[caption id="attachment_61413" align="alignright" width="343"] Bergin Glass Impressions of Napa just added a second lehr oven to accommodate large- and small-scale brands.[/caption]

NAPA and RICHMOND -- Two major suppliers of bottle-decoration services are significantly upgrading their production capacity as more vintners turn to screen printing as a luxurious-looking label alternative.

To be sure, screen printing accounts for a tiny portion of labeling for wine bottles and historically has been for high-end brands. But Bergin Glass Impressions of Napa and Monvera Glass Decor of Richmond are busy keeping up with demand from wines retailing for less than $20 a bottle.

"In the past, it was about making expensive wines look expensive, and now they want the package to stand out on the shelf, regardless of the price point," said Caitriona Anderson, Monvera Glass vice president of sales and marketing.

Bergin Glass (707-224-0111, berginglass.com) invested $950,000 in a six-color unit made by Fermac of Italy capable of printing up to 70 bottles a minute and a 105-foot-long Ernst Pennekamp GmbH & Co. KG lehr furnace with a 6-foot-wide belt.

Installed in the 40,000-square-foot south Napa plant in June, the new equipment complements the existing automated annealer furnace and two printing lines, with four- and six-color capability, respectively, according to Mike Bergin, president and director of sales.

"When we're working with larger clients, we can keep the fully automated machine running," he said. "Right now, we have to do a dance in accommodating smaller runs between large runs."

The automated line can handle runs equivalent of 15,000 to 30,000 12-bottle cases. The new line can work with runs as small as 150 to 700 cases.

[caption id="attachment_61414" align="alignleft" width="324"] Monvera Glass Decor will be adding a CNC-controlled screen printer that will allow full-wrap designs on odd-shaped bottles.[/caption]

At its 42,000-square-foot Richmond plant, Monvera Glass (877-792-1150, monvera.com) is spending upwards of $1 million on a custom-built four-color Fermac printing unit that will use CNC technology to screen print full-wrap graphics to a design tolerance of 0.01 millimeters on a wide range of bottle shapes, from oval to square, and on necks, according to Ms. Anderson. When the machine arrives in November, it will be the first of its kind in North America and the fourth in the world.

"It allows for screen printing you're not able to do with a paper label," Ms. Anderson said.

Monvera Glass has three lehrs -- one that runs continually and two for added capacity -- and two six-color decorators that run at 40 bottles per minute. The new machine is capable of printing up to 80 bottles per minute, depending on the size of the design and shape of the bottle. Yet, it can handle very small runs of at least 100 cases and large runs of tens of thousands of cases.Demand for screen-printed labels has been growing to such a degree that even at a rate of 35,000 to 40,000 bottles a day, Bergin Glass had crews working two 10-hour shifts since March. With seven seasoned lead equipment operators among eight- to 10-person production crews, the 24-year-old company plans to add a third shift in 2013.

After flat growth in 2008--2010, sales for the 48-employee company increased 10 percent last year and are on track to rise 15 percent to 18 percent this year, according to Mr. Bergin.

A more fundamental barometer of the health of the luxury wine business for Mr. Bergin is demand for the company's 11 full-time bottle etchers and hand-painters. Now, orders for such work are on track to be up 20 percent for this year, making it the busiest time for such work since 1999, when special orders related to millennium promotions were at a fever pitch.

"It's an indication that the wine business is coming back," Mr. Bergin said. "We have small wineries that last year might have ordered 12 3-liter etched bottles and now they are ordering 60 3-liters and telling us they are all presold."

Monvera Glass has expanded three times since a group of investors in 2007 acquired an Oakland shop focused on screen printing tasting room stemware. The new owners shifted to bottle printing, etching and heat-set decals, expanding to Emeryville a year and a half later then doubling in size nearly a year ago in a move to Richmond.

The design teams of Bergin and Monvera have been busy helping wineries adapt their paper labels or interpret their branding for screen printing.

Bergin has five designers. Half the new business is coming from converting labels, and the other half from vintners and designers coming to screen printing for a brand or packaging refresh, according to Mr. Bergin.

"Many want a $20 bottle to look like a $30 bottle," he said.

One new client is Graton-based Purple Wine Co., which is having Bergin screen print its new 15,000-case release of the Cryptic red blend brand.

A number of Monvera's largely smaller-scale new customers have thought screen printed labels were far more expensive. She tells them the per-bottle difference, compared with a run of glue-applied fine paper labels for less than 5,000 cases, can be 4 or 5 cents.

"If you put another 4 to 5 cents into a paper label, you can not get as much out of the package as you can with screen printing," Ms. Anderson said.