By Felesha Lee
HERMANN, Mo — When you walk down the wine aisle at your favorite grocery store, you see beautifully packaged wine. You might have imagery in mind of grape stomping when you see the elegant bottles, but the wine that got there is no stranger to modern technology. Though you can’t detect any trace of it in the grocery, your wine spent months on a journey through heavy machinery.
At Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Missouri, tens of thousands of dollars are spent on equipment to make the wine perfect before it splashes in your glass. First, at Stone Hill, grapes are picked by a mechanical grape harvester, eliminating the need for most manual picking in the field. Next the grapes are hauled by truck to a de-stemmer/crusher. Then, before certain wines acquire their toasty oak taste in barrels, it spends time in a giant metal tank for fermentation before bottling. At one point wine is refrigerated to just above its freezing point to help separate the tartaric acid crystals from grape skins from the finished wine. The crystals are harmless (they’re a natural component in grapes), so you can still drink your wine if you find the small white flakes in your glass, but it just won’t look as pretty.
According to Dave Johnson, senior winemaker at Stone Hill Winery, the metal monster tanks cost $10,000 or more, and that’s just for the 8,000-gallon size. Stone Hill also has tanks that will hold five times that.
The tanks, made by the Paul Mueller Company in Springfield, Missouri, are easy to get parts for if something malfunctions, but Johnson said tank breakage is the least of his worries. A more critical issue for Johnson are the pipes since they are built into the cellar structure much like your house plumbing. Johnson said that’s a problem he hopes not to have.
The heavy equipment is essential to Stone Hill’s process. Though it would make for a more interesting conversation, our wine doesn’t come from a place free of modern world mechanics where dainty fairies crush the grapes and carry it straight to your glass. Heavy machinery is used to produce wine quickly, safely and at the volume customers want.