Building a crush pad to commercially process wine grapes at scale may be daunting. Luckily we've been doing it for years, and we have a few tips. Here are some ways you can use equipment to make harvest something to look forward to, not fear.

This is a two-part series. In part one we'll take a look at everything up to the press. In part two, we'll take a deeper dive into presses.

Step One: Receiving Grapes

The first thing to consider is how you'll be receiving grapes, and how you'll be feeding the grapes into your processing equipment. In the US, grapes are typically moved in bins—they're referred to as macro bins, T-bins, or just plain old "bins". Given that bins are the most common way to receive grapes, they are also the most common way to load them into and out of crush pad equipment. This being the case, a forklift-mounted bin dumper tends to be a pretty crucial piece of equipment. You'll want to talk to a forklift sales company about the types of bin dumpers available.

One thing to keep in mind when using a forklift dumper is that it can be difficult to control how fast the grapes are dumped, and some crush pad equipment works best with an evenly metered feed. Destemmers, for example, are much better at doing their job of producing clean, whole grapes with minimal MOG (material other than grapes) when fed at a steady, consistent rate. Dumping too much at once may cause the destemmer to vibrate excessively. It may also pass too many good grapes through the outlet without destemming if you feed it too rapidly.

A good incline conveyor/elevator is a big help when trying to feed grapes evenly and consistently. An elevator with an oversized "bin hopper" can receive grapes dumped directly from a bin. It scoops grapes up from the hopper, only carrying as many as fit in one of its plastic "blades". If the elevator is outfitted with a variable speed drive, you can adjust the conveyor's speed up or down to ensure you're moving as fast as your equipment allows without overloading the destemmer, thus minimizing MOG and producing higher-quality destemmed fruit.

Step One-and-a-Half: Sorting?

Some winemakers like to sort whole clusters of grapes before they hit the destemmer. An elevator might allow for some cursory sorting by one or two people, but it's definitely not the best tool for the job. For real cluster sorting you'll need a sorting table.

Whole cluster sorting is not so common among small commercial wineries. It is more labor intensive and requires a larger crush pad, particularly if you're also sorting after destemming—that would require two tables, after all. Still, whole cluster sorting is another situation where you'll definitely want to meter the feed of the table so that the people manning the table can see an evenly spaced layer of grapes with nothing buried underneath. If you're loading the table via bins, the gentlest solutions is to dump your bins into a vibrating reception hopper. It can take a dumped bin and evenly feed it to the table for sorting.

Another solution is to have an oversized inlet hopper on your sorting table, and a "door" that sets the maximum level of grapes entering the table. This will provide a single, evenly-spaced layer for your sorters to work. This is not quite as gentle as a vibrating reception hopper, but it's certainly less expensive.

The next step is to get the grapes into the destemmer. Usually the output of the table will go into the elevator, which feeds the destemmer.

Step Two: Destemming

Destemming is definitely an area where you get what you pay for—to an extent, anyway. There are many low-end destemmers with sharp-edged stainless steel destemming cages that produce lots of jacks, and have built-in centrifugal "must pumps" that beat the crushed/destemmed grapes some distance away. They are attractively priced in the $3k-$6k range, but do a poor job of maintaining grape integrity. Likewise, there are ultra-luxe destemmers that claim to coax the grape from the stem using nothing more than gentle whispers. These units typically cost many, many tens of thousands of dollars, if not as much as your mortgage.

We've found that there is a point of diminishing returns in destemmer prices, and the mid-range units quite often perform 99.5% as well as the ultra-premium units. In our opinion, the key characteristics to look for in a destemmer are:

  • Plastic Cage & Rubber Beaters
  • Direct Drive Motors
  • Electronic Speed Control
  • Modularity

Let's go through these one by one:

The cage is the cylindrical part of the destemmer that grapes are fed it into. The cage rotates, and has holes roughly the size of the grapes you're destemming. The beater bars—ideally made of soft rubber—spin at a slightly different speed from the cage, pushing grapes off the stem and out the destemmer outlet.

Without question, plastic cages outperform stainless steel cages of gentle handling and minimizing jacks and MOG. We've had enough customers who switched from a stainless cage to a plastic cage to know that there is an immediately discernible difference between a plastic and stainless cage, and the plastic cage is the winner, hands down.

