Custom-winemaking operations have been sprouting and expanding in the North Coast in recent years to slake the thirst of up-and-coming vintners to produce new brands. And mobile bottlers have been rolling out new rigs to keep up with demand from vintners that want expanded capacity or don’t want to invest in expensive, infrequently used equipment.
Infinity Bottling (infinitybottling.com) is leasing 35,000 square feet in one of the cavernous Valley Wine Warehouse facilities on Hanna Drive in American Canyon. Maspack Packaging USA in the same city designed the equipment that is being produced currently in Italy. Wine tanks are being fabricated. The goal is to be ready to take in the first deliveries of wine to bottle in the first quarter of next year, according to Jessica Tuteur, general manager and partner.
The need for this service surfaced from her day job, as operations and logistics manager for Plata Wine Partners for nearly a decade. Sourcing fruit from more than 20,000 acres of premium vineyards, Napa-based Plata produces at four California custom wineries over 600,000 cases annually of 30-plus brands, including labels crafted for major national retailers.
“Over the years, I’ve found that bottling is our biggest struggle,” Tuteur said. “When you’re a third-party bottler at a custom-crush facility, you’re just really not a priority. They have a lot of other things they are dealing with.”
While touring a winery in Italy with a bottleneck-capsule supplier, she realized part of the problem.
“I found that the way bottling is done in America is 30 years behind in automation and efficiency,” she said. The integration of robotics for receiving, handling and packaging bottles and automatic quality control is something Tuteur said she doesn’t often see at third-party production facilities.
And while there are multiple options on the California Central Coast for dedicated third-party bottling facilities, the North Coast has few. Tuteur and Napa Valley mobile bottlers and custom wineries point to E&J Gallo’s purchase of The Ranch winery in St. Helena in 2015 in creating greater demand for third-party production and bottling services in the area.
The equipment set to go into Infinity Bottling is being configured to handle more than 150 bottles per minute, which works out to over 1 million cases a year on a single shift.
There will also be a focus on bringing the economics of buying glass in bulk to small-scale producers, Tuteur said. Among the equipment on order is automated bulk-glass handling. Instead of empty bottles’ arriving packed in the cardboard cartons (cases) in which they get shipped out when filled, the bottles arrived shrink-wrapped on pallets. The system automatically depalletizes the bottles to load them onto the filling line.
“Cartons typically get touched five times when packed with empty bottles, so there is potential for them to get damaged,” Tuteur said.
The plant also will be able to work with empty bottles arriving in cartons, which is typically how smaller wineries receive them from suppliers. More bottles can arrive on a supplier truck if received in bulk. Tuteur said the savings of bulk glass handling could be 60 cents to $1.
“It makes a big difference, when you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of cases,” she said.
Infinity Bottling will have a 2,500-case minimum job size. One of the reasons for locating inside a wine casegoods warehouse is to offer clients the option of moving their newly bottled wines into storage without additional trucking costs, Tuteur said.
The venture is set to start with staffing of five or six people, expanding to as many as 10 at single-shift capacity.