Wine: Amcor Flexibles doubles local screw cap production

Amcor Flexibles is installing its second American Canyon production line for long-skirted Stelvin Plus aluminum screw caps, effectively doubling the production capacity for the bottle closure targeted at higher-end North Coast wines, according to plant General Manager Frederic Catteau.

The new machine, which arrived last week, can produce 20 million to 25 million Stelvin Plus caps annually, effectively expanding total North Coast production capacity to 50 million, he said. The new equipment also has more capabilities for adding decorations to the cap skirt, which makes the closure appear to be a traditional capsule covering the end of the bottle.

North Coast production is tailored more to orders from small-scale producers, which would be ordering at least 14,000 caps at a time, or enough for about 1,000 12-bottle cases. Typical downtime between jobs on the existing line is about two hours, but the new line is expected to cut that job-change time in half, according to Mr. Catteau.

The company's Montreal plant produces close to 1 billion Stelvin caps, variations of which are marketed for wines and spirits. Production for the wine industry has grown to half of Stelvin output in North America. Caps designed for 187-milliliter single-serving bottles have been growing quickly, accounting for 500 million units a year in the U.S., Mr. Catteau said.

Amcor Flexibles currently has 33 employees in American Canyon. That isn't expected to change much with the new equipment, he said.***

The 2013 winegrape crop in California is expected to weigh in at more than 4 million tons when the first official tally appears in early February, rivaling the record-sized 2012 crush. In the North Coast, the most ample varieties could be near 2012 record levels, even topping them in the case of pinot noir, according to Mike Needham, North Coast grape broker for Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage.

"It's the fastest-growing red variety in the [grape] market," he told a gathering of professionals for the Moss Adams annual State of the Industry seminar at Napa Valley Marriott on Nov. 21. Sonoma County has been a major producer of high-end pinot noir in the state. The 2013 crop could top the 52,000 tons crushed in the county last year, Mr. Needham said.

A number of growers have converted pinot noir vines from spur to cane pruning, leading to more exposed vine wood and more fruit, he said. Limits on tons per acre for the variety are still to be seen, but likely would be implemented if the variety were in oversupply, he added.

Indeed, prices for the best Sonoma County pinot noir grapes were topping out around $4,500 a ton because of demand, but pricing for tonnage over contracted amounts or on the "spot market" softened later in the season more than for cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay because of "tank lock" -- vintners ran out of room to put pinot, even if they wanted it, according to Mr. Needham.

Demand for pinot noir brands retailing for $15--$20 a bottle have been moving the majority of the 1 million gallons bulk wine that was available, Steve Fredricks, president of Turrentine, told the group. That's in spite of significant plantings to the variety in Monterey and Santa Barbara counties.

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