Mot of us start making wine in small batches. It’s more manageable and more affordable. However, at some point beginners grow up and want to move on to producing larger batches of wine.
The first thing you’ll need to look at if your thinking of increasing your batch size is your fermentation tank. You could just get more fermentation containers, however, requires a lot of duplication of effort, especially when it comes to racking. Instead let’s take a look at what larger fermentation tanks are available to you.
There are quite a few options out there ranging in container size, what it’s made out of, and how much it costs. In this article we’ll take a look at quite a few of these options so you can get an idea of what direction you might like to go as your production volumes increase.
Speidel Plastic Fermentation Tanks
These little guys look like plastic barrels. They come in sizes ranging from 3.2 gallons on up to 31.7 gallons. The smallest fermentation tank starts at around $35 while the big tank will run you around $150.
Speidel tanks come with lids large enough to get your hands into them so that you can scrub them down, gently of course, to prepare them for holding your must. The lids also come equipped with air locks for an air tight seal.
They’re constructed from food grade high density polyethylene (HDPE) much like the plastic fermentation buckets you may have used in the past. As such you’ll want to be careful not to scratch the surface of the plastic less you give spoilage micro-organisms a place to hang out.
One really nice feature that these fermentation tanks include is a spigot at the base of the container so that you can rack without having to use a racking cane or auto-siphon. The drawback to this is that you must take special care to ensure that the spigot is completely clean and sanitized before racking.
Sealed Steel Tanks
The next size up in fermentation tanks are sealed steel tanks. As you can imagine when you go from HDPE plastic to stainless steel there’s quite a jump in price. However, when properly cared for a stainless steel tank could last a lifetime or two. What’s your legacy going to be?
These tanks range come in 14 and 28 gallon sizes. The small tank costs around $120 and the larger tank $165. They are a fixed volume containers meaning that if you don’t have enough wine to fill the container you may have to consider using an inert gas to top it up.
While these tanks would be great for fermentation and temporary storage the threaded lids do not seal air tight. The threads are molded and therefore not snug enough to prevent the passage of oxygen if fermentation is not rolling along.
Variable Volume Steel Fermentation Tanks
This is where things start to get fancy. These tanks are available in sizes ranging from 26 to 172 gallons. Now we’re talking!
The lids on these tanks use a special inflatable gasket that allows the lid to be placed at higher or lower levels within the tank. So if you bought a 26 gallon tank and had only 18 gallons of wine you could position the lid to minimize the air gap and protect your wine from getting exposed to too much oxygen.
Given the features, size, and that they’re made from stainless steel you can imagine that there’s a bit of a price jump from the sealed steel tanks. The smallest variable steel tank runs $485 and the price goes up to $1500 for the 172 gallon tank.
When you get into tanks this size the various fittings and gaskets will be specific to your tank. Speidel tanks utilize Speidel fittings so keep this in mind if your moving into tanks this size.
Because tanks like this are used in commercial scale wine production it is often difficult to procure these tanks at the last second. At the time of this writing (September 2013) MoreWineMaking.com has currently sold out of all 79 gallon tanks for this year. More will not be available until 2014.
Be sure you are able to procure your tank before you sign up for that next shipment of grapes.
Flextanks by Flextank USA
These fermentation tanks are comprised of food grade polyethelyne tanks. Some are rigid and stand on their own similar to a steel tank. Others are more like large bladders that sit inside of a metal cage that provides structure to the tank.
Sizes range from 50 gallons up to 570 gallons. Prices start at $295 for the small tank and the largest will cost you $3100.
These are not just simple tanks for fermentation and storage, Flextank has designed these to be barrel replacements. They offer two thicknesses of plastic which have been designed to emulate the micro-oxygenation process that oak vessels are capable of.
Because these containers aren’t made of oak you get to skip the hassle of maintaining oak barrels when they’re not in use. So while they’re simpler to maintain than oak they also offer some of the unique features of an oak vessel.
Commercial Scale Fermentation Tanks
I applaud you if you’re ready for this level of winemaking. These tanks range in size from 330 gallons on up to 2430 gallons.
Understandably tanks this size cost quite a bit. The behemoth 2430 gallon tank will run you nearly $11,000 just for the tank. It weighs over 1,000 lbs so you can imagine what it’s going to cost to ship this thing across the country. Click here for more information regarding tanks of this size.
Oak Fermentation Vats
While there are oak fermentation vats available for purchase it is a bit harder to come by specifics on what is available. When you’re talking about fermentation cooperage on this scale manufacturers are less likely to publish their prices online.
Given the many different types of oak that may go into a vat many manufacturers make each vat custom tailored to your unique preferences. The sky is the limit here with regards to size and price.
As you can see there are a variety of solutions out there for whatever quantity of wine you’re looking to make. Variable tanks will offer you the greatest flexibility in volume, however, they do have a few more moving parts in order to accomodate different volumes of wine.
Plastic tanks can save you cash in the short run, however, after a while a well cared for steel tank is probably the more economical way to go.
Neutral materials such as plastic and metal afford you the opportunity to experiment with different oaks and toasts from one batch to the next. While oak vats are certainly romantic and completely gorgeous they are much more maintenance, more expensive, and after a while become neutral anyway.
When upgrading to your next fermentation tank take the time to consider what your current needs are but also what your wine making goals are for the future. Allow yourself some room to grow if you think you need it with a variable volume tank. If, on the other hand, you know you’ll be settling down to 40 or 50 gallon batches go for a container that size.
Be aware that there are legal limits to how much wine you can make without a license. In most parts of the United States this limit is 100 gallons per person per year or 200 gallons for a married couple per year. Producing more than this will require a license.
I’m not a lawyer and I am not familiar with the laws of your country, state, city, county, home owners association, or spouse so please do your homework and make sure you comply with all applicable laws.
Photograph of oak vat by: LH Wong
Note: where possible affiliate links were used in this article. If you purchase a tank through one of these links a portion of the sale will go to support Winemaker’s Academy.