By Laurie Wachter
ATPgroup, a 2020 WINnovation Award winner
Managing the cap in red wine fermentation requires a blend of science and art to yield the finished wine’s desired style. The winemaker’s decisions about breaking up and integrating the solid mass in the fermentor are the keys to delivering the correct color, precise mouthfeel and specific degree finish desired for that wine.
The Air Mixing M.I.® (Modulated Injection) distributed by ATPgroup is an innovative step forward in the science of cap management. Developed by Parsec, an Italian company dedicated to designing and producing machines and control systems for precision vinification, this new technology manages the marc cap using an algorithm that creates disruptive waves inside the tank, resulting in homogenous mixing. Parsec has been honored with a 2020 WINnovation Award for its new technology.
“Traditionally, you would do a pump-over every few hours to ensure you evenly extracted color and tannins from the grape,” says Max Buiani, Vice President Enological Process Sales at ATPGroup, a leading wine market supplier that distributes the Air Mixing M.I.®. “It was labor-intensive and risky because its repetitiveness opened you to making mistakes. You’d forget to connect a valve, or you’d connect a valve to the wrong tank. I’ve worked at many wineries, and this happened all the time.”
This traditional process worked until tanks grew to be medium-sized, while the tools to manage the cap failed to keep pace. To address this, Parsec began to explore ways to improve the compressed gas injection technique. In the past, using compressed air resulted in large bubbles that either over-extracted the bitter compounds or only partially integrated the cap. During two years of studies, testing, trials and experiments, the company identified the flaws in these previous uses of bubbles to break up the marc cap, setting their development course.
They now knew they needed to reduce the quantity of air or gas, move the nozzles previously mounted on the base of the tank, and find a way to completely break-up and immerse the cap. To achieve this, Parsec developed a system of nozzles that mount on the tank’s sides. The nozzles act independently but sequentially, creating a synergistic wave that smoothly moves the liquid in the tank at the computer’s command. The Air Mixing M.I.® (Modulated Injection) air injection creates disintegrating liquid waves that completely breaks up the mass of solids — grape skins, seeds, stems, pulp — from below, causing it to sink and fully integrate it with the liquid.
“The waves keep adding layers and layers of fermentation,” Max points out. “And Parsec made the system intelligent with real-time, automated control of variations in temperature, nutrients and oxygen. It responds automatically as the fermentation evolves, making the waves more or less intense.”
Although it is the science that Parsec advanced, they designed their unique intelligent platform, the SAEn5000, to ensure the art of winemaking remains firmly in the hands of the winery. The platform is interactive, giving the winery control of setting the operations for color extraction, oxygenation or temperature adjustment based on their protocols, the fermentation dynamics or thermodynamic profiles measured, or parameter interactions. It’s also possible to make adjustments throughout the fermentation process, and the computer will respond by automatically adapting the waves.
“Another benefit with Air Mixing M.I.® (Modulated Injection) technology,” Max adds, “is that it reduces vinification time, eliminating the need to ‘dig out’ tanks. The winery can empty the tanks in less than half the time with less labor and without using a pump so that the winery can use the same tank at least twice during a harvest.”
“Emptying the tank is also safer for the crew,” adds Elliot Bonior, Area Manager of Enological Process Sales, “since they don’t have to go into a small area with high levels of carbon dioxide to dig out those grape skins.”
Larger wineries worldwide have benefited most from the Air Mixing M.I.® because they have the big tanks and are actively seeking cost-saving benefits of using less energy and less labor.
“Air mixing is just one piece of the puzzle,” Elliot notes, emphasizing that smaller wineries can also take advantage of specific features that deliver the most benefit to them, like automating temperature or humidity control. A smaller winery might also benefit if they use tanks with unusual proportions such as narrow and tall tanks, which were Parsec’s initial design target, in addition to those with large volumes.
The SAEn5000 is a multifunctional platform that connects the data from all tanks in the winery through a network that allows oversight and monitoring of the entire vinification process. This centralized supervision of tanks enables winemakers to select the most suitable maceration cycles and protocols for every variety based on the outcome they wish to achieve.
“It can connect everything electrical,” Max says. “You might have 20 tanks using air mixing, and the system will ensure only one tank is running at a time. It can increase the valves for the cold, adjust the winery’s humidity, and manage every pump in the winery. It’s up to the winemaker to decide which of these tools to use.”
Max explains that the SAEn5000 system allows wineries to develop protocols to manage the aroma in a wine and the fermentation speed. The computer automatically loads the set point of the temperatures, adds oxygen to speed up fermentation or adds nutrients. The system also uploads analytical data to the lab, which gives analysts the ability to drive real-time variations during fermentation.
“In France, the system was used to automate the production of sparkling wines, which is extremely difficult because once you close the tank, there is nothing you can do. So the system monitors the vital parameters and controls or adjusts them as needed. The benefit to the winemaker is a more consistent result.“
With this combination of flexibility and automation, and the ability to obtain fruity, full-bodied and balanced wine within just a few months from the drawing off, the use of the Air Mixing M.I.® is expanding rapidly around the world.