Generational Business Series Part #5: Willmes Wine Press
The wine industry is no stranger to multi-generational family business. Survival is not easy nor assured. Enduring relationships are a key ingredient of success.
In my last of five articles, I highlight our longest wine equipment relationship. Willmes and Scott go back to 1954 (predating all other vendor relationships). This comes with an asterisk. The acquisition of the Moffet company in 1982 marked the true beginning of our work together. Moffet had been selling Willmes for over 30 years as well as other products like capsules. Moffet with Edmond Maudiere (Chandon) and Walter Willmes pictured below (left to right). Robert and Bruce Scott saw potential with the Moffet portfolio, but it wasn’t until later that Willmes was the clear prize.
The Willmes story itself begins 100+ years ago in 1918. The first pneumatic press (1951) and the first tank press (1974) were Willmes inventions. Bucher invented the "crumble," but Willmes owns the rest of what is the modern wine press. Initially a pneumatic tire company (see ad below), Willmes had a knack for rubber. The classic central channel press pre-1974 inflated outward. The tank press (TP) in 1974 improved on solids, quality and press time. My first press was a 1983 TP12 Willmes at Gloria Ferrer. It was only a bit junior to me when I ran it in 2001. I started the season with a fresh coat of Willmes-yellow paint (lots of mild steel) and a new clock. Ran through a wave of Pinot and Chardonnay like a champ. Below a photo of me in 2018 at the 100-year anniversary of Willmes with my 1989 ASEV cap (when the industry used to meet at Disneyland!)
The timing of the acquisition of the Moffet company was serendipitous indeed. The tank press as we know it came into force, leading to a wave of installs. Installations led to a new parts and service department. This was an upgrade from salespeople with wrenches. Within a decade Willmes was the dominant press in the USA for grapes, as well as apple processors. Below, this pair of TP32s at Krug were the largest installed presses in the world -1982.
The imitation of the tank press (the sincerest form of flattery) was legion in the 1980's. Competition came with lower prices that Willmes could not match. Willmes made another pivot in the 1990's to reinvent the press again.
The Sigma Press maintained core principles of the TP, but advanced quality above all else. Working with an innovative manufacturer requires being there for the growing pains. Scott and US producers took a leading role in validation and perfection of the new press in the 90's-00's. Bent channels, torn mesh drains, and trial-by-error pressing regiments defined a half decade. Today the Sigma presses more juice (5-10%) in less time (20-30% less), and at lower pressure ( <0.8bar). Customer feedback also informed material changes and now, resulting in reduced maintenance. Success and validation through collaboration. The example of Cantina Sociale di Soave below in 2002.
My personal favorite (and for everyone that has carried an allen wrench into a press) are the Flexidrains which can be removed and cleaned from the outside.
Commercial success was not a guarantee for relationship success. Our relationship with the Willmes generations was cast in trust and mutual confidence. Our work has endured ten recessions, changes in global trade and the global order itself. We persisted in times of economic trauma but providing mutual aid. The Willmes-Scott families understand well that we are only as strong as our partners. Our faith in each other allowed support to be swift and open-ended.
Today Willmes is now more an engineering/design firm than factory. Technical results from Geisenheim and CIVC define the presses more than paint color. Their unique design of central draining is sought by both volume and boutique winemakers. It is a reminder that no aspect of our industry is ever stagnant in innovation. The intersection between craft and technology/science continues. The Willmes and Scott families are signed up and ready for it.
Business is personal. Generational business is more. It's family.
Zachary Scott, CEO, Scott Laboratories