A direct drive motor turns the cage and beater bars directly, with no belts. This doesn't have any effect on the quality of destemming, per se, but it does increase the reliability of the equipment. Changing out a broken drive belt in the middle of harvest is no fun.

Electronic speed control allows for precision and repeatability. You can choose to run at, say 60% speed every time, knowing that's your sweet spot for good TPH (ton per hour) throughput and extremely clean grapes. No guesswork involved.

Modularity means flexibility. If you're working with multiple varietals of grape, you'll likely want to process them in different ways. Some grapes will be crushed, some won't. Some grapes will require a cage with larger holes for effective destemming. Whatever the case may be, adaptable equipment that allows you to process differently is extremely valuable.

Mori's Dinamica series of destemmers tick all of the above boxes, and we highly recommend them. They're not the least expensive destemmer you can buy, but neither are they the most—not by a long-shot. They're a workman's tool, and are available in capacities as low as 3-6 TPH, up to 25 TPH.

Once the grapes are destemmed you'll need to consider where you want the grapes to go next: to tank? to press? back into bins? On to more sorting? Plan accordingly.

Step Two-and-Half: Grape Sorting Again

Even with a high-quality destemmer, there is bound to be some MOG, or inferior quality grapes that you may want to sort out. Some crush pads have destemmers that output directly onto a sorting table where MOG and bad grapes can be picked out. Other wineries go for more automated, high-tech solutions, such as mechanical or optical sorters that require no additional manpower. Whatever the case may be, if you want to sort after destemming, consider how you'll get the grapes into/on the sorting unit.

From here you'll go on to pressing and/or storage. We'll get to that in our next article, but for now let's look at some examples of where we are so far.

Putting it All Together with Examples

Let's take take an example winery that wants to upgrade their largely manual processes and create a crush pad capable of handling up to about 11 TPH (tons per hour). They may want to do some cluster sorting before destemming, and berry sorting after. They will be receiving grapes in bins. Here's what their crush pad might look like:

A Mori crush pad.
An example crush pad featuring reception hopper, table, elevator, destemmer, post-destem table, and must pump.

Going left to right in the above image, we start with a Mori TRAV 500 vibrating receiption hopper. This receives the dumped bins and meters them out onto the surface of the 3 meter Mori Sorting Table, where 3-4 people can sort out bad clusters and obvious MOG.

The table discharges into the inlet of an elevator where it is carried into a Dinamica 100 destemmer.

The destemmer discharges onto another 3 meter sorting table where 2-3 people can once again pick out any obvious MOG. The end of the table has a mount for crushing rollers, so that the grapes can be crushed if desired. It discharges into the hopper of a Mori PMT screw pump, where it can be directed to a press or a fermentation tank.

The total price for such a line is likely to be around $80k or so, and it will require 7-10 people to operate at full capacity. The total footprint is about 500 square feet (32 x 14 feet)

A Slightly Simpler and More Automated Example

Mori produces an all-in-one destemmer + mechanical sorting table + roll-away crusher called D-Selector. This dramatically reduces the footprint and required manpower to operate. Here's a rendered drawing of just an elevator plus D-Selector 12.

Example Mori winery crush pad
Elevator with oversized hopper for bins, plus Mori D-Selector destemmer + sorter, all-in-one

As you can see, the elevator raises grapes to the inlet of the D-Selector. Grapes are destemmed, mechanically sorted, crushed (if desired), and finally fed into a must pump, such as the PMT 120 pictured in the rendering.

This much simplified line will likely cost closer to $65k, and require only 2-3 people to oversee production. If you add in cluster sorting with a receiving hopper and 3 meter table, you'll surpass the original $80k cost by a few thousand, but it will still require fewer people to operate.

In Conclusion

As you can see, there are many things to consider when designing your crush pad, but it's really not that hard. The key things to know are:

  • How much throughput do you need? 3-6 TPH, 15-20 TPH?
  • How much space do you have on your crush pad? Any obstacles (low ceilings, pipes, etc.)?
  • What specific steps do you want the grapes to go through? Sorting (cluster/berry), destemming, crushing, etc.
  • How will you receive grapes, and load them into your equipment? Direct from picking bins? From macro bins?

With these things in mind, and some help from us, we can make harvest a breeze. Give us a call to talk about your crush pad.