We work in a small space, really small. Every move inside the winery has to be planned out and I can only have a few barrels in process at any time. It takes a lot of planning to pull things off especially during bottling. One big problem is what to do with single barrels of a wine. Normally barrels move around two at a time. We have three single barrel racks and that’s the first option.
The second option is to have one full barrel and one empty on the same rack. In our space though there’s usually only enough room to pick up a rack from one direction, so even though you can pick up a rack from either direction, in our space we end up with a front and back of the rack. In that situation the full barrel has to be in the front or the rack will tip over when picked up. I work hard and try to plan things well so that the full barrel is always on the front.
Sometimes though we end up with a full barrel on the back of a rack. When that happens there’s only one option. Someone has to go cowboy on the barrel. We ended up with a few of those situations this past bottling and Stefania had to jump on the empty barrel to give enough counter weight to lift the rack. I snapped this picture that I thought was funny given the ‘No Riding’ warning on Big Joe.
Bottling is a particularly busy time of the year. There’s lots of work and it requires lots of hands. We’re lucky to have friends who come out and help on the days we need them to. The days are long and the work is terribly boring. We usually keep everyone doing the same task so it can be 8-10 hours of just sparging bottles with nitrogen and lifting them on to the filler.
We don’t always stop for lunch too if we’re bottling and the line is rolling we’ll just go right through. We might stop for a few minutes for water, and bathroom breaks but as soon as the forklift can move one lot out of the way we’ll usually start on the next lot. If there is time though we will stop and have lunch in the cellar. Usual winery food is to order in pizza, or run out for burritos our sandwiches. The pizza and burritos are not really an option in our location and the sandwich thing gets boring pretty fast. For our last bottling our friend Ingrid fixed that problem by picking up Dim Sum on her way to the winery.
It can be a challenge though, as we don’t have tables and only two chairs so we improvise. Stefania laid some towels over a completed pallet of wine. A few buckets turned upside down worked for chairs. This actually worked out as a great lunch idea. It was filling but not heavy and easy to set up and clean up. There were a few beers cracked, which you can probably see below. Beer fuels winemaking in the Fall, that’s for sure.
Another bottling day down! I wish I could say it was drama free, but bottling days never are. Mostly though it went smoothly and a lot of the issues we had were early in the day and I chalked them up to learning a new bottling truck and system. We arrived at the winery at 6am and the truck was there at the gate.
No issues getting it into place (the last truck we used could take up to 5 hours to get through the gates and down the hill). The truck was ready to go by 8:15 am. This is early in the set up process with the forklift in the foreground. The equipment needs to get set up, hooked inot the tanks in the winery and cleaned before we start.
This was just as we got started. Millie, Kaleb from the bottling company and Stefania in the truck. This seemed to be a really good fit for the speed we like to go and care we like to put in. We had some early drama figuring out the right screen to put in line with the bottle filler. The first one we used jammed up after 5-6 cases. We finally went with a wide ‘bug catcher’ screen that lets everything through but big chunks.
Once we got over that problem we ran out of Nitrogen. The Nitrogen is used to sparge the glass and clean in before filling. Millie is doing that step below. I had a back up tank but it was also almost empty. I must have left it open at some point it as it should have been new. So we sent Millie down into Redwood City to get another tank. They would only let her load one at a time into the car so she had to make two trips.
Once past that we were back on our way. You can see Kaleb, Stefania and Ingrid’s back in the picture below. Somehow I missed getting Jaye in any pictures but she was there also working on the line.
My job was to tape up the filled cases, put on tags and load them on to pallets. It’s a good job for me because I can lift the cases and they come off slow enough that if I need to be gone for 5 minutes I can and only a few cases will back up. That time lets me use the forklift to move pallets around or run into the winery to make adjustments inside.
We wrapped up bottling about 1:30 and clean up by 3:00. A pretty good day in all and we were really happy with the new truck. Our 2010, Haut Tubee and a new blend are safely in storage now!
When we got home we had one last bit of drama. A bee swarm trying to move into our house. I called Art the Bee Guy and he arrived after 9:00 pm and safetly got the queen and her hive off to a new home.
Bottling is always one of the hardest most stressful things we do. There are over a dozen different vendors to coordinate with and everything has to be timed just right. It’s also hard because we do it just twice per year so getting experience for us and the crew has been a process that takes years.
This time we’ve also been fighting the weather and have had to reschedule twice around rain. We just don’t have enough room inside to stage everything indoors and that means rain is a deal breaker.
