How to Be Ready for Your Mobile Bottler
Midwestern wineries are increasingly taking advantage of the opportunity to use mobile bottling. Aside from avoiding the massive expense of purchasing bottling equipment, mobile bottling saves hours of labor compared to hand bottling. Still, mobile bottling requires a considerable amount of preparation on the part of the winery.
Recently, Midwest Wine Press spoke with two relatively new mobile bottlers about how wineries should prepare for mobile bottling day. Precision Wine Bottling is owned by Todd Roessller of Trempealeau, Wisconsin. Roesller started bottling in 2011. His territory covers MN, WI, IA, and Northern Illinois.
Old Woolham Custom Bottling is owned by Brent Baker of Owensville, Missouri. Baker is the first mobile bottler in Missouri and, in addition to Missouri, he covers Central and Southern Illinois, Northern Arkansas, Eastern Kansas, and Southern Iowa.
Both Roessler and Baker offer a number of suggestions to insure a smooth bottling day.
Filtration– Wine needs to be “bottle ready” when the bottling truck arrives. According to Baker, this means the wine should go through a .45 micron, sterile EK filtration. Since the final level of filtration is up to the winery owner, there should be a conversation in advance about what filters will be used during mobile bottling. Because the winery is normally responsible for supplying and paying for filters, the filtration discussion should also address how the costs for the filters will be assessed. Both mobile bottlers said that filtration is the one area where the most questions arise, so it’s wise to address filtration issues well before bottling day.
Bottles– Roessler stressed the importance of advance communication between the bottler and winery with regard to bottles. The lack of standardized bottle sizes in the wine industry can present challenges. “Too large a bottle won’t fit our equipment; too small a bottle will result in play with the cork and screw cap,” he said. In preparation, Roesller requires a detailed drawing of the bottle. Both he and Baker also obtain sample bottles in advance, usually from the maufacturuer. “Premium glass bottles are a worthwhile expenditure for a winery,” Roessler said. “A perfect bottle makes the whole process go smoothly.”
Labels– According to Baker, some of the problems that can arise with labels are caused by imperfect bottles. “Bottles cannot be expected to be perfect,” Baker said. “If you’re using bigger, longer labels then you’re increasing the chance for label imperfections and wrinkles.” He noted that almost all mass produced wines use smaller labels to reduce labeling problems. “If you’re going to use a label that was created to be hand applied, make sure that it will work with a machine applier before the bottling day,” Baker said.
Labels must also be wound correctly. There are at least eight ways to wind a label according to Roessler who has a label spec sheet that wineries can provide to label manufacturers. Baker and Roessler agree that graphic design on labels should be simple. White labels, clear labels, and labels on a white backing can all cause problems for the reflective label sensors used in mobile bottling. White backing on labels can also cause problems for bottling line sensors.
Proper staffing– Roesller and Baker differ in their opinions of how many workers are needed for mobile bottling. Baker thinks three workers are sufficient, while Roesller would prefer to have four winery employees involved. Both agree that it’s important for the owner and/or winemaker to be present. Mobile bottling tasks assumed by the winery include loading empty bottles into the bottling line and packing bottles in cases.
Have Pumps and Hoses Ready: Generally the winery provides hoses, while the mobile bottlers supply the bottling pumps. It’s the winery’s responsibility to sanitize hoses and any winery pumps that may be used in advance. Consider beforehand how many feet of hose will be required to reach from wine tanks to the bottling truck.
Adequate Electricity and Potable Water– A single phase 240 volt, 100 amp service is required for both Roesller’s and Baker’s bottling trucks. Special plugs are usually required, and the winery should inquire about how the cost for the plugs will be allocated or if a special plug in is required. Baker said that he prefers the bottling truck to be within 75-100 feet of the plug in and breaker box. Fresh water is also required for mobile bottling.
Inert Gas Preference– Whether the inert gas is CO2, argon or nitrogen, the winery must supply the gas. For every 500 cases of wine a large bottle of nitrogen is required, according to Baker. He added that more of his clients are using inert gas to increase shelf life and reduce oxidation.
Capsules, Corks and Screwcaps– Again, these hard goods are supplied by the winery. Roessler said that 80% of his clients are using corks, but he expects a gradual shift to screw caps.
Finally, how large does a winery have to be to effectively employ the services of a mobile bottler? Baker thinks 500 gallons is the minimum amount at which mobile bottling is cost effective compared to hand bottling. At 2,000 gallons, Roessler said the cost and labor advantages of mobile bottling versus hand bottling are compelling, although his pricing for less than 1,000 gallons is only slightly more than for over 1,000 gallons.
Both mobile bottlers report that demand is steady and building for their relatively new businesses. Therefore, it’s likely that more mobile bottling operations will be come into operation in the Midwest.
For more information, including detailed pricing information, please see Baker’s and Roessler’s websites: