

Winemaker Dave Breeden said a variety of basic equipment, like a refractometer to measure juice in Brix; a whole range of different hydrometers; and a carbodoseur to measure dissolved CO2 can be necessities.

“We also have reagents and a few test tubes for doing rough measurements of residual sugar,” he said. “We had almost all of that when I got here 18 years ago except the aquarium pump, the carbodoseur, and we used different reagents for measuring residual sugar.”

The bare essentials for any winery laboratory would include pH meter, a hydrometer, and a refractometer, Breeden explained.

“They are absolutely crucial,” Breeden said. “A burette to do TA is really nice, and all the rest of the equipment I listed above is worth having.”

Other nice-to-have equipment, according to Breeden, includes: A spectrophotometer or an automated wine analysis device (such an Oenofoss).

William Chris Wines in Hye, Texas is in the midst of upgrades designed to improve efficiency during the production process.

“We’re currently upgrading our crush pad to intake 2-ton gondolas, which will help make our winery more efficient and less dependent on bins,” said Andrew Sides, COO of WIlliam Chris Wine. “In addition, we’re adding stainless piping from the crush pad to our tank rooms and a hopper for Bois Frais.”

Other improvements on tap for William Chris include a Netszch progressive cavity pump to more efficiently and gently move fruit, and upgraded barrel storage so that the wine experiences less movement impact through its aging process. 

Computer equipment upgrades are also expected to streamline things at William Chris.

“Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we’ve been able to integrate more computer software into our production procedures to track specific barrel program performance, vintage variation, varietal characterization, and vineyard differences,” Sides said.

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