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The Transition to Stainless Steel Tanks and Streamlining the Operation. Slow but steady…

2012 February 16

I am well aware of some of the pitfalls using Variable Capacity Stainless Steel Tanks.  Besides the expense there are risks associated with their use.  However sometimes there are compromises to that have to be made for a variety of reasons. There are two in my case.  The first being I am getting too old to deal with Washing, Racking, and Moving something in the neighborhood of 50 filled carboys 3 times a season.  The second reason is I am trying to build my operation modeled after Mario Cellar Rat.  Where he is able to make wine and perform the necessary operations with a minimal crew.

My first job was to use Mario and Crazy Run Ranch’s advice on Tank Modification.  As I write this 2 of my tanks are at the welders along with 2 covers.   Handles, 2 2″ TC ferrules are being added to the covers and a 1.5 tc connection on the tank.  I have decided to use the Letina Air Lock.  I have purchased the butterfly valves and in order to move wine from my Fermentation Room to my MLF Room and back to the Fermentation room for Winter and finally in my Barrel Room I have acquired a Zambelli Rubber Impeller Pump.   I can move the empty tanks a lot easier than all those carboys.

In my quest again to depend less on a big labor force I will use a racking wand in the vat and  racking tubes in the tanks.

This year we added a Zambelli Bladder Press that alone reduced needed labor and volume pressed increased in a shorter time.  One of the areas that I am interested in is obtaining a floor crusher.  This will allow for easier on the back dealing with lugs and not have the need to lift the present crusher on the vats.  In other words one person could crush a ton with no problem.  One concern in this area is the Must Pumps of these units. Any thoughts on destemmers would be appreciated.

One of the problems with the Variable Capacity Tanks is the Cover and the Bladder as we are well aware of those issues. One thing I hate is having the pump bang around when you are moving the cover or cleaning it .  So I am retrofitting with the “Black Bladders”  and a quick release gas line fitting as per Mario’s advice.  I did decide long ago the pressure gauges were horrible and frankly can’t be trusted.  Also the pump provides many sources of leaks.  I decide to isolate it once the bladder is pumped.  But I still wanted to be able to read the pressure.  Here is a picture of the set up to do this. You will notice that I am also using high pressure gas line hose.  The hose barb without the hose goes to the pump not pictured.  The gauge is Stainless Steel and Liquid Filled.

Getting the Pump out of the equation

I know that Steve,Zac and Mario have a lot to add to this topic. Please add to this as you wish.  It would be nice to get all this information in one place and easily found on Google by others.

I used a larger reducer on this tank. Nice Butterfly valve in place

I decided to use a TC Reducer instead of a ferrule. It will give strength and reduce the flexing.

One of the Covers completed. Word of advice give the welder a break don't use this type of handle

The New Airlocks. Some may not like these but I think they are fine.

Nice Covers with elastic edge keeps the tanks and the covers clean and free of dirt dust and bugs

Racking Wand Screen

18 Responses leave one →
  1. Bzac permalink
    February 17, 2012

    I’ve done most of steves mods , what are marios?

    I dont use mine for long term aging , just racking , mlf , blending fermenting etc.

  2. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    February 18, 2012

    I am not sure, they are probably the same. I am not interested in long term aging either but I want to store wine in them before they go into the barrels. I got the first cover back and installed it yesterday. By the end of next week I will rack at least 2 tanks into my Barrel Room. I sent an email to Mario but he has not responded. I know he has been very busy at work he usually responds here. I probably will call him today. See what’s up.

  3. Crazy Run Ranch permalink
    February 24, 2012

    There are a couple more things I have done that I like quite a bit. I really like CPC plastic QD’s. They are cheap, inert, and hold pressure when disconnected. I like to connect them straight to the sealing tube using one small enough to fit through the hole in the lid. This way, I can pump up the tube and disconnect the leaky pump. Then remove the tube for cleaning and submerge it without water going into the tube. I like the idea of a real gauge, you could QD one gauge to allow you to check all your tanks.
    Also, I built a stand high enough to allow gravity back to barrels. Pump one way, gravity back. This work really well for settling after fermentation. Drain off the wine and tilt the tank until the sludge reaches the drain port then drop back flat to stop the flow.

  4. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    February 24, 2012

    I was worried about the plastic QDs so I went with the stainless steel variety but they are much more expensive. Some have valves built in, the females I use have valves but the male side does not so I can deflate the bladder. I could add as you say an additional QD on the pump side and remove the pump. Believe of not the Gauge was cheaper than a set of QDs.

    As far as racking I am going to use the racking tube that goes in the TC opening. I really like that idea.

    I spoke to Mario and he is underwater at work and other things but I am sure he will post shortly. Picking up 2 tanks today at the welders and will bring another 2 on Monday. Things are progressing. I will use the Zambelli Pump this weekend for the first time to rack out of the tanks into the new welded ones.

  5. Dan Lodico permalink
    March 1, 2012

    I’ve never seen a variable capacity tank in action. Are all of the lines, fittings, pumps, valves etc. that come into and out of it there for the purpose of filling it and emptying it?

    What is the range of capacities for that particular tank?

    What do you do? Ferment in there, then pump it out for racking, and return it for MLF, and then pump it out again when you go to barrel? Then back again after barrel until ready for bottling?

  6. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    March 1, 2012

    The pump has a gauge and the cover has a “tire tube like” inflatable gasket. This seals the cover at any height to accommodate any particular volume. The problems with the standard issue equipment are the tube gasket is not the best so Guys use improved versions, the Pump leaks air many times causing the gasket to deflate. The first picture is my solution. Once inflated, the pump is shut off from the gasket and a second gauge allows you to still read the pressure in the gasket. It also allows you to quick disconnect the entire pump and related gauges and hoses when you want to clean the cover.

    I am also using High Pressure Gas hose instead of the standard vinyl which tends to leak when it is cut by the hose clamp. Guys don’t get that and are always trying to figure out where the leak is. The problem is it can be so slow that you have to wait an hour to see a bubble if you use soapy solution to detect them. I have learned the hard way to skip that process and just cut off the ends of the hose every year and reconnect. That won’t be necessary any more with the high pressure gas hose.

    The other issue is the standard air lock which sucks. So eliminating that is important. There are various solutions to fix that from using a typical car boy liquid filled airlock to the ones that I decided to use.

    The Covers do not have handles and it is a PITA without them. The new TC fittings (Tri Clover) allow you to attach various equipment to the cover or the tank such as hoses, caps , airlocks , and valves. The standard issue tank has only a 3/4 pipe fitting and spigot valve.
    I will take a picture of the new valves and add it to the pictures above.

    As far as use is concerned I do not ferment in the tanks. Some guys do. But after fermentation is over the wine is drawn off the fermenter using a racking tube with screen and pumped into a tank. Then the pressed wine is also pumped into the tank and you can let it settle 24 hours before you pump it out to get it off the gross lees into another tank. You can then perform MLF and pump it out again to another tank for storing or into a barrel. The best part is not having to wash a lot of carboys making clean up so much easier. Also not having to carry and move carboys from the fermenting room to the MLF room and back in the Wine Storage Room makes it great for a one person operation.

    Using them is not trouble free as you are depending on that inflatable gasket but all things considered it makes life easy for an older guy like me who does not want to tear his knee again or hurt his back. TO be sure nothing beats a glass carboy and tanks and the associated fittings are not inexpensive. But we now have acquired 10 tanks. The tank pictured is 250 litres I have 4 of those, 2 300 litre, 2 200 litre, and 2 100 litre. No more carboys!!! WOO HOO!

  7. AlbanyCellarRat permalink
    March 10, 2012

    Hey Gene, those saw the pics very nice. As you know I used the same handles. They are fine, but you have to have a patience tig welder. They are thick and solid stainless, but they look great – and that is what is really important.

    I had the same style handles except much larger welded onto the lid of my bladder press which has worked great. The metal on the press lid is much thicker and therefore much easier for the welder.

    My diaphragm pump required alot of welding as did my catridge filter. Some was done locally, some was done in California at napa fermentation and TCW. Both do a good job, much better than the local guys around me.

