Chappellet Vineyard: new technology for age-worthy wine

Thursday, 05 February, 2015 | Supplied by: Key Technology Australia Pty Ltd

Over 40 years ago, the Chappellet family was the first winery to plant vineyards exclusively on high-elevation hillsides in the Napa Valley. The rugged terrain soon become legendary for producing wines with great intensity and depth.

Today, Chappellet Vineyard & Winery demonstrates the same pioneering spirit as it embraces technology, becoming among the first in the industry to install VitiSort, the optical sorter for wine grapes from Key Technology. The compact, two-stage system combines a mechanical MOG (material other than grape) removal shaker and optical sorter, with an integral juice recovery system.

Sorting up to 4.5 tons of red grapes/hour, VitiSort is suitable for wineries producing 5000-50,000 cases/year. It separates unwanted objects such as insects, skins, raisins, shot berries, stem jacks, petioles, leaves and other MOG from the good berries, enabling Chappellet to better control the quality of the must going into its fermentation tanks.

“VitiSort allows us to elevate the quality of all of our lots. With it, we can bring a B+ lot up to an A. We can take something that may have just missed the mark, take the MOG out and decrease the chance that the wine is rustic instead of refined,” said Phillip Titus, winemaker at Chappellet. “Five years ago, this kind of technology seemed ahead of its time. Now it’s highly desirable. I believe we will all be using this kind of technology as the wine industry modernises.”

“VitiSort allows us to make very subtle changes to the settings to adjust MOG removal,” explained Daniel Docher, assistant winemaker at Chappellet. “This versatility enables the sorter to be tailored to work with any red grapes in any region.

“With it, we typically run three to four tons an hour with only two people - one driving the forklift and the other overseeing everything else,” said Docher. “It would take a dozen people or more to hand-sort at that throughput, but they couldn’t match the quality of VitiSort, because there is a limit to what humans can do.”

VitiSort begins with a vibratory conveyor that gently shakes the grapes to perform an initial mechanical separation of MOG, which falls through slots along with juice. MOG is accumulated on a sloped surface for disposal, and juice is automatically recovered for reintroduction to the must. Singulated grapes freefall from the end of the conveyor into the optical sorter, presenting a ‘sheet’ of product that allows a camera to inspect each grape. The sorter quickly analyses the images, comparing each object to user-defined accept/reject standards. When unwanted objects are identified, the sorter activates the ejector system, which is made up of a series of air jets that span the width of the system. While still airborne, the air jets pinpoint MOG to remove it from the product stream. Good grapes pass from the sorter into a trough or screw conveyor for delivery to the fermentation tank.

“With VitiSort, we can make a decision about how much MOG to remove, and then do it. With it, medium-size wineries have similar high-tech optical sorting equipment that had previously been so expensive only the large wineries could afford it,” said Docher. “This is the first optical sorter that actually does what we need it to do. It helps us make the best wines from the best grapes.”

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