Keep it Moving

Fast & Efficient Ways to Help Material Handling

man moving crops using a forklift

By: Cheryl Gray

Before wine is bottled, labeled and ready to ship, wineries and vineyards have to shift large quantities of materials from one place to the next.

  The movement, storage and protection of these assets form an entire industry known as material handling. This industry sector performs a major role in ensuring the smooth operational flow of goods throughout wineries and vineyards. Its evolution includes automation and technology designed to prevent injuries, cut costs and boost productivity.

  Fortunately, there are companies, large and small, that can handle these critical tasks. Among them is Bishamon Industries Corporation, founded in 1986 to serve as the United States production arm for its parent company, Sugiyasu International Corporation.

  Bishamon works with wineries and vineyards of all sizes, from small boutique operations to large commercial establishments. It touts a line-up of products and options designed to offer solutions that meet clients’ specific needs, regardless of scale.

  It all happens at Bishamon’s 78,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Ontario, California, with a rooftop solar system generating more than 80 percent of the facility’s energy needs. In its early years, the company produced automotive lifts and imported material-handling equipment from Sugiyasu. By the 1990s, Bishamon introduced the Bishamon EZ Loader®, which the company says revolutionized the manual palletizing industry, winning awards such as Plant Engineering Product of the Year. The product is patented worldwide and has been awarded CE certification.

  Following the success of its EZ Loader®, Bishamon launched additional material handling products, including the UniLift, which the company describes as the only product of its kind to lift and transport a standard pallet without straddling it. There is also the  EZ X Loader®, which offers a new design that targets cost savings and greater flexibility in performance. Another product, the Lift Pilot®, is described as a one-of-a-kind floor-level pallet positioner. Brian Dedmon is the director of sales for the company.

“Bishamon can address the specific needs of wineries and vineyards by offering a range of equipment designed to improve efficiency, safety and productivity in the winemaking process,” Dedmon said. “Solutions include hydraulic lift tables, mobile lifters and pallet positioners. To help wineries and vineyards select the right equipment for their unique requirements, our team takes a consultative approach by assessing the customer’s needs and offering recommendations, training and support. By offering a diverse range of equipment and providing personalized support, Bishamon strives to be a trusted partner for wineries and vineyards, helping them optimize their material handling processes and achieve greater efficiency and success in their operations.”  

  Dedmon points to some key Bishamon products that wineries and vineyards can add to optimize production, reduce costs and enhance their products.

  “Three products wineries and vineyards can benefit immediately from are the implementation of hydraulic lift tables, mobile lifters and pallet positions in their work processes,” he said. “Bishamon’s hydraulic lift tables are ideal for lifting and positioning heavy wine barrels, crates and equipment. These versatile tools come in various sizes and weight capacities to suit different tasks in the winery, ensuring smooth and ergonomic material handling for easy maneuverability. Bishamon mobile lifters are perfect for moving materials within the winery or vineyard premises. They can assist with transporting grapes, bottles, and other items efficiently, minimizing the need for manual labor and reducing the risk of injuries. Bishamon’s pallet positioners enable winery workers to load and unload materials from pallets at comfortable heights, promoting efficient workflow and reducing strain on the worker.”

  Dedmon talks about some of the company’s most widely purchased products.

  “Our most popular products are the UniLift and the EZ Loader,” he said. “The Bishamon UniLift is the only two-in-one pallet positioner/lift on the market that works with closed-bottom pallets and skids. This unit utilizes a retractable outrigger operation that allows the user to pick up closed bottom pallets without the use of a straddle stacker. This allows the unit to be used in small areas where you need more maneuverability and versatility for pallet options. Our EZ Loader is one of the best self-leveling pallet positioners on the market. It utilizes a self-contained air system with an adjustable knob to allow the user to adjust the system without resetting the air pressure or the hassle of replacing springs like other brands. The EZ Loader will raise or lower as the user adds or takes off the product, keeping the working height at an ergonomic position.”

  Dedmon adds that the company has introduced an upgraded option to its UniLift product.

  “The UniLift is an all-in-one pallet transporter and positioner designed for transporting and lifting pallets,” he said. “It also serves as a dual-purpose tool by eliminating the need for a forklift or lift table in certain applications. Now, the customer may add a Power Assist Drive System that will significantly improve the ease of maneuverability and reduce operator fatigue.”

  It is possible to reduce fatigue through innovative solutions grounded in artificial intelligence. That is the mission ofAugean Robotics. The company has invented a robot platform it callsBurro, showcasing what the robot can do through collaborations designed to give grape-growers a peek at what autonomous farming can achieve. Augean Robotics has created a team of robotics experts with vast computer knowledge and seasoned entrepreneurs with years of experience selling high-tech farming machinery to build and market Burro.

  Burro deploys A.I. in vineyards to help grape growers maximize harvests. The robots act as carrying devices or can assist with harvesting fruit. According to the company, a Burro robot is typically paired with a team of six to eight workers and can help increase productivity anywhere from 10 to 50 percent, depending upon the vineyard layout, fruit volume and other variables. Burro can also assist in patrolling, scouting and capturing data. It can serve as a platform for tasks such as UV lighting to combat powdery mildew that can wreak havoc on vineyard crops. Augean Robotics can provide a CAD file to prospective clients to outline Burro’s shape and enable a potential buyer to model items and technologies that will customize a purchase.

  When wineries and vineyards need to transport products, Magline, Inc. can help. Based in Standish, Michigan, the company has been in business for over 75 years. It manufactures various material handling products, including its recently launched Magliner Powered Lifting Hand Truck. According to Magline, the product allows its users to lift easily and lower heavy loads of up to 200 pounds, which helps to prevent injuries. When used as a traditional hand truck, Magline says that its Powered Lifting Hand Truck provides a 500-pound overall load capacity with a design featuring many of the same components as other Magliner lightweight, aluminum hand trucks. The company adds that in some instances, one person using the product can do a job that would normally take two people.

  Another popular product series from Magline is the company’s line-up of LiftPlus® powered stackers. This product features user-friendly, one-hand controls and combines the functions of a walk-behind pallet jack with those of a lift truck. It is used to handle bulk materials in manufacturing, distribution, warehousing and other areas where large material handling is  required. Unlike forklifts, no operating license is needed, and the machinery helps to reduce injuries since it is powered to carry large loads.

  Experts agree that investment in proper material handling equipment pays off in real-time by helping to prevent on-the-job injuries, smoothing the transport of critical materials and automating processes that reduce labor costs. 

Wines of Argentina

charcuterie board with wine

 By: Tod Stewart

Bonnie and Clyde. Jekyll and Hyde. Bread and butter. Salt and pepper. Some things are so synonymous with something else that it’s almost impossible to mention one without the other. In the oenophilic world, it’s hard to mention Argentina without mentioning (or at least thinking about) malbec.

  Personally, I can’t think of any other country whose vinous history is so inexorably linked to a single grape variety. (Okay, New Zealand and sauvignon blanc; I’ll give you that.) So important is malbec to Argentina’s wine industry that it accounts for almost 40 percent of all Argentine wine sold. And each year, April 17 is celebrated as Malbec World Day, a global initiative created by Wines Of Argentina (the organization responsible for, among other things, promoting the country’s wines) that seeks to position Argentine malbec as one of the most prominent varieties in the world. 

  First introduced in the mid-19th century, malbec vineyards in Argentina continue to expand, with close to 110,000 acres in the ground today.

When I visited Argentina a few years ago, I got a first-hand look at what progressive winemakers were doing in terms of technological improvements, vineyard site selection and viticultural and vinicultural practices. In other words, serious winemaking practices by dedicated, quality-oriented vintners. It wasn’t always like this.

“Until the late 1980s, Argentina was probably the worst wine producing country in the world,” admitted California vintner Paul Hobbs during an interview (and being careful not to mince words).” Having established a number of successful partnerships in California, Hobbs set out to prove to himself and the rest of the world that, when treated with respect, Argentine malbec could yield wines as good (and in the case of those from his Argentinian venture Viña Cabos, often better) than the best any country has to offer. The reason for the poor quality was simple: nobody really wanted to make anything better.

“Wine was strictly for consuming, not selling in bottle,” Hobbs maintained, “and for the most part it was all oxidized. There was really no concept of how to make good wine.”

  Thanks in large part to the pioneering efforts of local winemaker Nicolás Catena, whose epiphany came while in Napa Valley (and who took inspiration from Robert Mondavi’s contribution to the wine scene there), the scene began to change. Hobbs experienced a similar epiphany on a road trip from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina, at about the same time that Argentina’s winemakers were starting to get serious.

  “I saw what was possible,” he recounted. “There was a strong culture of wine, but a lack of practical knowledge. The vineyards were poorly farmed. The vines, especially for malbec, were over-irrigated, and in an effort to mitigate the threat of hail, trained far too low to the ground.”

  However, he saw a strong work ethic in the people and the potential in the land to support a world-class wine industry. “What I saw,” he says, “was an unpainted canvas.” Transforming this canvas into a vinous Rembrandt has been, essentially, what Hobbs has been able to do.

