Bottling, from Start to Finish
WineShop At Home is like the other 2,300 bonded wineries in the state; we all need to bottle our yearly wine production. After the wine is filtered and sulfured and the packaging is ready, the time comes to put it all together during the bottling.
In a large-scale operation, there are buildings after buildings dedicated to this single operation. All of the labels, corks, bottles and capsules have to be stored somewhere before and after being used. In a smaller, more artisanal approach like ours, we use a mobile bottling line that comes directly to the site of production.
A bottling line built inside a winery can easily set one back half a million dollars when the cork dust finally settles. This kind of expense cannot be justified by all wineries. On the other hand, mobile bottling lines are equipped with all the necessary equipment to handle practically all types of bottles, from 375 ml and 750 ml bottles, to 1.5 liter magnums. Nitrogen filling, screw caps and pressure-sensitive labeling are just some of the modern bottling techniques you can find on board a mobile bottling line trailer. These marvels of technology can cost around $1 million and can produce up to 3,000 cases per day.
Sanitation of the equipment is a primordial process and is now done with a forty-five-minute bath of steam, just like your favorite sauna. You want to remove some toxins from your body; well, here we want to lose all sorts of microbes that can spoil the wine. Meanwhile, the wine gets filtered and sulfured. After the equipment has cooled off, the wine gets pumped toward the bottling truck. Along the way, it goes through two filters to ensure that we have a perfectly stable and sterile product in the bottle. Cellulose-based cartridge-style filters can go down to 0.45 microns, preventing any yeast or bacteria from making their way inside the bottle.
While the wine is on its path to purity, glass bottles take the ride of their life like at Disneyworld. An orbital nitrogen dispenser inverts each bottle and shoots pressurized gas to blow off cardboard pieces and air. This ensures a neutral environment prior to filling. Both wine and bottle meet at the filling station, where the operator specially monitors the amount of wine in each bottle, which is set at 750 ml.
The corking station is next. This operation is very important to ensure the perfect conservation of the wine. The gauge on the right shows a negative pressure, indicating that a vacuum was pulled and that no air was left in contact between the wine and the cork. The winemaker can now breathe a sigh of relief as this is the last operation that exposes the wine.
After this, the finishing touches are put on each bottle, with the application of the capsule and finally, the labels. The bottle travels a few seconds to the back of the bottling line trailer on a conveyor belt. This extra time is important as it allows for the cork to fully expand against the glass, sealing and protecting the wine from the outside world.
This was a quick review of the bottling process. The great care taken during this process increases our quality control, ensuring that the wine you taste will be free of spoilage, consistent from bottle to bottle and will age gracefully.
Bottling technology certainly has come a long way from the use of a wax and oil mixture preservative like this Roman bottle dated 300 AD.