The Piccolo bottle lovingly dubbed “MMchen” (MMling)
The roots of the MM Extra sparkling-wine brand reach way, way back: it was almost two centuries ago, in 1811, that 38-year-old Matheus Müller bought what was then the Freiherr von Sohlern Estate in Eltville. At that time, Müller was a highly regarded wine expert in the Rheingau. By 1845, annual sales were totalling more than 300,000 bottles of “Sect” (old spelling). The founding father’s initials have been adorning the product’s labels since the 1950s. The sekt wineries were owned by the Müller family from the firm’s original foundation until 1984. Only then was the company sold to the international spirits conglomerate Seagram. In 2002, the Rotkäppchen sekt winery from Freyburg an der Unstrut integrated the Matheus Müller sekt wineries into its operations, under the aegis of “Germany’s House of Sekt”. The Rotkäppchen-Mumm Sektkellereien GmbH company thus formed is fully aware of the MM Extra brand’s special significance and will be progressing this tradition in the third millennium as well. MM Extra ranks among Germany’s six best-selling brands of sparkling wine. But with annual sales of over 20 million bottles today, the brand would appear not to have reached its zenith as yet. Market leadership is quite outstanding when it comes to small bottles: the Piccolo bottle lovingly dubbed “MMchen” (MMling) continues to be something rather special. Its enormous popularity is the best proof you can have for the quality of this tradition-steeped sparkling wine. And it was precisely for this (plus the small bottles for the other sekt brands as well) that the installation of a new bottling line was so important.
A success story
No less spectacular was the development exhibited by what is now MM Extra’s parent company. Rotkäppchen epitomises a quintessential entrepreneurial success story of what used to be the German Democratic Republic: this sekt winery was founded in 1856 in Freyburg an der Unstrut. It’s here that one of Germany’s smallest wine-growing areas, 650 hectares in size, is located today. This is the reason why only vanishingly few base wines for Rotkäppchen’s portfolio originate here. Most of these are bought from France, Italy, Spain, and various other German wine-growing areas.
1948 saw the nationalisation of the company, which had evolved from the tradition-steeped wine merchants Kloss & Foerster. As a state-owned enterprise, it produced up to 15 million bottles of sparkling wine a year. After German reunification in 1989, sales figures slumped, and were down to just under three million bottles in 1991, so the payroll had to be downsized from 360 to 60 – hard times. In 1993, Gunter Heise, previously the company’s Technical Director, together with four colleagues and supported by the Harald Eckes-Chantré family of entrepreneurs, took over the state-owned firm from the trust company in a management buy-out. Heise and another three of his former colleagues, Lutz Lange, Ulrich Wiegel and Jutta Polomski, hold the remaining shares.
Market leader for sparkling wine and spirits in Germany
In 2000, the Rotkäppchen brand, with a total of 50 million bottles sold, succeeded in taking over market leadership for sparkling wine in Germany. And since the Canadian beverage producer Seagram was just about to part with its German sparkling-wine division, the east German company seized its opportunity and in 2002 purchased the west German sekt brands Mumm, Jules Mumm and MM Extra, with their facilities at Hochheim on the Main and Eltville on the Rhine. Nothing short of a sensation. In reunified Germany’s beverage industry, at any rate. One year later, Rotkäppchen-Mumm Sektkellereien GmbH also bought the small but exquisite sparkling-wine brand Geldermann from Breisach, working with in-bottle fermentation, with its 2.5 million bottles a year.
In late 2006, Rotkäppchen-Mumm Sektkellereien GmbH successfully entered the spirits business, by taking over Eckes Spirituosen & Wein GmbH firm with its brandy products Chantré and Mariacron, the Nordhäuser Doppelkorn schnapps and the Eckes Edelkirsch cherry liqueur. Since then, it has also been the Number One on the German spirits market. The Rotkäppchen wineries’ share in the German sparkling-wine market came to as much as 40 per cent in 2008. But the story doesn’t stop here: in October 2009, the sekt producer upgraded its wine portfolio by incorporating the Blanchet wine brand from the Racke firm.
But sales, which are almost exclusively confined to Germany, were quite impressive enough even without this: in 2009, Rotkäppchen-Mumm sold 200 million bottles of sparkling wine and spirits, generating a turnover of 940 million euros, which makes it the clear leader in the sparkling-wine segment, with a market share of around 46 per cent. The Eltville facility is roughly the same size as Rotkäppchen’s plant in Freyburg, both with around 75 million bottles a year, and both preparing from base wines almost all types of sparkling wine and then filling them. In Nordhausen, Germany’s Number One sekt and spirits producer makes about 50 million bottles, the figures in each case scaled to the standard 0.75-litre bottle.
Operations for bottling Piccolos concentrated in Eltville
One of two bottling facilities for Piccolo bottles of all sorts is Eltville. Here, on the Rhine’s right bank, only ten kilometres away from Wiesbaden, the state capital of Hesse, a total of three bottling lines are operated. One, rated at 19,000 0.75-litre bottles an hour, is running at full capacity in three shifts. The magnum line, by contrast, operates only for about two months a year. The Piccolo line, in its turn, runs the whole year round on a single-shift schedule. After giving 25 years of reliable service, the old Krones Piccolo line dating from 1984 was beginning to feel its age – and deserved to be replaced. A team headed by Ulrich Wiegel, the firm’s Managing Director from Day One and Technical Director of the Freyburg-based Rotkäppchen-Mumm Sektkellerei GmbH company and the local Technical Manager in Eltville, Joachim Engler, were tasked with evaluating the quotations from three manufacturers.
