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Real Talk - Stainless Unitank

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ILWIIA

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All,

I am looking for sage advice and feedback here - let's call it real talk, wine. My wheels constantly spin and I am ever curious about making it easier, cleaner, more efficient, and safer to long-term age wine in a home winemaking setup. I make from grapes and want to effectively limit glass carboys. With current limitations on using oak barrels, my curiosity went straight to a stainless unitank; and, I wondered, if commercial wineries use steel to ferment and age, why the heck can't I as a home winemaker replicate on a small scale (smaller tank, smaller volume, but same concepts, chemistry and physics)?

I'm looking to harvest, ferment, MLF, and oak via spirals anywhere from 20 - 30 gallons with the hope to expand to about 100 gallons within a few years. With that being said, please help me understand why I shouldn't use a stainless Unitank post press? When I read around the internet, I find a few articles or posts discussing the negatives of a conical/unitank, shaming me for even considering using a conical, and writing off on the thought of anything but glass or oak barrels. Needless to say, I question the accuracy of the aforementioned assertions. Are those naysayers just romantics and won't give up old-school technique, or are they strictly trying to convince me it's just not worth the cost? A unitank provides for closed system transfers (pressure tested), ability to purge and use my argon tank/regulator, ability for me to sample/test (so2, etc.) throughout the aging process with a slight turn of a valve, the ability to dump lees at a turn of a valve, the ability to jacket and/or store in an upright freezer (cold soak, extended maceration, cold stabilize, etc.), the ability to make modifications from the access port, and any other benefits I'm missing.

Thus, I ask those with practical experience and advice - if I'm looking to process 30 gallons of wine per year at a minimum, using grapes I've grown, harvested and crushed/destemmed, why would I not want to add a unitank to my equipment collection and ease in my process of minimizing oxygen exposure post-ferment, and ease in the times I need to rack, clean, and store glass carboys?

Any takers? All insight is appreciated in advance, and I'm sorry if this has already been discussed ad nauseum elsewhere. I have scoured through the forums and google, but often times threads get hijacked with others focusing on sub-topics and it's hard to get to the bottom of this.

Cheers,

Zach
 

Johnd

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You could use a variable capacity SS tank to accomplish your objectives, many winemakers and wineries utilize exactly what you’re considering, and I’m sure some folks in this forum will chime in with their experiences.

SS has many advantages, you’ve named several. One major component that you can’t get is micro-oxygenation, which you can get from barrels and flex tanks, though there are microx units available to inject controlled quantities of oxygen, but they’re pricey. Were I considering what you are, I’d have to give serious consideration to a variable capacity flex tank, which has many of the advantages you seek, and microx to boot.

In the end, you are the wine boss and can make your wine as you see fit. Stainless for whites seems to be a wonderful option, and will work just fine for reds as well, just make sure you don’t leave any potential quality improvements behind. Just my two cents......
 

ILWIIA

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What about a fixed capacity - I should have clarified, apologies.
 

richmke

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IMHO, the conicals are great for the initial fermentation and shortly thereafter. Easy to dump the lees. After a few months, you are basically using it as a glorified storage tank. Cheaper to get a few oak barrels for long-term storage. Use the all-in-one wine pump to rack every few months.
 
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Johnd

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What about a fixed capacity - I should have clarified, apologies.
What about a fixed capacity - I should have clarified, apologies.
The only reason I suggested the variable capacity option is because of the cost of entry into the SS Unitank market. If you get a tank properly sized for 20 - 30 gallons as you suggest as a starting point, it won't give you upward mobility to reach your 100 gal goal in a few years, requiring you to buy multiple tanks. Don't get me wrong, it's a super cool piece of equipment, and looks really sharp, but no one is giving them away. If you have sufficient funds to own multiple tanks, go for it. I'll reiterate my earlier point, you will not get micro-oxygenation from a SS tank without purchasing Micro-Oxygenation equipment. Here's a link to some info on the topic :

https://www.winesandvines.com/features/article/195104/Micro-Ox-System

and some info from Stavin on oaking in a tank using oak fans: http://www.micro-ox.com/tank_oak.htm

You can do what you are suggesting, use the SS tanks, add the microx function and oaking techniques like the big boy wineries do in your home setting, having all of the ease of control and sampling, cooling and heating must / wine at will, with more control over micro oxygenation than barrels provide. It would probably be fun to tinker with all of the different things you would have control over during the entire process to see how it affects the end product.

For me, fermenting and pressing and putting my wine in carboys for a few months, and transferring to a new 60 gallon French oak barrel for two years seems easier and more manageable, but to each his own.....................
 

