Chardonnay bottles on the way to the crimper
Ever wonder how your favorite wines make it into the bottle, and onto the shelves?
On a sunny afternoon in Walla Walla, we bottled our wonderful Chardonnay. While this is an assembly line process it still is an exciting day to be at the winery. So I would like to take this chance to write a little about bottling, and specifically our bottling day on Friday, March 13th.
Wineries haven’t always relied on bottling to distribute their delicate product. In fact, storing wine in a glass bottle was once a revolutionary idea. Not only does it allow winemakers the ability to control the bottling process, but glass also has all the qualities needed for long term storage, and graceful aging of the wine. It is recyclable, environmentally safe, and new sustainable production practices are being applied everyday. These practices are having a large benefit as glass is primarily composed of sand and many pollutants come from outdated production standards.
Empty glass on the right and newly packed cases coming out the back on the left
Today, many winemakers rely on mobile bottling operations or “bottling trucks” as they are commonly called. The view from inside a bottling truck is truly fascinating. Every square foot of the truck’s trailer is maximized, filled with bottling and testing equipment.
When bottling time comes around many of the wineries can get quite stressed and everything else may be put on hold until that last gallon is bottled. It’s a busy time and it usually requires extra hands.
Even so, many feel bottling is a fun day to work in the winery. And indeed it is. Bottling, is the final step in the wine’s working life, after that it just gets to sit back and gracefully age. It is also the final step that the winemaker plays a major part in. So while things can be very stressful, at the same time it is very exciting. There is an immense sense of satisfaction upon completion. Seeing the finished wine being tucked nicely into storage after 2 or even 3 years in the making, is a good feeling. The cost of a bottle of wine – a few dollars – but what a winemaker feels at the end of a successful bottling day – priceless!
Bottling is decided by the winemaker and any consultants many months ahead of the actual bottling day. This is because many items need to be purchased and ready for bottling day, such as labels, corks, and foil caps or wax. Many wineries also do not have their own bottling line so they must rent a hand bottler setup or a bottling truck for larger operations. When renting a truck it is wise to reserve one many months in advance because as wine production is growing fast in Washington State. Aside from supplies and equipment you also have to get the wine ready. This involves taking the wine from the barrel and “racking” it to a tank. This racking process is simply moving the wine from a barrel to a tank while trying not to disturb or remix anything that has settled to the bottom of the barrel. Then after the different barrels of wine have slowly blended together the wine is filtered to another tank, and is then ready to bottle.
Bottling is a quick assembly line process. Empty glass starts the process, and then runs through the first automated portion. The bottles are blown out with Nitrogen to remove any unwanted Oxygen, filled and sent on to the corking machine. After they have received a cork a few volunteers place foil caps on the bottles that are then crimped for a tight fit. The bottle runs through the labeler and another group of volunteers put the bottles in a case and then the cases on a pallet. The actual line itself will run faster than we can keep up with, but with a good crew you can get 2000 cases done in a 9 hour day. That works out to about 4,755 gallons, or just about 80 barrels. However, with line changes to accommodate different lots of wine we come closer to 1500 cases a day.
Here at Forgeron Cellars we recently had a great bottling day on Friday the 13th of March. The weather was bright and sunny, not too hot for the wine and not too cold for the volunteers. The day truly did not live up to the dark and gloomy Friday the 13th hype. During this day we bottled our ’08 Orange Muscat, ’08 Roussanne, ’08 White table wine, 08 Late Harvest Semillon, and a few Magnums of our ’06 Zinfandel for our Anvil club members. After bottling wine must sit and age for at least six months to get over “bottle shock”. Here at Forgeron we try to age the wine for 8 months up to 2 years depending on the variety. White wines lend themselves to being bottled and released a little earlier to preserve their freshness and fruitiness. In fact, white wines are less “manipulated” in the winery and truly reflect the grape varietal and origin. That’s why it is so important to preserve these wonderful characteristics with a shorter aging. I am sure that many remember our ’07 Roussanne and this ’08 is looking even better. Forgeron cellar’s Roussanne is one of the wines that will be showing up on shelves around Spring Release, just in time for summer. And as a rule of thumb the Roussanne does get sold out before the summer ends. The other just bottled beauties will be hitting our selves around fall of ’09.
View Photos of Forgeron Cellar’s Chardonnay Bottling