Krones ultimately had its nose in front, for several reasons: “Firstly there was, of course, the good experience we’ve had with Krones over the decades, both here in Eltville and in Freyburg, which also possesses a complete set of Krones lines”, explains Ulrich Wiegel. “And secondly, for us, the technical people, it was above all the technology offered by Krones that proved most persuasive. And in this context, the filler is quite obviously the most important component in the whole project.” The model used, a mechanical Mecafill VKPV-CF counterpressure filler with fill level correction, features tried-and-tested short-tube technology with a vent tube. “With this short-tube technology, the filling procedure in our eyes looked a lot less turbulent and more gentle on the product than is the case with long-tube technology. Plus CO2 pick-up from the gas used for pressurisation is prevented with greater dependability in a short-tube filler – an important aspect since there is a general ban on adding technical CO2 to a sparkling wine. We were already thoroughly familiar with this filling principle, having got good results from it.”
Option for filling at 14 to 20 degrees Celsius
Another plus was the option for warm filling. Despite the high CO2 contents, the sparkling wine is filled at ambient temperature, thus obviating the need for a product cooler. Moreover, this warm filling process avoids any condensate forming on the bottles. To give the sparkling wine sufficient time to settle during the filling phases, however, it is imperative to use a few valves more. “Krones was able to accommodate the filling valves, now numbering 144, in the same carousel diameter, which made for only a negligible price mark-up”, explains Ulrich Wiegel. “This small additional investment enables us to fill the product warm while simultaneously enhancing dependability levels in the machine. Another point of major importance for us was spare parts deliveries and a service support from Krones you can rely on”, adds Joachim Engler.
Challenging time schedule met
When it was clear that Rotkäppchen-Mumm had opted for the Krones Mecafill, the firm also wanted Krones to supply all the remaining machines, meaning the complete line, and – almost at the time when the worldwide financial crisis peaked in December 2008 – placed its order for the entire line, displaying a courageous, forward-looking corporate mindset. “In the summer, we always schedule three weeks for general repairs, something we were able to extend to four weeks for this line, in close consultation with the production planning people, and we intended to complete the whole modification job within this timeframe. This is a definite “no go” when to top it all you also want to work with several supplier firms”, says Joachim Engler.
“And anyway, at times work was being done on up to ten different parts of the job simultaneously on just 400 square metres, for dismantling the old line, removing the flooring, modifying some of the walls, installing the new flooring, re-arranging the lines for water, energy and electricity, and finally erecting the new machines. On the very first day of commissioning after these four weeks, people actually managed to run 5,000 bottles on the line. On 3 August, we pressed the button, and – lo and behold – the line ran like clockwork. My compliments! It’s not often that I’m impressed but this was fun to watch”, comments Ulrich Wiegel. And Joachim Engler concurs: “I admit it was nothing but stress from beginning to end but I was really buoyed up by it. And as a reward, we then succeeded in achieving brilliant efficiency levels during acceptance-testing – 98.5 per cent, believe it or not.” An open ear for other products Not only was the area available for accommodating the line limited to 400 square metres, the height in the part of the hall earmarked for the line was also relatively low, at 2.90 metres. This was just barely enough for the filler. The big advantage this provides on the other hand is the resultant extremely low noise level. Since space was at a premium, Rotkäppchen-Mumm right from the start opted for a rinser-filler monobloc configuration, with a twin-channel rinser for water and the peracetic-acid option. Krones also supplied a new CIP system for cleaning the filler. A Checkmat inspects the bottles for correct fill level and closure position. The monobloc configuration is accommodated in a cleanroom – pure luxury, for filling sparkling wine at least. But Ulrich Wiegel is thinking ahead: “This means we’re keeping our options open for filling other products in the future. Who knows what’s in store for us next?”
A Glideliner serves as transition and buffering section on the bottles’ path to the labeller. It’s a relatively long one, ensuring that in a second stage of expansion, it will be able to accommodate other units as well, like a drying tunnel or a capsule applicator. After all, newly launched rosé products like Rotkäppchen sparking wine Rosé Brut, Jules Mumm Rosé Dry or Mumm Rosé Dry have been proving quite successful in recent years. In 2009, Rotkäppchen-Mumm premiered a non-alcoholic Rotkäppchen variant, and more innovative products will doubtless follow.
Rotkäppchen-Mumm had also set their sights firmly on the future when opting for a labeller in modularised design. The Topmodule equipped with cameras for label orientation (for prelabelled bottles, for example) currently features three stations for wet-glue paper labels. But other units can also be retrofitted at any time, like Autocol stations for the no-label look, for example. A downstream Checkmat inspects the bottles for presence and correct position of the labels, and for the batch number. To coincide with installation of the new line, Rotkäppchen-Mumm altered the Piccolo bottle’s shape as well, with the neck now somewhat straighter, less angled, while at the same time replacing the neck foil by a neck label made of paper.
Rotkäppchen-Mumm also installed a new Pressant bulk glass sweep-off depalletiser, thus ensuring that the same number of layers could be loaded on all pallets at every facility. In the old line, you see, the bulk glass had to be removed from the pallets by hand, which was why they always had one layer less. “Now, we’ve got the same number of layers at all our facilities”, explains Ulrich Wiegel. In 2010, Rotkäppchen-Mumm also intends to revamp its packaging operations, including the palletising system, which are accommodated in an adjacent part of the hall.
“Cooperation between the staff from Krones and our people in Eltville during the installation phase went swimmingly, everything dovetailed, everything went like clockwork”, is Ulrich Wiegel’s verdict. “For us, this was proof beyond doubt that we were right all along the line.”