Wine packaging technologies help winemakers keep their edge

Packaging and labelling technologies for wine, just like bottling processes themselves, have advanced significantly in recent years. Della Toffola Pacific’s managing director, Paul Baggio, discusses these changes and the benefits to the business of winemaking.

Della Toffola is very well regarded across all winemaking regions as the industry leader, with a multi-generational history of delivering winemaking technologies. From its earliest acquisition of the manufacturing and technical capabilities of OMB labelling, Priamo beverage process technologies, AVE bottling and Z-Italia, Della Toffola Group today has integrated a dynamic range of beverage technologies. AVE has long been regarded as one of the leading European bottling manufacturing businesses. Supplying for many decades now, its beverage packaging technologies have been supplied to companies such as Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Fonterra and many of Europe’s finest wine brands.

Ultimately, the business of winemaking requires wines produced to be sold. The grapevines each year yield. Harvest comes and goes, but all said, the business of winemaking is to get that precious nectar in front of consumers, be it on their dinner tables or in restaurants around the world. A significant part of any winemaker’s business today is driving off-premise distribution, courting the retailer and ultimately the eye of the consumer. To this end, wine packaging has evolved to become an art form as intricate and masterful as the winemaking itself. The cache of technologies that are available to wine marketing teams, be they to manage the latest trends in wine pouch filling, bag-in-box technology, shrink sleeving, canning through to carton and cluster wrap technologies, has thrown the doors wide open on how our local wine industry will step up and meet the challenges upon the world beverage stage.   

Engineering innovations for winemaking are being introduced at a rapid rate. Their genesis, as to how they have come to be, may surprise many winemakers. The innovations that enable the modern Della Toffola AVE wine electronic volumetric filling valve effectively fills faster and reduces foam and oxygen ingress, with faster bottles per hour within an ever-smaller footprint than previously available, is very exciting technology. Yet the secret to how this level of engineering came to be finds its origin through advancements in metallurgy more than anything more creative. Stronger, more resistant designed 316L stainless steel, higher grades of chromium and titanium are important parts to the complex story of wine filling valve engineering. This engineering evolution similarly implicates the design build of a whole new generation of universal change parts. Today, a bottling line not only is equipped with universal change parts through the filler and closure groups, but also across the labeller. The implications for the modern packaging plant are many. The hours required to perform bottle change overs in the past rendered the investment into wine bottling for many winemakers simply inconceivable. For generations, the difficulties surrounding change over times, the costs of parts, the limited access to skilled labour, all literally drove a homogenisation of bottle types to be used by the industry. Up until only recently, bottling and packaging managers would shoot down attempts by wine marketers seeking to differentiate their wine bottle portfolios. Thus, this is why an ocean of identical looking ‘Claret’ and ‘Burgundy’ bottles proliferate retail shelves. Effectively, wine packaging for many has been streamlined to two formats at best. The development of solid, and simple adjusting universal change parts as designed by Z-Italia and Della Toffola will make some of the biggest impacts to the business of wine marketing.

Z-Italia automatic labelling unit

Z-Italia automatic labelling unit

Arguably, similar attention to stainless steel craftsmanship has provided changes to the overall wine bottling line look and design. An ergonomic sloping-based framework, for example, that houses asynchronous servo motor drive technology has enabled a more modular format to monobloc integration of a rinsing unit, filler group and any host of closure groups. Similarly, consider the simple focus of design surrounding the slope provided for wine bottling filler tables. The industry issues relating to microbial spoilage impacting wines made at full ABV are only heightened by the implications for low alcohol wine styles which are fast gaining popularity. Wine packaging and overall wine quality, shelf life and the ultimate experience by the consumer is being assisted by the simplest of attention to detail and engineering forethought.

Factors driving change

The take-up of technology in wine bottling in the last couple years has tended to be directed from three primary perspectives. There is always the ire of wine quality. How wine can be more effectively mobilised into a glass bottle, without any cross contamination or oxygen ingress, remains high on the technical agenda when discussing any wine bottling plant design. How the design of modern filling nozzles and how bottle fill heights are managed are critical questions. Typical designs of leading wine filling machine brands of the past allow for the overflow or level control volumes to be pushed back into the feed bowl. However, this is not considered quality engineering by today’s standards. Integrating overflow volumes back in contact with primary wine volumes is where a lot of cross contamination has been found to occur. Venting bottle oxygen volumes, along with similarly venting inert gas volumes to an external loop are all modern design features for any discerning wine filler today. Modern bottling systems can be influenced by several factors: the way water is used, as well as how CIP and COP processes are performed; better access to modulating valves and access to electric-pneumatic circuitry for maintenance purposes in the under carriage; along with more ergonomic engineering of the filler bloc itself, enabling easier access to effect change parts of the filler and labeller, are all making significant differences.

Z-Italia’s labelling system

Z-Italia’s labelling system

Packaging monobloc groups are sought to be completely modular in their design. For example, enabling the complete retrofitting capabilities of additional closure groups is considered fundamental for even the most economical of packaging machinery today. No wine business is static and must be able to respond to the dynamic marketing environment in which wine producers compete.