    I have to 2 ferrules and 2 handles welded to my main tank lid. I will be adding another ferrel to the center of the tank lid for more options, especially during mlf which is when most are in use.

    I use the quick disconnects all over my cellar. I use them to connect all my kegs and nitrogen tanks. I also different disconnects for the liquid side on the beers kegs. all the pumps on the lids have qd connections. Air tools including pump, racking tool, etc have disconnects. I can not remember all the modifications I have done I think you have most. I will at some point take pics of everything and give them to you to post.

    One thing that has really work well for me is the power blankets which I use during mlf. I have used these for I believe three or 4 seasons and they work great. I had to get some thermowells made to accomodate the probe for the thermostat, but other than that it is pretty straight forward.

  8. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    March 11, 2012

    My welder begged me to make his own handles instead of using the ones I provided. He said the material was disappearing as he welded. So he fabricated his own. I told him this was not a beauty contest, no problem. He did think the Reducers on the tank instead of simple ferrules was a home run. There is zero flex

  9. AlbanyCellarRat permalink
    March 11, 2012

    I am not a welder, but what I told is that it should be done with a tig welder not a mig. It should be done using argon gas and it should be done slowly as to not allow the lid to warp. The guy that added my handles did a great job. The welder that did the ferrels was not as patient. One thing I did notice was that the thicker the metal the welder worked with generally the better job they did. The issue with the lid is that it is very thin, some lids are thinner than others, and that poses a real problem. The tanks I got from st pats have thick walls and the lids are not as thick, but they are thicker than my larger tank. So hopefully those lids will be easier to work with.

    When you say that the welder said the material was disappearing seems odd. Those handles were very thick and designed to be welded. You would think he would have more of a problem with the lid evaporating. All of this makes me think he was using a mig welder – I really dont know the difference, but that is what a welder told me.

  10. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    March 11, 2012

    No we were using TIG but the material was disappearing from the handles. He spent more time trying to weld the handles then the ferrules! It could have been poor stainless but it was stainless. I first started out with the MIG but it was abandoned quickly as it gets too hot and warping was the problem and the metal is too thin. TIG uses argon gas with a wire feed. But he fabricated some handles quickly and what he did was lay a bead first on the lid then welded the handle to the bead. I did have a ferrule leak, actually weep slightly, so it had to be touched up.
    Picked up 2 more 300 litre tanks so I have 4 more to weld.

  11. Crazy Run Ranch permalink
    March 13, 2012

    I like the Reducer idea, might have to copy it. My big tank came with TC fittings but they flex under the weight of a 1″ hose. I always end up sliding blocks under it as a stress relief. I may retrofit Reducer or have a welder add reinforcing rings on the outside since I already have TC’s on there. Who’s heavy gaskets are you guys using? I’ve had trouble finding the sizes I need at MoreWine.

  12. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    March 13, 2012

    Welding rings is a better idea at this stage I think for you . Mario was saying the same thing about the flexing. The only ones available are black ones from GW Kent. I will add a few pics to the top of the post later.

  13. March 30, 2012

    Last two tanks to be picked up at the welder next week that makes 11 tanks ready and on line for September. I am really happy to get this all done now to make the Fall Season worry free. And to think of the ease of how the operation will be really makes this effort worthwhile. My Carboy Sale is going well. I am thinking how nice it will be not to have to carry, move, wash and store all those carboys. I would rather clean a tank!

  14. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    May 14, 2012

    Have you guys seen these covers? Check above for the picture I added

  15. Bob Prust permalink
    September 17, 2016

    When you mention retrofitting your Variable Capacity Tank bladders with “Black Bladders” do you mean bicycle tires? Will Butyl rubber be ok?

  16. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    September 17, 2016

    The Black Bladders are sold by GW Kent. I have never heard of anyone trying bicycle tubes. As a matter of fact they are notorious for being somewhat porous and go flat on their own .

  17. Bzac permalink
    September 24, 2016

    I like the white ones more whine sells ,

  18. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    September 26, 2016

    I have a few of those as well but I have to say the originals keep the air in longer than any others.

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