Today was the first day of bottling! I'm going to give you some rough figures because I don't have them in front of me right now. I will, however, get the exact amounts later and update this. We bottled about 2000 cases of wine today! Since there are 12 bottles in a case that means we produced 24,000 bottles of wine! And we're going to do it again tomorrow. On the list for today was a 2005 Shiraz Cuvee and a Meritage style blend (which is my absolute favorite). The winemaker's favorite Deerfield wine is the 2004 Shiraz Cuvee and she says that this one is even better. At the end of the day as a little bonus for our hard work all of the crew got to take home a bottle. I'm actually going to open it right this very minute...
Amazing! I mean it's obviously not all there because it was just bottled today and the whole process kind of shocks the wine. But it is absolutely delicious none the less and I'm sure in a few months this will be an outstanding wine. (Note: I just asked Robert and he said that immediately following bottling, wine, though undeveloped, will be fine. After about two weeks it goes into "bottle shock" for several months). I can't wait to try the Meritage next!
So a little bit about the bottling: Most wineries have a portable bottling facility come in when it's time to finish the long journey from the vinyard to the cellar. It's because bottling only happens a few days out of the year so it doesn't make sense to purchase and maintain the complex machinery when it's unused. The bottling trucks don't come with a crew though so manning the thing is up to the winery. Today there were 13 people constantly working to ensure that it flows properly.
I'll describe the process of putting wine in a bottle for you. I'm going to upload a video tour of the bottling line some time this week - more on that later. First, the empty bottles, which come from the glass maker in the same cases we sell the wine in, are put onto the skinny conveyor belt that moves the bottles along the line. Then they go into a Ferris wheel like device that "sparges" the bottles. That means that an inert gas (in this case nitrogen) with a higher density than oxygen is blown into the bottle forcing the O2 out. Then the bottles are filled. An air pump is constantly working to make sure that wine from the enormous tank fills the hopper unit. After that the bottles are automatically corked. I've done hand-corking at smaller wineries and let me tell you: it is not fun. Next the humans come in. You know the foil that's on the top of the bottle? Well for some reason they haven't devised a machine (or I should say the owners of the truck haven't bought one) that places the foil on the top of the bottle. Why that would be difficult for a machine is beyond me. It's not difficult for a human either but after an hour (let alone three) it does become mind-numbing. But, like much of the winemaking process, it is very zen. It's all about your attitude. After the loose foil is placed on the neck of the bottle another machine down the line deftly tightens it so that it's snug. At this point the bottles would run through a labeler but because we silk screen our bottles this step is bypassed. And this is where I come in. At this point the wine is bottled. So what's left to do? Well, put the bottles of wine back in the cases of course! Interestingly, this is definitely the hardest part of the job. It's certainly the busiest and it keeps you constantly moving. You work in a team of two. I put six bottles in the box pass it down for the other guy to put the other six bottles in. That leaves me just enough time to grab another empty box and enough time for him to fold the flaps and feed it through the....Taping machine! That dumps it down a ramp where a group is slapping labels on the cases and stacking them on palettes. A forklift is constantly delivering empty bottles and taking away finished ones. We bottled for about ten hours. So if you didn't know how it was done, now you do!
Chardonnay is tomorrow.
NOTE ON WEBSITE UPDATES:
I haven't had my home computer so it's been really difficult for me to upload photos and the like but I have a ton of great ones from the past week and I WILL be uploading them soon. Also I'm going to build a video section of the sight and the first footage is going to be of the bottling! I made someone record me so you'll be able to actually see me doing the assembly-line bottling job and I think that's pretty cool. So check in later this week for some cool new stuff!
We bottled five different wines today. We bottled the Estate Syrah which was exciting because I've never worked with Deerfield grapes before. It's an entirely organic wine! We also bottled three custom crushes today with varying degrees of success. Custom crushes are where people hire us to produce their wine for them. Sometimes it's for a hobby. Usually though it's people who own a vineyard but don't have the facilities or the time to make wine but they also don't want to just sell their grapes. On one of the lots we were bottling the foils were too small so there were lots of bottles that had to be re-foiled which takes more time. The other one ran perfectly! I thought that the label and bottle style was very handsome and I will post a picture later. We bottled about 56 barrels all together and one barrel is about 22 cases. So that's 1,232 cases or 14,784 bottles! I got to mix up the jobs a little more today which helped a lot. I stuck the labels on the cases today as well...
Another little snafu we encountered was that we had too much glass for one wine. You kind of have to estimate how many bottles you need to buy for whatever quantity of wine you have. Usually you can get really close. Unfortunately we had about a dozen extra bottles that were silk screened and so Robert decided that they should be destroyed so that no one tries to use them for home wine making and run the risk of misadvertising the wine: Someone might somehow try a different wine and think it was ours because it was in our bottle. So I was trying to smash them all in the dumpster and I discovered that the glass company decided to make wine bottles out of the same glass as the windshields on armored cars. Rather than take hours to break all the bottles I came up with an ingenious solution! I'm going to take them out into the valley and have a bit of target practice with a rifle. Why should work be a chore?
I almost forgot to mention that yesterday the bottling company made a big mistake that luckily Robert caught. The magnums of Shiraz that we bottled were filled to much. In a cellar it's probably not to much of a problem but if you stored it at room temperature, which is what most people do, the cork would likely shoot out of the bottle. And that's no good. So tomorrow we have to uncork all of the bottles, pour our a little and recork them. Darn, we were so close to having a smooth bottling run.