2012 has been a watershed year for the Stellar Winery Multi-Estate, with innovative technological improvements and winemaking operations moving over to the Vredendal cellar. Considering the resultant increase in production capacity, efficiency and a reduced carbon footprint, we are excited about what lies ahead in the new year.
Stellar Winery Multi-Estate comprises 29 independently-owned farming units within a total of 14 farms, along with the winery. Initially, the Vredendal cellar specialised in bulk product, while the 4000 ton capacity cellar in Trawal was responsible for the organic, fair trade bottled wine.
Prior to the new developments, various aspects of the winemaking process at the Trawal cellar prevented us from optimising our potential as a business. Amongst the many benefits of the new location in Vredendal is that the cellar is closer to the Koekenaap and Lutzville vineyards and less time in hot-weather transit means significant quality gains, especially for the white grapes. The new layout is designed for the size of the trucks used to transport grapes, another measure that cuts down on the vineyard-to-crusher time. This means that trucks do not have to line up to be weighed, exposing the grapes to heat.
A massamatic scale is one of the technological upgrades at the Vredendal cellar. Its purpose is to weigh and test loads, after which data is sent directly to the computer in the scale room. The live data sent to the Wine MS system is then available to the teams at both cellars, adding to smooth operations overall and ensuring that everything is completely traceable – an essential measure in working with organic, fair trade grapes.
The heat exchangers, refrigeration system and newly imported wine presses are three totally unique technological innovations which will make all the difference at Stellar Winery.
The Siprem International wine presses have been imported from Italy and are the first of their kind in South Africa. They are bigger than the ones at Trawal and the modern design prevents crushed grapes from coming into contact with oxygen, making for higher volumes of good quality juice extraction. The presses are used for the extraction of juice and what makes them unique us that they suck the juice rather than crushing it out. The green cherry on top is that the nitrogen gas recovery system ensures that nitrogen can be reused in a closed system; and to sweeten the deal even more, these presses use less electricity to operate, guaranteeing a reduced carbon footprint.
New cooling towers have been installed with heat exchangers to heat the water used in the cellar by using warm gas from ammonia. The heat generated from this procedure is then used as “free energy” to heat water to 65°C without the use of any elements. The heated water is used for general cleaning, washing the cooling jackets, cleaning the cross flow filter and much more. This technological innovation is yet another contributor to shrinking the cellar’s carbon footprint.
The refrigeration technology has a flooded ammonia chiller, which means that incoming grape mass can be cooled from around 35°C to 4°C rather rapidly. Liquid ammonia, an alternative to glycol which is typically used by most wineries, is stored on the other side of the metal jacket of the mesh cooler. Looking at this method from a bird’s eye view, it is clear that the process of going into the press with perfectly chilled grapes, complemented by the presses’ modern design, will provide for the maximum extraction of top quality juice.
The wine tanks provide a whopping 12 million litres of tank space capacity and are situated in well-insulated rooms, allowing for incoming juice to be received from presses without interruption. In addition, the successful completion of settling operations makes for faster racking, clearing and fermentation, resulting in multiple uses per tank in one season. The isolation of these tanks from air currents, paired with their good insulation, causes productivity to spike while simultaneously conserving energy, and ultimately, reducing the cellar’s carbon footprint.
Other limiting factors at Stellar Trawal, such as the size of the grape receiving station, the presses, number, size and design of tanks and the facilities for bottling and storing wine have all been addressed in the improvements of the new facility at Vredendal.
New structures include the bottling room, labelling area, overprinting and label storage, offices, a warehouse and docking bays. There are also various other gems in the cellar’s batch of new equipment, such as the centrifuge for filtering wine, a cross flow filter, powder filter and a Cadalpe cooling unit for the mass cooling of juice.
A newly installed grape receiving station has contributed massively to the efficiency of grape delivery in that the size of the two new grape receiving hoppers combined with the capacity of presses and tanks allow for more than one truck and one type of grape to be offloaded simultaneously.
Hard work and dedication have really kept the ball rolling this year and we are proud to see so many improvements taking shape. We are certain that the benefits of the new facility at Stellar Vredendal will have a phenomenal effect on the efficiency of our winemaking process, enabling us to deliver high-quality wine in good time while minimizing our impact on the environment.