As we write this it's early August in Sonoma County, and already the calls are coming in: “My grapes are coming soon. I need equipment now”. Although harvest comes at the same time every year, give or take a few weeks, it still seems to catch people off guard.
We get it: you're busy with all the other parts of running a winery. We'd like to help by offering our tips on when to buy equipment if you want the best deals, and best delivery times.
Much of the world's best winemaking equipment is made in Europe. No slight intended to the patriotic, but they've been making wine in Europe far longer than we have here in the USA. Consequently, when it comes to presses, destemmers, and must pumps, a lot of the equipment we use in American wineries has to journey across the Atlantic the same way the pilgrims did: by ship.
Thankfully, the advent of container freight shipping has made things much simpler and much faster — but not that much faster. We still figure that a container from Europe will take about 45-60 days to reach us here in California.
Additionally, our vendors often build to order. Their lead times are usually in the 30–90 day range. So at the worst case there's a lead time of about 150–180 days from when you place your order to when you unpack it on your crush pad. Up to half a year!
We do our best to make things run smoothly when it comes to ordering harvest equipment. Here's what we recommend to make sure you get what you need in time for harvest, and at the best price possible. (TL;DR: Order early)
Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst
Every harvest is different. Not just for you, but for us as well. Here's an example:
Most years are pretty much the same. We submit our equipment orders in early April. They take a month or two to make, and they ship in early June. They should arrive for harvest in plenty of time.
This year, however, things are much different. Earlier we said it's early August, but we didn't mention the year: 2022. If you're reading this in the future, hopefully the supply chain crises of 2021 & 2022 are a distant memory.
For those of us in the here and now, they're not. International shipping is a mess. We often use sites like vesselfinder.com to see the exact position of all the container ships on the ocean holding our goods. Nowadays, though, we can see the ships holding our hotly-anticipated winemaking equipment not zipping from port to port, but apparently doing donuts in the Pacific ocean. Because there's no space to unload in ports, they just sit a few miles off the coast. Meanwhile, the grapes on the vine continue to ripen and will eventually be ready for picking.
This is, as mentioned before, an unusual year. But it's not the first unusual year. Several years back there was a port strike on the west coast that shut down the nearby port for months on end. Nothing came in, and nothing went out.
All this uncertainty being the case, our number one piece of advice (yet the one that tends to be the least popular and least followed) is this: plan to buy equipment for next year's harvest. Usually it will arrive the same year in time for harvest. But as we can see, sometimes it doesn't.
There's a lot that can happen between the time you place a deposit and the time you unload your shiny new press. If the shipping world goes sideways — or, I don't know, the knock-on effects of a global pandemic cause a worldwide shipping backlog that adds six months to transit times — you should still have a backup plan in place ready to execute. Even if it means limping through the season using a smaller press, or a creaky destemmer.
Leverage Early Bird Discounts
“Is that your best price?”: it's a question we commonly hear. Rest assured, one of our goals is to make purchasing equipment uncomplicated and straightforward. We hope you'll always feel like you're getting a great deal, because you are!
One place where we're always open to making a deal is for early bird discounts. From August to December is kind of a dead zone in terms of harvest equipment purchases. It's too early for most people to start thinking of harvest equipment. But in reality it's one of the best times to buy. In late September there's still time for us to have equipment delivered in our winter containers, which means it arrives well in advance of harvest. Plenty of time to work out the bugs.
Also, it arrives in time for the trade show season, which goes from December to February, or so. In exchange for allowing us to take equipment for display at a trade show, we often offer some of our deepest discounts. To qualify for these discounts we'll typically need you to place orders in September — maybe October at the latest — but you can save thousands in return.
The Worst Time to Buy
We've already harped on the benefits of buying early, so this shouldn't come as a surprise: the worst time to buy is just before (or during) harvest. We know it's sometimes inevitable. Maybe your reliable old press all of a sudden died so you have no choice but to call around looking for a replacement. We try to help here when we can, but often everything we have coming in is already committed.
Large-scale wine processing equipment represents a big investment. There's also a lot of customization that goes into winemaking equipment (size, electrical requirements, add-ons etc.), and it's a relatively small market.
All this is to say, we try to bring in only equipment that we know will sell. I.e., we buy based on customer pre-orders. If you didn't pre-order that Sraml Bladder Press, we probably don't have it in stock a week before grapes arrive. We wish we did!
Want A Reminder?
As we already mentioned, we know you're busy. If you want a reminder of when we have upcoming deadlines: early bird deadlines, “show specials”, or last date to order before we close harvest orders, sign up for reminders here. This is separate from our main mailing list, and we will not use it for anything except reminders.
And as always, if you have any questions about harvest equipment in general, give us a shout. We love to talk equipment!