First Bottling; Third Year Vineyard

Our last post, in January 2017, described our first red and white wine production at our (interim) winery from leased vineyard fruit.  This past week, we bottled our first wines, two whites, a Viognier named after my late mother, Alma, and a Viognier-Petit Manseng blend, named after my mother-in-law, Patricia.  Both women preferred off-dry whites.  Our first bottles are dry whites.  I hope Pat will try some of her namesake wine.  If my mother could, she’d try some as well.  I expect she’s looking down, smiling, and musing to herself, “where’s the Riesling?”

Bottling is a bit of work.  Here’s our process:  before bottling, we lab tested the wines for final alcohol, acidity, dryness, and other factors.  We also did acidity trials to determine whether we should add tartaric acid to the wines.  We determined acid additions weren’t required.

Next, we filtered the wines using a plate filter.  We filtered the day before bottling so that any sediment that remained in the wine after racking (very little) was removed and the wines were sterilized and “polished” prior to bottling.  Plate filters trap some wine in the filter media so some wine was lost there and not bottled, the price of filtering.  But filtered wine is crystal clear, looks fabulous in our labeled bottles, is sterile and shouldn’t spoil.  In addition, our closures (from Nomacorc) are guaranteed to avoid TCA tainted wines, also known as “corked” wine.  Such wine has a wet dog or wet cardboard odor and isn’t very tasty.

Our initial bottling was quite modest, about 150 cases of white wines, and, in the late summer this year, about 150 cases of red wines.  White wine bottling took about ½ day.  Red wines should take ½ day as well. We couldn’t have accomplished this without much appreciated help from family (daughter Lisa, wife Maureen, sister Carol) and friends (Millie and Debra).  We also couldn’t have bottled without Oley & Judy and their team, from Blue Moon Bottling, who ran the mobile bottling line.

The mobile bottling line is a marvel.  Blue Moon’s tractor/trailer arrived about 7:30 AM on June 13, 2017, loaded with bottling equipment for our project.  The line is fully automated and is operated by Oley and one of his team.

Our part of the bottling process is basically heavy lifting.  We loaded cases of empty bottles (daughter Lisa and me) into the bottling line and off-loaded filled bottles from the line (wife Maureen and me).  We also boxed (in cases) the filled bottles of wine (wife Maureen and friend Debra), taped them (friend Millie), labeled the cases (sister Carol), and transported cases from the bottling line to pallets and the pallets to our (interim) tasting room (which is air conditioned and has a below grade cellar at about a constant 54 degrees F) (wife, daughter, sister, son-in-law Thad, and me).

The bottling line process however is high pressure.  It’s basically an assembly line that doesn’t stop.  There are no breaks unless we have to change wines or change labels.  Any delay on any part of the line, including loading empties and removing filled bottles, gums up everything.  Think of the I Love Lucy episodewhere Lucy & Ethel are working at candy factory assembly line, can’t keep up with their tasks of wrapping chocolates, and try to compensate for the swelling mound of unwrapped chocolates by eating them, to no avail, as the candy…keeps…coming.

The magic in bottling happens after we loaded empty bottles into the bottling line.  After Oley and his team set up the bottling line with CO2 and water lines and calibrated the equipment to accommodate our corks, labels, and capsules (the foil covering the corks), the automated line cleaned our bottles (with water and CO2, called sparging), filled them (with our wines), corked them, placed capsules on the bottles, and labeled them.  Hauser Packaging supplied our corks, bottles, and capsules.  Niagara Label supplied our labels.  Nomacorc supplied our corks which reportedly are produced with zero carbon footprint.

We didn’t lose a single bottle of wine in the bottling process itself.  Of course, when I moved pallets of wine in cases using our tractor and pallet forks, I got a bit cocky (after all, I’ve been a tractor operator almost 3 years now).  Normally, I’d tie down a shifting load on a pallet to prevent breakage.  I thought, I can move the pallets twenty feet or so without breakage (or tie downs).  Wrong; I lost about a case or so of wine.  Next time…..

Below you’ll see some shots of the process, some cases and bottles of the finished, bottled wine (and some of the damaged bottles, courtesy of your’s truly), and our great friend and family volunteers. You’ll also see me grinning as I open our first bottle of wine to sample. Special moment for me after launching this project in early 2010, after “retirement” in late 2009.

photo of wine bottlingphoto of wine bottling

photo of wine bottlingphoto of wine bottling

photo of wine bottlingphoto of bottled wine

photo of bottled winephoto of owner opening wine bottle

In addition to bottling, we are now a third year (third “leaf”) vineyard.  We spent this Spring, with help from consultant Sebastien Marquet and his crew, pruning vines, planting replacement vines (our replacements were down to 3 percent this year), and maintaining our vineyard (mowing, spraying, and other similar tasks).  As I write this, we are removing suckers from the vines, tying vine trunks to vertical steel pencil rods, and tying vine canes to the trellis to form cordons (horizontal branches) to better develop leaf canopy, train the vines to our trellis works, and produce the best possible fruit.

photo of replacement vinesphoto of vineyard from tractor

We may get a small harvest this year.  Most vines already show small grape clusters; however, following advice from our consultant, Sebastien, we may drop (cut clusters and drop them to the ground) most of this fruit to ensure better root and leaf canopy development (instead of fruit development).  We expect full harvest next year.

When we next post, our red wine should be out of barrel and in bottles and we’ll be preparing for our opening.  Stay tuned.