Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  06 Apr 2011

WINEMAKING: Growing Importance Of Nitrogen


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STETTYN Cellar, nestled in the eastern foothills of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains, supplies millions of litres of wine to First Cape for export. This exclusive wine cellar selected an Atlas Copco NG nitrogen generator to deliver pure nitrogen to two of the main applications in the wine making process.

Stettyn Cellar wine master, Albie Treurnicht, sketches the cellars’ background: “Stettyn Cellar has a wine making history that spans over a century and was established as a co-op in 1963. With five production units, we currently produce 6 500 tons of grapes per year from 355.27 ha of premium grape varieties sourced mainly from vineyards on the farms of Stettyn, Jonkersrivier and Die Hoek. There are plans in the pipeline to increase the planting area to 480 ha and production to 8 000 tons per annum by 2016. Wines produced by Stettyn are bottled and sold overseas under the First Cape brand, and despite the global recession, Stettyn has sustained a steady 60% growth rate over the past four years. “We supply approximately 10% of an estimated 32 million litres of wine exported by the well known First Cape, where we also have a 7% share holding,” Treurnicht says.

When Stettyn Cellar were involved in an expansion project in 2009, Treurnicht, a wine maker with 30 years of wine making experience, had occasion to taste wine produced purely under a nitrogen blanket.

These wines could only be described as phenomenal in taste, colour and flavour, characteristics prized by any wine maker - a clear indication that investing in a NG nitrogen generator to deliver nitrogen would enhance our wine quality as well as our reputation. We agreed to install a NG nitrogen generator in specific key areas.”

Enquiries for a supplier of a quality nitrogen generator unit went ahead and Atlas Copco emerged as the winner. Atlas Copco provides cost effective, reliable, secure and flexible on-site nitrogen for diverse applications including food and beverage, packaging, pharmaceutical and chemical applications, electronics, etc.

Commenting on product and service quality, Treurnicht says that Atlas Copco presented the best value for pressure swing adsorption technology and the Alu-pipe networking system.

The Atlas Copco NG nitrogen generator, installed and commissioned by Stettyn Cellar in January 2010, is applied firstly for sparging of all white wine cultivars to minimise oxidation potential; this first application resulted in lower concentrations of sulpher in the end product. “This is probably the single biggest gain as a high sulpher content masks the flavour and bleaches the colour of the wine, so the less the sulpher content the better the wine. The unit’s second main application is the supply of nitrogen gas during flotation of the juice. The new process has resulted in major cost saving when compared to the normal cold setting procedures and we are finding that the treated wine shows better up-front fruit qualities, has enhanced flavour and also shows the greenish colour tint which is so sought after in white wines,” Treurnicht says.

Post harvest, nitrogen is used to blanket or fill the head space in containers. Wines are continually exposed to oxidation during the bottling and packaging processes. By using nitrogen to fill the head space it has managed dissolved oxygen readings down to 0.5 mg/L when the bottling plant receives the product.

Siting another plus factor since installing the Atlas Copco NG unit, Treurnicht says: “Some tanks are always only half full and since post harvest sparging with minute quantities of nitrogen gas to fill the head space, the bottling plant indicates that, despite my initial scepticism, our wine quality is excellent.”

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