ILWIIA

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The only reason I suggested the variable capacity option is because of the cost of entry into the SS Unitank market. If you get a tank properly sized for 20 - 30 gallons as you suggest as a starting point, it won't give you upward mobility to reach your 100 gal goal in a few years, requiring you to buy multiple tanks. Don't get me wrong, it's a super cool piece of equipment, and looks really sharp, but no one is giving them away. If you have sufficient funds to own multiple tanks, go for it. I'll reiterate my earlier point, you will not get micro-oxygenation from a SS tank without purchasing Micro-Oxygenation equipment. Here's a link to some info on the topic :

https://www.winesandvines.com/features/article/195104/Micro-Ox-System

and some info from Stavin on oaking in a tank using oak fans: http://www.micro-ox.com/tank_oak.htm

You can do what you are suggesting, use the SS tanks, add the microx function and oaking techniques like the big boy wineries do in your home setting, having all of the ease of control and sampling, cooling and heating must / wine at will, with more control over micro oxygenation than barrels provide. It would probably be fun to tinker with all of the different things you would have control over during the entire process to see how it affects the end product.

For me, fermenting and pressing and putting my wine in carboys for a few months, and transferring to a new 60 gallon French oak barrel for two years seems easier and more manageable, but to each his own.....................
Very helpful insight and thank you for the links - effectively I’m confined to my basement and it’s been difficult with space limitations to maneuver, store and clean 5 live carboys at any given time. Another issue is my basement is English style so not fully below grade and temps regularly get into 70s during summer. Not ideal for controlling temperatures and thus I find myself trying to come up with solutions for both space limitations and temperature. I would love to have capabilities of 30/60 gal oak barrels, in a temp controlled environment, but I just don’t think that’s feasible at this point in time. So I find myself focused on stainless tanks which I don’t have to maneuver as much, which I can jacket, etc.

How do you combat temp fluctuations when dealing with 60gal oak? Or even glass carboys with large volumes? Also, how does your back handle that many glass carboys? I’ve been lifting them into and out of a slop sink and it is less than ideal.
 

Johnd

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Very helpful insight and thank you for the links - effectively I’m confined to my basement and it’s been difficult with space limitations to maneuver, store and clean 5 live carboys at any given time. Another issue is my basement is English style so not fully below grade and temps regularly get into 70s during summer. Not ideal for controlling temperatures and thus I find myself trying to come up with solutions for both space limitations and temperature. I would love to have capabilities of 30/60 gal oak barrels, in a temp controlled environment, but I just don’t think that’s feasible at this point in time. So I find myself focused on stainless tanks which I don’t have to maneuver as much, which I can jacket, etc.

How do you combat temp fluctuations when dealing with 60gal oak? Or even glass carboys with large volumes? Also, how does your back handle that many glass carboys? I’ve been lifting them into and out of a slop sink and it is less than ideal.
When I got serious about winemaking from grapes, and living in south Louisiana, my challenges for temperature control was the same, if not more demanding than yours. My solution was an addition to my home, I built a wine room for bottles, barrels, and carboys alike, as well as some counter space / cabinetry to house my equipment and supplies. For temp control, I have a split refrigeration system with ducted supply and return. If you'd like to view the thread, here's the link: https://www.winemakingtalk.com/threads/new-wine-room.52998/ . Temps here during harvest season are way above desirable, so I ferment my grapes inside my home in 75F temps., press inside, and put the wine into carboys to finish MLF. When MLF is complete, they are transferred (with a hand truck) into the wine room at 55F to settle for a few months, and are then racked into the barrel, where it sits for 1 - 2 years. Personally, I have no problem lifting a carboy to siphon into the barrel, but I also vacuum rack sometimes. Lots of folks here have temp challenges similar to yours in "basements" and utilize small A/C units to knock the temps down during the warmer months, and enjoy very cool temps down there in the Fall / Winter / Spring months. A little A/C from Home Depot will set you back a lot less than a Unitank, and only needs a 110V outlet to operate. An All-in One wine pump will end your carboy lifting woes, for a small investment compared to the Unitank..........
 

ILWIIA

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When I got serious about winemaking from grapes, and living in south Louisiana, my challenges for temperature control was the same, if not more demanding than yours. My solution was an addition to my home, I built a wine room for bottles, barrels, and carboys alike, as well as some counter space / cabinetry to house my equipment and supplies. For temp control, I have a split refrigeration system with ducted supply and return. If you'd like to view the thread, here's the link: https://www.winemakingtalk.com/threads/new-wine-room.52998/ . Temps here during harvest season are way above desirable, so I ferment my grapes inside my home in 75F temps., press inside, and put the wine into carboys to finish MLF. When MLF is complete, they are transferred (with a hand truck) into the wine room at 55F to settle for a few months, and are then racked into the barrel, where it sits for 1 - 2 years. Personally, I have no problem lifting a carboy to siphon into the barrel, but I also vacuum rack sometimes. Lots of folks here have temp challenges similar to yours in "basements" and utilize small A/C units to knock the temps down during the warmer months, and enjoy very cool temps down there in the Fall / Winter / Spring months. A little A/C from Home Depot will set you back a lot less than a Unitank, and only needs a 110V outlet to operate. An All-in One wine pump will end your carboy lifting woes, for a small investment compared to the Unitank..........
I love it - you have one heck of a setup, very nice work!
 

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