Core Equipment, now based in a spacious, space-age new headquarters just a stone’s throw from the Silverstone F1 track in Northamptonshire, supplies and installs a complete range of winemaking equipment to top wineries across England and Wales, increasingly as part of a consultancy-led, project-based approach.

The philosophy behind Core Equipment, set up more than 12 years ago, is simple. “We source the best equipment in each category, whether that’s grape presses, fermentation tanks or bottling lines, we build strong relationships with suppliers and we listen to what the customer wants,” revealed Jonathan Chaplin, founder of the company.

Increasingly, winemakers are asking not for a specific piece of equipment but for advice on how to achieve their ambitions, he said.

“The vast majority of what we do now is project based. Customers tell us what they want to achieve and we work with them to put together the right package of equipment that will allow them to do that.

“They no longer come to us and say: ‘we want a tank’. They say: ‘We want a range of tank capacity that’s fitted with fermentation control to allow us to improve our winemaking process. They don’t say: ‘We want a new press’, but ‘We want a pressing facility with nitrogen blanketing capabilities that can reduce oxygen pick up and maintain the aromas and flavours we want in our wine’,” he explained.

The company’s rapid growth, based on responding to customers’ needs and focusing on top quality equipment, means Core Equipment’s new facilities are constantly busy, while the team is also busy providing customers with comprehensive training and delivering ongoing preventative maintenance for existing installations.

Although he admits to being a keen F1 fan and once toyed with the idea of setting up a motor racing company, the move two years ago to a bright, airy, ultra-modern unit that’s virtually trackside to the Silverstone circuit was a sound business decision rather than an emotional one.

The unit itself has plenty of space for storing equipment that’s destined to be part of the next installation as well as giving the service team room to carry out pre-delivery checks and to pre-assemble parts of larger systems. It’s also conveniently situated in the heart of the country, just off the M1 motorway and not far from the M25.

Equally importantly, though, the site is home to a wealth of high-tech businesses, with the like of Aston Martin Formula 1, Ferrari, Lotus and Caterham literally on the doorstep and a host of service companies able to provide bespoke parts, technology, electronics, pneumatics, hydraulics and the like.

When a helicopter lands in the adjoining paddock, Jonathan offers an explanation: “That’s probably Lance Stroll commuting to work”, he laughed.

For a company like Core Equipment, which has built a reputation on tackling challenges for businesses and putting together individual solutions to complex problems, access to such a broad range of potential suppliers is crucial.

“Because we have gone from supplying kit to solving problems, we often need to modify parts or come up with a way of linking systems together, and to be situated alongside some of the most innovative and creative manufacturers, fabricators and designers around is just ideal,” said Jonathan.

Core Equipment is also leading the way in fermentation control, something Jonathan believes is becoming increasingly important within the industry.

At its simplest level, the technique is essentially about making sure the wine stays at a temperature that allows the yeast to work effectively, but Jonathan believes the future lies in giving winemakers considerably more insight over and control of different aspects of the fermentation process to help them create the wine they are looking for.

“We were the first company to promote fermentation control in the UK and we are planning to develop it further to allow winemakers to monitor and control many more aspects of the wine as it is developing,” he said. “CO2 output, sugar levels, dissolved oxygen – all these variables make a difference to the consistency and quality of the wine, and we are developing the systems and technology to give the experts the data they need to adjust those variables.”

To support his ambition to broaden the technology, Jonathan has now set up a separate business, Fermentation Control Ltd. “The aim is not only to give winemakers more control but to make the process more consistent,” he said.

Jonathan believes that with the industry still relatively young, growers, winemakers and equipment manufacturers are “all learning together”, sharing innovations and developments and helping put English and Welsh wines firmly on the world map.

Core Equipment’s obsession with supplying the best in each category starts with grape reception equipment, including sorting, crushing, destemming and pressing, together with elevators and other handling equipment. 

In this case the company works with French supplier Bucher Vaslin, which benefits from a combined history dating back to the first Joseph Vaslin presses of 1856 and the first Johann Bucher presses produced in 1874.

