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There’s Hell …Then There’s Bottling

Most wine drinkers don’t usually spend a lot of time examining the bottle, cork, foil and messages that are found on a bottle of wine. That’s not surprising since in general all bottle, corks and foils look pretty much the same. I know, I know, there are Burgundy bottles, Bordeaux bottles, olive oil bottles, etc. I did say “in general”.  Unless one has a penchant for saving things, all these neat accoutrements that go with a bottle of wine are tossed in the trash at the end of the day.

So that’s the big deal? Getting ready to bottle a particular wine on a particular day at a particular time is not dissimilar to arriving at a destination 1000 miles away at exactly the time you calculated. It seldom happens – easily. Scheduling multiple bottling is nerve racking, and definitely cause for additional wine consumption!

The first task is scheduling bottling dates. Usually that depends on the wine, but a date is a date, a particular wine notwithstanding.. Once we – the winery where our, and others wines, are made – establish that, we work backwards. If there is a bottling truck involved that means scheduling it on that day, and that ain’t easy, as these trucks are in great demand. Once the truck is scheduled, the winery is committed to being ready on that day.

So what’s the big deal about getting ready?  That depends on how organized the person in charge of the bottling is. Here si a list of some of the ingredients that go into a successful bottling:

Securing a date for the bottling truck or bottling line

Assuring that the proper electrical outlets are available for the truck – usually a 60 amp service with an emergency shutoff.

Assuring that there is an adequate water supply for the truck

Preparing the wines so that they are bottle ready, and at the correct temperature for bottling.

Scheduling delivery of bottles, corks, foils so that they are at the winery well before the date the truck arrives.

Purchasing plastic wrap, and tape to seal the cases then secure the new cases of wine on the pallets

Hiring a bottling crew, preferably people who have done this before.

Sanitizing anything that will touch the wine in the bottling process.

Assuring that adequate nitrogen, or other inert gas is available in the proper quantity to gal each bottle.

Filling all propane tanks that will be needed to assure that the forklift operates throughout the bottling day.

Determine “fill”  levels to assure that each bottle has the milliliters stipulated on the bottles, etc.

Determining exactly where the wine owner wants the labels placed on the bottles – front and back.

Prior to all of this, labels must be designed and printed, then approved by the federal government. Labels are useless until approved, [See below.] The labels are most time sensitive because, except for certain circumstances, no one can bottle in a bonded winery unless the Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) approves a “Certificate of Label Approval” or COLA. Given that the TTB is a government agency, plenty of lead time is necessary. Without the COLA, bottling is not going to happen, if a winery is playing by the rules. Once that’s done, what’s next?

Secure Bottles. What shape, what color and from whom? Who negotiates that? The winery, the client, or a committee may each be chosen to do that, especially if a larger order. Client billing information needs to be provided to the bottle manufacturer. Once all this is done, delivery dated need to be established and guaranteed.

What’s next? Foils (Some refer to these little guys as Capsules) must be chosen. What type and color: Tin, Poly-laminate, or Aluminum? Tin foils are going for about $.27/foil and Poly-Laminate for $.06/foil – a big difference when purchasing 30,000 or more foils. We request samples from each company. Once the foils are in hand, and the fit and finish rated, each client was given a deadline by which they need to choose a foil, commit to a purchase of same and guarantee that they are delivered to the winery well before bottling.

Corks: The same process as obtaining foils is followed.

Throughout all of the above, the days are clicking off the calendar. Each lost day brings us closer to the bottling date. Sometimes it seems like we will never finish on time, but each year we do, and often wonder how!

What strikes me as interesting in all of this is that this service, and the work related to it, are all done for something that is tossed in the trash with little or no thought given to how much effort was expended getting all of this ready. Sort of like a lot of other parts of life…



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