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On The Assembly Line

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.


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!

Label Law Lacks Levity

I think some wineries pay their graphic designer more to make the label that goes on the bottle than they pay their wine maker to make the stuff that goes in the bottle. On a personal note, while I think that there's some awesome and inventive eye-catching labels out there, the best wines have simple labels because a good wine can speak for itself. So I tend to stay away from the flashy ones while trying to decide among the multitude at the grocery store. Instead I pay attention to what the label says. And that's because I know that there are very strict rules to ensure that whatever information printed on the label is true.

There are several pieces of information that must be present on every bottle of wine. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms the minimum requirements are:

  1. Some kind of brand identification (i.e. Deerfield Ranch Winery)
  2. The "class, type or designation" (i.e. Cabernet or Red Table Wine)
  3. The location of bottling (which can be EXTREMELY misleading)
  4. The alcohol content by volume
  5. The amount of liquid in the bottle

Local and state laws can vary and often do. I say that the location of bottling can be misleading because while the style of winemaking can vary from place to place, the characteristics of any wine are derived from the grapes they are made from, which in turn get their characteristics from all of the factors of location they are grown in. Those collective factors, like the soil type, climate, altitude (and a many, many more) are what we call terroir - it's everything that goes into producing a grape. And so it's easy to be mislead when a wine advertises it's made in the famous Napa Valley but really you're drinking a wine that's got a character of grapes grown in Lodi.

I'm sure that some of those rules are in place to make sure that no unscrupulous wine peddlers skew the facts about their juice, but sometimes a label can have misinformation even though the winemaker has the best intentions. A lot of times this happens because a wine changes after it's been bottled or the labels have been printed. This happened to us a few weeks ago. It's common practice to run tests on the wine after it's been bottled and before it's been released. We noticed that the alcohol content of one wine had dropped dramatically and was no longer consistent with the label. Every so often a tragedy like this is bound to happen and there was nothing left to do but uncork each bottle and dump it back in the tank. Robert, genius improviser that he is, devised a brilliant way to efficiently decant the bottles without exposing the wine to air. The only down side was that it took a long time, a lot of people and even after working all day we weren't able to sterilize all of the bottles once they were emptied. So once again we ended up with a lot of glass bottles that are only good for target practice.

While we're on the subject of labels I thought I'd mention that my favorite is the Super T Rex. It's my favorite to drink too!