From the Vineyard to the Bottle: What to Consider When Choosing Filling Equipment

By: Cheryl Gray

When harvest ends, when fermentation and aging are over, it is time to bottle the wine. While it may seem like a simple thing, how those bottles get filled truly matters. When choosing the right filling equipment for a winery, key factors to consider include capacity, functionality and, of course, cost.  

  XpressFill, headquartered in San Luis Obispo, California, has neighbors that include wine regions near Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Edna Valley and Santa Maria Valley. The company, founded in 2007, provides a wide range of filling machines that fit virtually any need for wineries of any size.  

  One of the company’s specializations is the development of compact, affordable, easy-to-operate table-top fillers. Rod Silver is in charge of marketing and sales for the company.

  “XpressFill offers both a volumetric and a level fill machine,” he said. “Both fillers have self-priming pumps, do not require gravity or a reservoir, are made of food-grade [materials], and are capable of filling 450 bottles per hour. We also offer two-spout versions of each, capable of filling 240 bottles per hour.” 

  Silver told The Grapevine Magazine that XpressFill designs its machines for product protection and efficiency.

  “The fillers can be equipped with an inert gas – CO2 or Nitrogen – purge option to extend the shelf life of your product. Either configuration weighs less than 25 lbs, with a physical size similar to a case of wine,” he said. “By using an efficient flow path, there is very little waste due to priming for the initial fills or left-over wine in the system at completion.”  

  Ease of use is an essential feature in any new piece of equipment. XpressFill fillers provide a user-friendly experience.  

  “Operation is simple. Set up and cleaning require little time, allowing larger wineries to use our fillers to avoid large production setup costs or mobile canning minimum fees. The volumetric filler provides an adjustable shelf and offers the most flexibility when filling a broad range of bottle sizes. The variations in bottle fill volumes are within a consistent range in order to comply with the regulations set by the TTB,” said Silver. 

  “The level filler is designed with a sensor probe that shuts off the fill at the desired height. Simply adjust the shelf to the desired height, then place the bottle on the shelf to set the fill level wanted. The flow is triggered by resting a bottle on the snap switch. The fill will shut off when the sensor detects the liquid hitting the correct level in the bottle. [These machines are] perfect for use with hand-blown and other specialty bottles that have slight variations in bottle wall thicknesses, punt size, diameter of the bottle, and neck height, among other inconsistencies. They are most popular in industries requiring bottles to be filled to consistent levels even when volumes may vary.”

  Silver described how digital technology plays a vital role in product operations.  

  “Volumes are controlled by use of the digital timer. The user simply inputs the amount of time necessary to fill the bottle. For example, a two oz bottle might take four seconds to fill, a 275 ml bottle 13 seconds, and a 750 ml bottle 25 seconds (based on water). Times will vary according to the viscosity of the product. The digital timer is precise and adjustable down to .01 seconds, and the time is stored in the memory until changed by the user.” 

  Silver told The Grapevine Magazine that XpressFill provides wineries with affordable options.

  “Our fillers are extremely cost-effective, ranging from $2,395 to under $4,000 for a fully equipped filler capable of gas purge and 450 bottles filled in one hour…They are ideal for the small-to-medium production artisan craft person.   

  An investment in equipment now will inevitably lead to the question of when to upgrade later. Silver said wineries should consider several factors when moving into a faster, larger capacity bottle-filling product.  

  “For deciding when it is time to upgrade, the advice would be to perform a cost-benefit analysis based on the down-time, maintenance and hourly operating cost of the current system versus the replacement. Although a new system may have much greater production throughput, the time for setup, configuring for filling and cleaning after filling may be much more labor-intensive and result in a net reduction in cost-effectiveness.” 

  The Vintner’s Vault is another California-based company that sells bottle-filling products. With locations in Paso Robles and Temecula and a third in the Texas hill country, the company has a client base that stretches across the United States as well as in Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, China, Nova Scotia and Indonesia. It works with several manufacturers to provide wineries with a range of choices.  

  Andrew Berg, Vice President of The Vintner’s Vault,  said that innovation and introducing new products are priorities.  

  “Over the past years, we have provided the fastest-growing segment of the bottling industry due to our ability to produce affordable and extremely effective machines that are easy for clients to operate,” said Berg. “We offer fully automatic bottling lines and semi-automatic bottle fillers. Gravity fillers are used for still wines and isobaric fillers for sparkling wines. We also offer vacuum filling machines for olive oil and vinegar, as well as some craft breweries. 

  “For our automated systems, we run from 16,000 bottles per hour to as low as 1000 bottles per hour and for semi-automatic systems from 1000 to 200 bottles per hour. 

  “All systems we offer are very easy for the clients to use. Protecting the wines from oxygen pickup during bottling is the top priority, followed by consistent, accurate fill levels. Gravity fillers and the vacuum filling units, both automatic and semi-automatic, are much more economical compared to isobaric fillers, which are also offered in automatic or semi-automatic.” 

  Wineries can sometimes be limited in their equipment choices because of location and cost. The Vintner’s Vault works to help solve both problems.  

  “Many of these smaller and medium facilities are in rural areas where their options for bottling are more limited, so the investment must come as part of the equipment budget,” Berg said. “We are able to provide highly professional and easy-to-use systems that can fit that budget.  

  “For the larger facilities, we have combinations of Borelli and NewTec, along with a variety of other options for off-packing, automatic palletizing, carton erecting, carton sealing, case packing and much more. In all sizes, we work directly with the client to determine their exact needs. [We then] build a system accordingly with all drawings and needed details for the client to ensure that it not only fits their needs and budget but the space allocated for the system.” 

  Wineries have multiple factors to consider when choosing filling equipment. Careful planning is the first step.

  “Small producers usually start with a semi-automatic bottle filler due to their small productions and their budget. Medium and large-sized wineries go with automatic bottling lines because their larger production makes it more affordable to invest in an automatic bottling line and reduces the labor involved in bottling their wines,” said Berg.

  “It is also important for many producers to have the added luxury of bottling on their schedule as opposed to medium and larger wineries having to hire a mobile bottling truck service, which in turn locks them into dates which can create logistical timing issues for the winery,” he said. “Not all the wines may be ready for the bottling date, they may not have the tank capacity to bottle all their wines together, and it also can be a challenge if the bottling products like labels, corks or capsules, etcetera, are not on sight on time.

  “That being said, we also have produced several full bottling trucks and trailers for clients who provide bottling services to a number of producers. These are our mobile bottling trailers, and we can build the entire system from scratch to customer specification or install it in a client’s existing truck or trailer.” 

  Among the companies specializing in bottle filling machines for sparkling wine is Della Toffola Group, established in the 1960s and headquartered in Italy. The company has a global presence with branch offices on six continents, including Della Toffola USA in Santa Rosa, California.  

  The company has manufactured and installed winemaking equipment for more than half a century. In addition to isobaric bottle filling machines, the company also provides wineries with a varied selection of bottle filling equipment, including volumetric, electric and gravity filling machines.  

  Industry experts agree that time spent carefully researching options can save money in the long run. Partnering with a bottle-filling manufacturer that prioritizes the winery’s needs for immediate and future production is part of that sound research.

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