At Brian Carter Cellars, we have just two bottling's per year. Together with harvest, it is the most intense part of the winemaking process. In many ways, it is actually the most stressful for several reasons. For starters, it is the culmination of all the hard work that has gone into the wine up to that point. All the walks through the vineyard, the sorting at the crusher, the punch downs, the pressing, the barrel selection, the blending, and the topping come down to this moment. A thousand details that had to be done just right can be for naught in this final hurried process. Secondly, it is a winemaker's last chance to touch the wine. Once the cork goes in, there isn't much I can do to change the wine.
The process of bottling takes place over just a few short but furious days. It is not my favorite part of the winemaking process, nor do I think it is for most winemakers. Even though the dates have been set aside for months, everything must come together for the bottling to work. The corks, the bottles, the labels, the capsules, the truck, the labor and of course the wine, all these things have to be planned well in advance and missing any one of them, the process comes to a screeching halt.
The wine is no small part of the process, but if everything has been prepared properly, it should be a minor part of the bottling process come bottling day. Before bottling, the winemaker has to check the wine’s stability, especially for white wines which can turn cloudy in the bottle if they are not heat and cold stable. Bentonite is added as a fining agent to remove proteins that lead to heat instability. Chilling and the addition of potassium bi-tartrate (cream of tartar) gives cold stability to the wine. The decisions of whether to filter the wine or not and how tight the filtration should be are critical. Precise additions of sulfur dioxide made to each lot, too little will cause the wine to become oxidized with time, too much will cause the wine to have an unpleasant aroma. We also carefully monitor the wines oxygen, carbon dioxide and temperature.
Once bottling day arrives, the wine must be ready, the packaging materials are all there, the truck is in place, the crew has assembled, and then the real fun begins. It is hectic, it is noisy, it is mechanical, it is sometimes heavy lifting, and it is often monotonous. But the winemaker's attention to detail needs to be in top form. Are the bottles clean, do we have the right corks, labels and capsules going on? Is the cork going in the correct depth? Is the vacuum on the corker giving us the right cork pressure? Is the fill level correct? Is the capsule wrinkling? Are the labels going on straight, unwrinkled and in the right position? Is there any scuffing as the bottles go into the cases? Are the boxes labeled correctly? Are the cases stacked properly on the pallets and the pallets stacked properly into the winery? There isn't any time to relax while the line is pounding out four pallets (224 cases) an hour.
At the end of the last day of bottling, there is a big sigh as the final step in the process is completed. Time to relax, enjoy a glass of wine, and dream of more fun times in the winemaking process. Once again, it is time to get back into the vineyards, the buds are breaking!
If this description hasn't scared you off from helping out on bottling day, get ahold of Robert at Robert@briancartercellars.com and let him know you would like to come out for a day. Our next bottling is April 7th, 8th & 9th.
Director of Winemaking