Core Equipment’s partnership approach to suppliers ensures the team has been fully trained at the Bucher Vaslin technical facility in Chalonnes-sur-Loire to ensure a full understanding of the complex electronic, pneumatic and mechanical systems that set the company’s grape processing equipment apart. Similarly, the service team provides training to winemakers after installing and commissioning the equipment.

Storage and fermentation tanks from Letina, available in a range of sizes, shapes and configurations, continue the quality theme – and if the right size doesn’t exist for a particular project, it can be custom made at Letina’s expansive new factory. Core Equipment is Letina’s largest European distributor of tanks and associated equipment, an achievement the two partners have worked together for over a decade to build.

“In essence we work with the customer and the supplier to provide exactly what they want, and if that means providing custom-made equipment or adapting something to a particular location or process, we will do what’s needed,” stressed Jonathan. “Again, that’s why our location amongst high-spec fabrication companies is so helpful as it simplifies that process.”

Alongside all-important fermentation control equipment, Core also supplies a full range of bottling machinery. It has a long-standing partnership with Italian manufacturer Borelli for still wines and has more recently partnered with Spanish manufacturer Sparkling Equipment, together with Italian manufacturer OMBF, for sparkling wine bottling, disgorging and associated equipment. 

Aryes Vini is the favoured supplier for everything from stillages and riddling cages to gyropalettes, while Jonathan’s only choice for pumps goes to German manufacturer Kiesel, whose reputation for precision quality is legendary.

Jonathan is particularly proud of the recent announcement by Krones AG of Germany that it has appointed Core Equipment as its UK sales partner for the Krones Craftmate range of canning equipment, together with their Gernep and Kosme labelling equipment brands.

“This is an extremely important step forward for Core as a company,” explained Jonathan. “In the world of packaging, the name of Krones is indeed king and they have a formidable reputation for quality and engineering excellence. To be appointed as UK sales agents reflects our growing position in the industry.” 

Jonathan explained that Core Equipment had to work hard to prove to Krones that the company was worthy of the agency, with the decision going back to head office in Germany for final approval.

The company has been expanding geographically as well, setting up a French Subsidiary, SAS Core Equipment France, which is based in Dijon and mainly serves the craft beer market not just in its home country but throughout the EU and Switzerland. “Post-Brexit it became just too difficult to do the job from the UK,” Jonathan added.

Bringing together a package of equipment from different suppliers to tackle a project can itself be a challenge, particularly given the different languages, timescales, currencies and business cultures that can be involved. It‘s a job that is tackled with professionalism and experience by the talented purchasing team, led by manager Nicola Woolley.

Her 15 years’ experience in purchasing and supply chains with companies such as David Berryman ensures that the right equipment is delivered to the Silverstone unit so that the service team can pull together everything needed for an entire project, check it over, deliver it and install it on schedule. The purchasing team also visits suppliers’ factories to inspect their facilities and their capabilities.

“We also dig deep to make sure that the suppliers can deliver what our customers need when they want it,” Jonathan added. “Once we know they are right for us, we work hard to build a strong relationship with them. It’s a critical part of the way we operate.”

Other vital members of the team include Group Commercial Director Dan Tomlin and Business Manager of winery equipment Jeaffreson Paterson who is a graduate of Plumpton College and who has worked for wineries such as Ridgeview. The service team is led by Service Manager Colin Sene, who is well known in the industry for his extensive knowledge and expertise and has been with Core for more than  11 years, having joined soon after the company was formed.

Preventative maintenance is an important part of the company’s offering and is carefully controlled by a sophisticated software system that represents a significant recent investment in the business and helps to ensure the increasing amount of Core-supplied equipment in the field is all serviced when it should be.

Keeping tabs on what’s out there will clearly remain important as Core Equipment continues to focus on delivering the best available winery equipment to UK winemakers who know what they want to achieve and welcome a collaborative approach to achieving it.