As more producers of higher-end and even superpremium-priced wine turn to screen-printed labels on bottles as a way to distinguish themselves on ever-crowded store shelves, local printing companies have been spending several million dollars upgrading equipment to handle a surge in orders.
Also a factor in the capital investments are significant increases in wine set for release from back-to-back record-sized winegrape crops, according to the printers.
New equipment being installed by Napa-based bottle silk-screener and etcher Bergin Glass Impressions (707-224-0111, berginglass.com) and Richmond-based Monvera Glass Decor (877-792-1150, monvera.com), which screen-prints labels on bottles for a number of North Coast wineries, has faster throughput and color capabilities, more automation and greater ability to cover the bottle in art.
Theses new systems allow bottle label designs to seamlessly venture further out of the physical confines of glue-applied or pressure-sensitive labels. Such new territory, even for screen-printing, includes over the "shoulder" of the bottle — where the wider part tapers to the neck — up the neck itself and on the bottom, according to Paul Tincknell, a principal in wine packaging design firm Tincknell & Tincknell of Santa Rosa.
"It's always been a challenge, because of the curves," he said. "Wine bottles are surprisingly nonuniform."
Bergin invests $2.5M
Bergin Glass Impressions invested $2.5 million in creating large-run and small-run printing lines in the past three years to handle a surge in business from existing customers as well as 30 to 40 new ones added annually, according to Mike Bergin, president.
In February of last year, 40-employee Bergin spent more than $1 million commissioning a nine-color, 80-bottles-a-minute fully automated silkscreen printer to accompany the six-color printer installed in 2008. The newest one, said to be one of only four like it in the world, arrived from Italy on Jan. 3.
"It came in at just the nick of time, because we needed it," Mr. Bergin said.
The production impact from the 2012 and 2013 harvests is becoming evident. Sales last year were 20 percent higher than in 2011. At this point, 80 percent to 90 percent of the capacity of the large-run line is committed for this year, and the typical slow month of October during harvest already is committed to serve a large client, Mr. Bergin said. Having a small-run line allows smaller new jobs to be added this year, he added.
Those two printers complement each other in handling large production runs, which average 2,500 12-bottle cases but can be a large as 10,000 cases. In June 2012 Bergin created a small-run line — jobs of 200–800 cases — made up of a three-color printer and two six-color printers. The two lines allow better management of jobs going into the lehr, or furnace, that hardens the art on the glass.
Monvera spends $1.6M
Richmond-based Monvera Glass Decor, which screen-prints labels on bottles for a number of North Coast wineries, in January completed a $1.6 million expansion, including the installation of a faster, more precise label printer.
'We continue to see growing interest in direct printing on bottles as a decoration alternative to paper labels,' said Caitriona Anderson, vice president of sales and marketing. 'This expansion allows us to keep up with market demand and service larger accounts. We have already seen a great interest in the unique capabilities that our new printing equipment offers and we're excited to see where that will lead us in 2014.'
Monvera said it increased production capacity more than 50 percent in the past year. The company attributed that largely to a new Fermac F06 six- to eight-color CNC screen printer for wine labels and claims to be the only North American bottle decorator to use this new technology.
Computer numerical control, or CNC, technology has been long-used in automating machine tools. Monvera claims that programming this printer allows 'pixel-perfect' registration of colors in artwork applied to bottles. The machine is said to be capable of printing seamlessly around conventionally, oval and square bottles as well as on the neck and shoulder.
Additional capital expenditures include the addition of second decorating lehr, improved automation and a spray coating treatment unit.
The expansion was started in October 2011, when Monvera relocated to a 42,000-square-foot facility in Point Richmond. That put the company closer to wine and spirits customers in Sonoma and Napa counties and Francisco, according to the company. The move also allowed for the installation of a third production line, which came into service last year.