A HYUNDAI R35Z-9 excavator receives a Champagne baptism.

SARL Maurice Vesselle, a family run wine producing business, had been considering for a long time the idea of getting a crawler excavator for work in the vines in the Champagne region. They had to convert an existing machine so that it could pass over the top of the vines. The conversion was handled by Sermat TP, a Hyundai dealership in France.
The Maurice Vesselle Company is located at Bouzy in the Marne department, about twenty kilometres from Reims. It has been run by the two sons, Didier and Thierry Vesselle, since 1985. The two brothers manage the vineyard, which has a vintage Champagne classification and an annual production of about 80,000 bottles, 40% of which is exported (Japan, United States, Sweden, Norway).
Looking back…
A few years ago, Thierry Vesselle suggested to his brother the idea of acquiring a crawler excavator weighing about 3.5 tons to work in sloping vineyard plots. But the idea was not that simple to put into practice because of the technical constraints. “Our soil is deep tilled, but where the vines are on hillsides, the earth tends to wash away. We make regular use of a high clearance tractor but we don’t have anything for moving the soil which has been washed down back up. The major problem we came up against was that no industrial company wanted to work with us to complete a project that some might perhaps have described as a bit mad”, Thierry Vesselle explained.
Two years ago the Vesselle brothers went to the fair at Châlons in the Champagne region and met Lionel and Eric Greffier, who co-run Sermat TP, a Hyundai dealership. They agreed to convert and elevate a Hyundai R35Z-9 crawler excavator by about 1.2 metres so that it could move over the top of the vines in the Vesselle family holding. “I worked for 9 months on the technical constraints to find out if the project was feasible. Then we thought it would be advisable to file a patent”, Lionel Greffier emphasised.
Amongst the most significant alterations, the lower section of the machine was made heavier to give it greater stability. So the lower tracks on both sides were fitted with extra weights, an inclinometer was installed, the working blade was replaced with longer stabilisers to enhance its stability on the ground. In contrast, the upper section was not changed.
This version of the R35Z-9 has been designed so that it can be transported on any standard loader so that it does not constitute an abnormal load.
The HYUNDAI R35Z-9: compact and comfortable
The R35Z-9 excavator was delivered to the Vesselle wine-growing estate around 10 August this summer, “The conversion work was really finished last May, but we couldn’t deliver it before then because the patent application had to be registered”, Lionel Greffier explained. “So we put it to work straight away”, added Thierry Vesselle.
The R35Z-9 has an operating weight of 3,500 kg and it is fitted with a Yanmar 3TNV88 engine which is powerful and reliable while offering low fuel consumption. It complies with EU Stage IIIa emission standards and delivers 26.5 hp (19.8 kW) at 2,200 rpm.
Comfort is not neglected on this little model. Inside the cab, the operator can adjust the seat, the control panel and the armrests to achieve the desired level of comfort. The control levers on both left-hand and right-hand sides are set out in an ergonomic layout to make handling easier. And a safety lever has been provided to prevent any accidental operation of the hydraulic accessories.
“When we designed this machine we weren’t thinking of all the possibilities it could offer us. Its main uses in our profession are tearing up land-locked plots, dead stocks, driving in stakes and related work. And the wide range of accessories which are available really offers us a host of possibilities. Today we have a rotary shredder, three buckets and a twist bucket, but we could just as easily fit a rake or a post driver”, Didier Vesselle commented. “In addition to being adapted to the vineyards in Champagne, the excavator’s other advantage is that it can rotate 360 degrees and operate to a width of 10 metres”, he added.
“There really is a whole host of possibilities. Many accessories used in other professional fields can be adapted to different wine-producing areas, all with their own specific features. For example, the Champagne region will be different from the Bordeaux region”, added Lionel Greffier, who co-runs Sermat TP.
It has logged 42 hours of operation to date. “We are delighted with this machine, which is a real pleasure to drive. It is compact and easy to handle and also means we have the benefit of working at height. And in spite of its extended height, we can still dig to a depth of 2.2 metres and load 15 ton agricultural trailers”, added Thierry Vesselle.
It is the first machine of its type in the region, but Lionel Greffier and the Vesselle brothers hope that it will not be the last. This prototype has the potential to be adapted in many ways, including “enhancing its stability so that it can be used on even steeper slopes or so that the operating width and height of the machine can be changed hydraulically. After the initial presentation, we even think using it outside the wine-producing field could be considered”, suggested the happy owners.
SERMAT TP is a business specialising in sales, repairs and rental, co-run by Eric and Lionel Greffier since 1997. It is based on a 1 hectare site on the industrial estate at Braine in the Aisne department, and employs 8 staff. The Hyundai dealers also own a “satellite workshop” on the industrial estate at Mourmelon le Petit in the Marne department which is in the process of being developed. It is located in a 336 m2 building on a 5,000 m2 plot of land. Having these two addresses enables the Hyundai dealership to be as close as possible to its customers. SERMAT TP has a turnover of about 1.6 million euros and its work extends over 4 French departments: Aisne (02); Marne (51); Ardennes (08) and Aube (10).