Stefania and I came up yesterday to prep the wine and get it ready. We’re doing a small lot of two wines. Our 2010 Haut Tubee and a new wine we will release this fall. There was a small amount of blending to do and Stefania had to check final SO2 on the wines so I could make the right additions. Other than the drain backing up on us it went smoothly.
The forklift showed up at 8:30 and I got that positioned and ready. The truck showed up at 12:30 with the empty glass and this is when I knew we’re finally at the point of being veteran bottlers. The driver had forgotten to load a pallet jack and had no idea how to get the 1000 pounds of glass from the front of the truck to the back where the forklift could pick it up.
“No problem”, I said. “I’ve had this happen before, I’ll show you what to do.” So I went in the winery and pulled out my strongest rope that we keep for just this emergancy. I showed him how to tie up a pallet and pull it out of a truck with the forklift.
Everything was wrapped up by 2:30 and we were able to get a late lunch and some hot tub time in last night. This morning came really early:
53 degrees and 5:30 am when we hit the road. We’re waiting now in the winery for the bottling truck to finish setting up. If all goes well we will start about 8:30. We’re using a small crew today. Stefania, Millie, Ingrid, Jaye and I. Another veteran thing we’ve learned. It’s actually better to have a small experienced crew than a large one that needs lots of hand holding.
I’ll be busy most of the day so probably won’t have too many pictures, but I’ll try and get some as we bottle and get them up before Friday.
Bottling has always been a chore for us. It’s the hardest thing we do in the winery. There are lots of moving pieces and lots of vendors to work with and coordinate. Then there’s the bottling line itself which can be prone to all kinds of problems. Our latest biggest challenge has been finding a bottling truck to use. We really liked the company we were using but the truck really did not fit in our space. It took 7 hours last time to back the truck in through the gate and down the hill. It clears the gate by just 2 inches on each side and that’s not even the hardest pat of backing it in.
When we’re done bottling we would have to call a tow truck to wench the bottling truck back up the gravel road. It was just too difficult for the space. Every other bottling company we talked to though was either missing a key piece of equipment or was just too big to get in our space. We finally decided to move the wine out to another facility for bottling.
There was the usual drama with the glass company, they sent some of the wrong shape. Stefania was able to get that corrected. Everything else went pretty well including loading the barrels up on a truck to move. Friday was a long day – 15 hours total and there were several problems through the day, but in the end we got it all done. Our 2009 Cabernet Sauvignons; Crimson Clover, Santa Cruz Mountains and Chaine d’Or were all bottled.
Monday the trucking company will come back and pick all the finished cases up. One more bottling down and one long day behind us.
Saturday I had a full day of work to do in the winery. All of the barrels needed topping and that takes a couple of hours. I also was going to bottle the 2010 Chardonnay from the Chaine d’Or Estate.
This was going to be a hand operation since I estimated (correctly) there were only about 10 cases.
Here’s the sad story of the 2010 Chardonnay. Last year the growing season was cold and foggy at Chaine d’Or well into July. We were worried that the grapes would never get ripe. So in mid-July we took the very expensive step of removing all the leafs from the fruit zone to try and get more sun to the clusters. There were many vineyards doing the same thing.
In early August things seemed ok and it looked like we might be able to pick in October. We also noticed though that Mildew was starting in the vineyard. The late verasion had increased the risk of mildew so we were prepared. We went out and did two treatments, the first with an organic product called Oxidate, and then a week later with Stylet oil.
We zapped the mildew, no problem. We also left a nice shinny sheen on the grapes for the hottest unexpected August heat wave in memory. Without leafs the clusters had no protection and baked in the heat.
We knew there would be only a few hundred pounds in the vineyard. When we eventually did pick we used just the ‘A’ team and it took about four times as long to pick. They only picked good clusters. Stefania and I set up a table and as the 30 pound bins came in from the field we hand sorted each cluster and then cut out the bad grapes with scissors. Grape by grape.
When it was all done we had about 25 gallons of wine. It was really good, and I put it in a small barrel to age before transferring to a tank for bottling. We knew though we could never sell this wine. The cost we estimated was about $165 a bottle for us to produce it.
Stefania decided she wanted it though and we would bottle it for our own use. She really wants it for her Crab Feed party so that’s what the plan is.
This is the tank lifted up to help the wine flow for hand bottling.
The first picture is the hand corker I used. I filled each bottle one at a time and corked them with some left over 2008 corks. No labels for this wine, it would have been too expensive to print a small run.
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