By Gordon Mauger
The mystic, romanticism of winemaking include many things such as bud break, varision, clusters of grapes under leaves being pushed around by a gentle wine country breeze. The harvest with it's excitement and the anticipation of the best vintage ever, the crush, the fermentation aromas. The sights and smells of the barrel room. All of this is what people travel from near and far to experience in the wine country before and during harvest. Bottling the wine has none of the allure of the aforementioned. People go to a vineyard for the crush, the barrel tasting but I don't know anyone that is interested in bottling. As a winemaker it is fun to present a bottle at the dinner table or to give it to a family member or friend. It's a necessary step but not the most enticing step in the process.
My friend and I have been making wine
for 18 years. The last few years we're producing about one thousand bottles a year with about half a dozen varietals. I wrote this detail to provide information about the bottling process we've used over time and what we do today.
From MoreBeer! to MoreWine!
Long ago my friend and I were in a discussion and I mentioned I made beer. He asked if I'd be interested in making wine. I agreed and said I could bring my sanitation knowledge
to our winemaking experience. I also had some storage vessels
we could use. When our first small batch was ready to bottle we started talking about our lack of equipment for the task. I had some 12 and 22 ounce bottles
around with a capper and some caps
. It's not like we're selling this stuff so why not? This wasn't some, lay it down for 10 year wine. We bottled and capped and it. Simple and effective since we just consumed it in the privacy of our homes nobody could shame us.
The next few years, we continued to stem and crush by hand, which works quite well for a few hundred pounds of grapes. Then we increased volume a bit more and started renting equipment. We rented a stemmer crusher
, a basket press and a bladders press
as part of our normal yearly wine making process. For a few years we rented an ENOMATIC, type of single bottling device
. At the time we did bulk storage of our wine in a wine cellar I had under my house. This worked out pretty well as we had the device pull the wine up to house level then into the bottle. This prevented us from moving the wine twice as we didn't have a pump and did all of our transfers via gravity. We had some operational difficulty a couple times that gave us a bit of a scare. In addition, it seemed like we introduced more oxygen then we wanted and had excess waste. We moved the operation to my friend's house and decided to alter our bottling process.
Bottling Wine At Home!
We source our bottles
mostly from MoreBeer! / MoreWine!. We buy new, both 750ml
. We like the 375ml bottles for a portion of our red wines to see how they are progressing and to limit waste. We reused our previously used bottles and we've scrubbed labels off commercial wines and used those multiple times as well. We tend to give the wine to others in the purchased bottles and consume the ones with scrubbed labels at home as they sometimes have some glue remnants.
With our new location, the wine work area is in a garage that sits below the house level. We have a wine room with two 30 gallon barrels
on rolling carts, two 30 gallon stainless steel vessels
that sit on a shelf. In another area we have two 15 gallon barrels
on carts. When it's time to bottle we pull from the barrel mostly. This requires us to move the cart with the barrel to the top of the stairs. We then use our Variable Speed Self Priming Transfer Pump With a Pre-Filter
. The pump sits near the bottom of the stairs with an input tub that's attached to a racking cane
in the barrel. The out line on the pump is a hose with with a small wand end and a crimp mechanism to stop the flow.
To set up the bottles for filling we have a sheet of plywood that sits on two work tables. We have a few holes in the middle of the table with a bucket below to catch our excess wine as a result of over pours and the small amount that may splash from one bottle to the next. We don't waste much but we learned it was better to push any to the middle of the plywood through the holes where it drained to the bucket below. This makes cleanup easier too.
It takes two to Tango & Bottle Wine!
My winemaking friend and I work fast and have defined roles. We could be dance partners, one moves one direction, one the other all with purpose to get the job done. We have some fun too! To get ready, we alternatively pull empty bottles from the cases we have ready, star san them with a bottle washer
and load the bottle tree
. After the bottle tree is full, we reload the cases and repeat until all bottles are ready. We stage all the clean bottles on one side of the work table. My friend is the ‘filler’
and I’m the ‘corker’
Once we have the cane in the barrel, pump ready. We fill the plywood ‘work table’ with empty bottles from the cases behind the table. The ‘corker’ sets up on the other side of the table with an empty case box to one side of the floor corker
and a staging table on the other side. We dilute some SO2 in a bucket of water and fill it with corks
. Now it’s time to really get the dance going.
The filler begins filling each bottle by using the small cane over each bottle, then moves to the next with a light splash of wine dropping between each bottle. The ‘corker’ grabs a few filled bottles, loads the corks in the floor corker and places the bottles into the case. The ‘filler’ continues to pull empty bottles from the boxes as the full ones are pulled from the table. The pace is quick, bottles overfilled are corrected by the ‘corker’ who will fill a nearby glass. We call this ‘some for the workers’! This continues until the barrel is empty.
To finish, which is not always on the same day as bottling, we have a heat shrinker
for placing the sleeves on the bottles
which does give a nice professional look and with the multitude of colors we can use a color coding sheet so we know the tan sleeve with gold strip is a certain varietal. For labels
we use grog tags with the front side only have a winery label we leave the back side blank and use mailing labels with the wine description. Then we can just print a sheet or two of mailing labels with detail and label on demand when providing them to friends. Yes, bottling is not the most romantic part of the wine making process but uncorking a bottle with family and friends is awesome. Cheers!
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