The ability to retrofit, for example, cork closure monoblocs or tirage crown capping into the design seamlessly shows the ultimate flexibility that any modern-day filling plant must accommodate. How the US and Chinese wine markets have resisted the movement to ROPP closures, caught many winemakers off guard. Being able to simply integrate into any frame or monobloc design a capability to process corks retrospectively adds powerful flexibility. The ability to replace smaller, older lines with faster, more technically astute packaging machinery all compacted within the previous smaller footprint is where modern day engineering has shown powerful advantage.

Upgrading bottling lines

Z-Italia’s universal star system

Z-Italia’s universal star system

The speed and cost of technologies such as server drives, switch gears and sensors, and not least of all, PLC/CPU communications via electro-pneumatic and wireless capabilities, have played their part in rendering line control, automation and remote diagnostic commissioning and service support to the smallest of wine bottling facilities. This is an exciting new chapter for winery bottling and packaging. The ability to create cost effective, fully automatic packaging monoblocs that can, via recipe control, adjust any number of parameters – from pre-evacuations, sniff duration, CIP regime, CO₂ adjustment between wine styles, cap type, quality control, along with ejection systems – allows features that make up more technically astute, yet cost effective, packaging solutions. However, the ability to diagnostically access, as well as to service and support remotely all the components of a modern-day packaging system, is where the evolution of automation has delivered its most poignant value. The challenges for many winemakers located in regional agricultural hubs, having low access to skilled technical engineering capabilities, have plagued the wine business for generations. Hence, the ability to contemplate an investment into packaging machinery that can be seamlessly accessed from a remote factory manufacturer is a game changer.

Advantage of automation

The advantage automation has provided to the modern winemaker is the ability to operate highly sophisticated lines with far less oversight than was ever considered possible previously. The ability to operate far more autonomously with a smaller labour impost, achieving high standards of quality and consistency, makes the case for winemakers to invest in controlling their own packaging requirements.

Technology developments

The design of the Z-Italia labelling unit has various important design features to note. The universal change parts, being consistent with those fitted with the filler bloc and closure groups, offer a significant advantage to overall line operations. Consider that wine marketers have long been frustrated by traditional mechanical infeed screw feed systems that would scratch and/or scour wine bottle labels through the labelling process. A design via independent driven brushless server drive motors for the infeed across both sides of the bottle enables a more sophisticated ability to adjust for the bottle diameter not previously provided. This technology, most importantly, allows the bottle to transit across the centre of the drive conveyor feed. The overall use of brushless server drive motors also enables complete 360 degree rotation of the spools, with this opening up the most exciting of opportunities to apply labels rapidly and consistently across the widest range of diameters, reverse taper and include square formatted bottles. The length of the label that it able to be applied has also increased dramatically with the use of brushless server drive technologies. The ability to have full wrap labels with precision connection at each edge on wider bodied and larger format glass bottles, or fully wrapped labels on cans, are all new dimensions able to be considered with the modern bottle labeller.

The biggest development in wine bottle labelling surrounds the technology of vision systems. The bottle orientation systems (BOS technologies) started as a set of sensors that was engineered to move back and forward with every bottle pass. The first generations, often claimed as flimsy and prone to damage and requiring constant repair, did, however, set the stage for the exciting possibilities optical orientation could provide. The Della Toffola Z-Italia system is designed as a fixed system whereby instead of the sensor chasing the bottles, the bottles pass the sensor. A far more robust and stable design, the infeed carousel manages the exposure to the BOS, enabling orientation of the wine bottles and ensuring perfect label alignment with any proprietary embossing, engraving, unique patterns, bottle lines and edges, logos, medals, caps or other marketing demands. The Della Toffola BOS is broad and versatile, easy to use with no mechanical adjustments required. The wear and tear of old sensor systems are no longer, with the latest generation of BOS systems enabling the highest precision and reliability of all optical orientation systems.

AVE Technologies 12,000 BPH EFS wine filler

AVE Technologies 12,000 BPH EFS wine filler

The modern labelling machine as manufactured by Della Toffola has many technologies integrated. These include non-stop autonomous label reel systems, while modular ergonomic label stations enable easy access and functionality. The quality control systems, that accompany the build of any new labeller, provide the identification of incorrect label positioning, label misalignment and offer the ability to also unstick labels, identify printing errors, incorrect labels and provide for barcode application.

With traditional sales channels changing in many ways, winemakers are today able to take control of their own packaging requirements. By doing so, wine businesses can take back control of their brands, branding strategies and many aspects of their wine business by investing in their own packaging systems. The potential then exists to manage raw material inventories more effectively, such as glass bottles, and cap or label spend, while there’s also the ability to better manage overall wine volumes that can be branded versus volumes kept as clean skins. These are considerations being looked at by winemakers globally.

The benefits stemming from the better management of cash flow, wine quality and bottling, by undertaking bottling when it is required rather than having the timing of this imposed by contract bottling companies, all provide attractive operational advantages.

Developments in wine packaging technologies are enabling winemakers and wine marketers to take on the challenges of finding new markets for our local wines.

There are some very exciting technological developments for wine bottling and packaging, including the ability to apply what were once complex label formations and label designs through to making wine bottling more accessible, versatile and cost effective. The ability to package a broader range of bottle SKUs, enabling wine companies to better differentiate their bottle image, style and feel, and to enable a winemaker to aesthetically express the wine product visually the message captured in the bottle, all make for exciting times for the wine industry.

This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue of the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.


Watch Paul Baggio’s 2021 PACKWINE Forum presentation on the topic here: