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Friday, March 19, 2010

Buyer Days exhibitor Thousand Islands Winery showing incredible growth

THOUSAND ISLANDS WINERY: New machines raise bottling capacity

COLLINS LANDING — A new bottling system at Thousand Islands Winery, Seaway Avenue, brings the business's capacity in line with large commercial wineries.

The new system raises the bottling capacity from 400 bottles to about 2,000 bottles an hour.

"The little machine couldn't keep up with production," owner Stephen J. Conaway said. "We have taken away market share from the larger commercial wineries."

On Thursday, the first time winery staff used the new wine-filling machine and labeler after training, about 850 gallons of Riesling were poured into blue bottles in five hours.

The new wine-filling machine, called a monoblock, takes sterile bottles and first turns them upside-down and sprays them with a sanitary rinse. After that is blown off, the next station in the machine sucks out oxygen and injects nitrogen.

"Oxygen makes wine go bad," Mr. Conaway said. "Nitrogen injection is a natural way to keep oxygen out. We don't want to add chemicals to the product."

The next piece of the monoblock fills the bottle with the correct amount of wine. Then the bottles are topped with corks or screw caps.

The old wine filler didn't have the sanitary rinse or the screw-cap machine.

"We put the screw caps on by hand before," Mr. Conaway said.

The labeling machine can cover the corks with any capsule type — tin, polylaminate or PVC — and heat shrinks them to protect against tampering.

Then the machine adds the bottle's label. With the new machine, the winery will add back and neck labels to the standard front label, Mr. Conaway said.

"The machine has a touch-screen display," he said. "It's state of the art."

The old filling machine isn't going to waste — it was bought by a startup winery.

To increase productivity, the winery also purchased a Lees filter, which filters more wine out of the bottom of tanks, where it settles with sediment.

"This separates the sediment from the wine, which gives us less waste product," Mr. Conaway said.

The new system and a new filter comprised more than $250,000 in capital investment in the winery's production.

The winery also added a glycol chilling system, which has pockmarked jackets around sections of tanks. The winery had cooled wine during the winter in an unheated storage area. The chilling system allows cold stabilization to occur year-round.

"We plan to continue to use Mother Nature to the maximum extent possible," Mr. Conaway said. "But we're getting to the point where we can't afford to cold stabilize just in the few months when the weather cooperates."

And the reason for that is that demand keeps growing.

"People are looking for quality, locally made products right now," he said. "We're competitive even on a price basis with a lot of the bigger wineries."


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