  While controlling yields and bringing more modern winemaking equipment and techniques to bear has certainly led to the continuing improvement in the overall quality of Argentina’s wines, perhaps the most significant factor behind the positive developments in the country’s wine industry hasn’t been so much about how to treat the fruit, but rather, where to plant the fruit. And as winemakers began to explore grape varieties beyond malbec, it has become apparent that they behave quite differently depending on where they are planted.

  “In our case [site selection] is the most important thing,” admitted Germán di Césare, winemaker at Bodega Trivento. “The vineyard selection is critical because it is where the whole process begins. Each site provides different characteristics to the wine, so we plant according to the wine we want to produce.”

  I also asked Gonzalo Bertelsen, general manager and chief winemaker at Mendoza’s Finca el Origen, who elaborated further:

  “Every vineyard suits a particular vine and wine,” he told me. “And even within the same vineyard, we see big differences in how the vines behave depending on weather, grape variety, soil, rootstock, irrigation, canopy management, hang time, and so on.” He notes that merlot wines made from fruit grown in the eastern part of Mendoza are typically very different than those sourced from the region’s western part, which is 600 meters higher.”

  In fact, elevation has turned out to be one of the most critical considerations in the critical process of vineyard location. The vines for Hobbs Viña Cobos wines are planted in numerous high-elevation vineyards throughout the Uco Valley and the department of Luján de Cuyo. The soils in these vineyards tend to be poor in organic material and blessed with deep layers of rock and mineral, as well as good drainage, resulting in fruit with concentration, structure and complexity.

  “High-altitude vineyards provide a wide temperature range,” Di Césare confirmed, going on to explain that “low temperatures at night and higher temperatures during the day make for perfect conditions for the harvesting of perfectly ripened fruit.” 

  As alluded to a few paragraphs back, malbec might be the preferred weapon in most Argentinian winemakers’ arsenal. Still, plenty of other red and white varieties are being used with generally favorable results.

  “We are sure that we can show there is much more Argentina can offer than just malbec,” Julián Iñarra Iraegui, commercial director for Proemio wines, told me. “The region we are in, Maipú, from my understanding, is the best region for growing cabernet sauvignon. We also make wines from petit verdot, syrah, grenache and cabernet franc.” Iraegui said that Proemio is looking to “deconstruct and reconstruct” classic French blends to craft wines that are both single varietal expressions and blends featuring those same grapes. He stated the winery’s style is “more French.”

  “We avoid over-extraction and the heavy use of oak,” he said. “We import our barrels from France, and we are also using some barrels that are made from tree branches rather than trunks. We are the first winery to use these in Argentina.”

  Tasting through a range of Proemio wines with Iraegui, I was impressed by the complexity, poise 

and refinement of the wines crafted by French-thinking (though of Italian descent) Marcelo Bocardo. “Marcelo loves blends,” Iraegui revealed when asked whether malbec might be better as part of a blend than as a single varietal.

  Though the winery makes a couple of 100 percent malbec wines, Iraegui said that the winery “loves cabernets.”

  Indeed, the Proemio cabernet sauvignon “Reserve” 2016, with its aromas of tobacco, black currant, mint, pepper and dark plum, more than adequately showed the potential of this grape variety. Juicy and dense, it was nonetheless perfectly balanced and elegant, with a hint of spice intermingling with the chewy cassis fruit.

  Just as Argentina isn’t solely about malbec, it’s also not strictly about vino tinto. Most of the main international white varietals (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, semillon, chenin blanc and muscat) have taken root in the country’s soil. But the most interesting white variety is something unique to Argentina.

  A cross between the Listán Prieto and Muscat of Alexandria varieties, Torrontés (or more precisely, Torrontés Riojano (there are three variations of the grape), gives white wines with intense aromatics and lively flavors (very much like a dry muscat…not surprisingly).

  “Torrontés is a magnificent variety, with a high oenological value and [versatility] to obtain different wine types,” Susana Balbo of the Eponymous Winery explained to me. “In our case, we produce low-alcohol wines, natural sweet wines, dry wines, barrel fermented wines and late harvest wines from Torrontés grapes. Due to its great aromatic richness and its adaptability to diverse types of climate, Torrontés provides an interesting range of aromas that makes each wine unique.”

  I’m not sure if the situation is different in the United States, but in Canada, the wines of Argentina have generally been relegated to the “cheap and cheerful” category, which isn’t really fair and certainly doesn’t allow consumers to experience what the country really has to offer, wine-wise. Sure, you can get perfectly acceptable wines for under $20 (that’s CDN, so apply the current conversion factor for USD). But I highly recommend springing for something a bit more upmarket. You’ll likely find that the flavor profile will increase dramatically even though the price will still be below that of wines from more recognized countries and regions.