02 Mar The Many Tasks of Bottling
Bottling is the culmination of all of the hard work that went into growing, harvesting, crushing, fermenting, and aging the wine. This is by far my most favorite cellar activity….and yes….I’m being sarcastic. It is rewarding to see the wine going into bottle and realizing that it’s finally “put to bed”, but I always end up finding something that I wish I could change about the wine after it’s made. I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist. It’s a curse, but it also means that I’m constantly striving to make better wines. Bottling compresses all of those thoughts and feelings that I have about each vintage into the bottle all in one day. I want everything to go perfect during the run and it seldom does. There is always something to adjust and something to watch for while bottling and it can sometimes bring everything to a grinding halt if something breaks. You have to learn to let it slide off of your back when that happens and just try again another time.
The logistics alone are challenging: getting folks lined up to help on the line, making sure that the glass gets ordered well before your bottling run, corks, capsules, labels, and scheduling time for the bottling with the other wineries in the building. That’s phase one. Phase two is actually seeing each of the packaging elements arriving before your bottling date. Being a small winery, sometimes this is a bit of problem as suppliers don’t always deliver when they say they can deliver. Once all of the packaging pieces are in the building you can actually breathe a little easier and confirm your bottling date.
On the day of the bottling run I arrive very early to clean the bottling line with steam for about 30 minutes to kill any micro-organisms that may be in the line. I also switch out any change parts on the line to fit the size of the glass that we are using and adjust the bottle heights of the sparger, filler, and corker. The labels are spun onto the labeling machine and checked for proper spacing and height on the bottle. Corks are dumped into a hopper above the corking head. After a cool down phase with cold water and a draining of any excess water the system we hook up sanitized wine hoses and a pump to the tank we’re bottling and then begin pumping wine into the bottling machine. After the bowl is full of wine I shut down the pump and drain the bowl by running 2 cases of bottles thru and dumping them into a bucket. This ensures no watered down wine gets bottled at the beginning of the run. The bucket of wine is dumped back to tank and mixed in using nitrogen gas. Now we are ready to start.
We sparge every bottle on the line with nitrogen to remove any oxygen before they get filled with wine. One person pulls the cases of glass off of a pallet and dumps the bottles on a table and place the bottles on the line. After the bottles get filled and corked another person puts the capsules on top of the bottle. After the capsules get spun on the bottles go into the label machine which automatically places the labels on the bottle. Another person takes the finished bottle and places them back into the box and attaches a label on each box and then glues it shut. The boxes are stacked onto pallets….usually in layers of 14 cases….56 per pallet. We usually have lots of great music playing to get everyone in the mood to bottle. Everyone is usually in great spirits when we are done and there might be a bottle or 2 consumed with a few nibbles after we punch out for the day. I won’t get into the cleanup phase…..just know that it involves another 2 hours of chemicals, spraying water, pumping, and steam.