Bottling is a loud, joyous, flurry of activity. It reflects the culmination of months or even years of work you've done on one particular wine. All the decisions about when to pick, how to ferment the grapes, what the aging regimen will be, and so on are all over on this day. The wine gets bottled and it evolves on its own without your assistance. Your only remaining decisions are when will you open it and, perhaps, if you will decant it or share it with others. (Remember, sharing is good).
Prior to the actual bottling day you are besieged by numbers for pH, acidity, dissolved oxygen, a couple different sulfur numbers, final alcohol percentages... and the list goes on. You're trying hard to hit the window of time when the chemistry of the wine, as well as, the tastes and aromas are all at their best possible point. With all three wines we bottled things went very well. The 2008 Pinot benefited from some extra time in barrel (16 months rather than the typical 11) and the 2009 Gewürztraminer was bottled just as the body of the wine started to flesh out but the aromas and acidity are both quite vibrant.
Bottling is a gadget intensive process (which my inner tech geek loved). Once you're ready to go, boxes of bottles are dropped on a conveyor belt that corrals the bottles into a line where some version of a big circular frame sucks them up and sparges them with nitrogen gas in order to remove oxygen and any dust that may be in the bottle. The bottles enter a filling chamber where up to 20 bottles at a time are placed on a revolving carousel of pistons that push the bottles up to the filling spout which kicks off the flow of wine into the bottle. (side note: the wine has been pumped or fed via gravity from the barrels or tanks to the fill basin above the filler spouts). From there the filled wine bottle is then sent off via conveyor to get the cork, foil, and label and then the conveyor belt runs it over to the packing line where the bottle is inspected and boxed.
Mobile Bottling Line in Action
Throughout this process, there are numerous quality checkpoints to assess the fill level, the cork depth, the label straightness etc. And, on the Pinot noir bottling line, there was a laser which etched a code onto each bottle (totally awesome!), which is particularly great if you are bottling shiners (bottles without a label).
For the Gewurztraminer we used a mobile bottling line which was housed inside a semi truck. It was really neat to see the wine brought in via gravity flow from the steel tank to the bottling line in the semi truck. The back of the truck was open so that one side received the empty bottles and the other side pushed out the boxes with filled bottles. Check out this video of the inside of the truck in operation it's amazing how they can pack this many spinning, squirting, whirling parts into a trailer.
Slideshow of Both Days of Bottling
So, while there are a thousand details to keep in mind as you are prepping for and then running the bottling process, your constantly smiling as you see your wine go from tank/barrel to bottle. We'll keep you updated on the release but we're currently thinking that both the 2008 Pinot and the 2009 Gewurztraminer will be released towards the end of April/May.