By Becky Jane Newbold
What happens when an electrical engineer and a military trained mechanic put their heads together?
No, there is no punch line, the result for the father-son duo of Gerald and Brian Hamm is brilliance. Entrepreneurs across America are wracking their brains looking for a niche in these difficult economic times. But here in Lewis County these two enterprising men found the perfect blend of building relationships, hard work and just the right niche.
Gerald, the electrical engineer and co-founder of Keg Springs Winery in Lewis County, and his son, Brian, former Blackhawk helicopter crew chief and head winemaker, recently completed a year long project sure to put them on the road to success.
Their mobile bottling line was created out of necessity and with a bit of genius. Over the course of a year, they took a box truck 35 feet long and equipped it with new and completely refurbished bottling gadgetry. Now an automated bottling line, sanitized with steaming cleaning at each use, puts an end to years of hand bottling wine.
Since opening the first winery in Lewis County in 2004, Keg Springs owners have, by hand, bottled, corked and labeled each bottle sold. Other small wineries in Tennessee also face the same issues of hand bottling versus expensive automated equipment. Rising sales frequently necessitating an upgrade yet economics can inhibit the move.
The Winery at Belle Meade Plantation is among the first customers for the new bottling company, Treadstone Bottlers. Belle Meade Plantation’s wine begins in Lewis County under the watchful eye of Master Winemaker Brian Hamm and is finished to their style in Nashville.
Hence, the need for Treadstone Bottlers.
In February, the Hamms tested Treadstone’s bottling on their own wine and after it ran flawlessly, they began bottling Belle Meade’s wine.
“There was a void in the industry in this part of the United States,” Gerald said. The closest mobile bottling units are located in Virginia and California, he added. Already, inquiries from wineries in Georgia, Alabama, Iowa and Kentucky have been fielded by Treadstone Bottlers.
Capable of running nearly 1,800 bottles per hour, the equipment may be used for bottled water, wine or any non-carbonated liquid, Brian said in an interview last week. Both the standard 750 ml size bottles and splits, 175 ml, can be bottled with corks or screw caps, tin or heat shrink plastic. Whichever the customer prefers. Most wineries purchase one piece of equipment for each process. Treadstone Bottlers offers small wineries more options.
Within the mobile bottling unit, empty bottles are loaded and sent through the sparger for cleaning, the liquid is piped in and after a few moments, corked, labeled and vacuum sealed bottles are scooped from the conveyor belt and boxed. Simple.
The second company for Keg Springs Estates, Treadstone has been in operation for about one month.
Keg Springs also sports the coveted William O. Beach award, on display during 2011. The traveling trophy was presented to Keg Springs Winery in January during the Wines of the South awards banquet in Nashville for excellence in Tennessee Wines. The White Muscadine, made with 100 percent Tennessee fruit and created by a Tennessee winemaker was named the number one wine in Tennessee for 2010.
The trophy stays with the winner throughout the year and may be viewed at Keg Springs, open noon until 6 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.