Fall Bottling

It was a bit of a slog, but 6 hours and hundreds of bottles later, the second expression of 2007 was safely under cork (the first being the tiny Rosé bottling back in the spring).

The afternoon and evening were particularly long in the tooth because we concocted the Peugeot blend and put it back in neutral barrels first. That meant measuring out the right percentage from each of the three constituent barrels (Cab, Merlot, Franc) into a holding tank, one after the other — and let me assure you, with precision down to the milliliter (which is about a gallon, ain’t it?). A quick stir, a dash of sulfite (about 25 ppm), and back it went into neutral barrels for 6 more months of solitary until final bottling in April 2009.

Now it was time to bottle the remainders. For the first time, we’d decided not to blend away all the Cabernet, reserving a bit to bottle by itself to see how it ages (especially since it turned out pretty nicely this year due in part to crop thinning). The lovely Franc (growing more lovely by the moment as the acid and sulfite we administered continue to integrate) and underappreciated Merlot (curse you, Miles!) were next.

Our crew is getting pretty deft with the bottling line, both in process and in technique. Man, those guys are fast — the blur you see in the image above isn’t just because of a slow shutter speed. But as usual, the kink in the hose was at the end, in labeling, a painfully manual process that now involves two labels, one on the body and one over the top. Because our workforce had dwindled by then, we put most of our firepower downstairs on the bottling line, so it was just two of us glue-stained wretches, watching the unlabeled cases pile up as we pasted labels down in what seemed like slow motion. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice had it easy, that lucky bastard.

So for April bottling, a few things to R&D:

  • Staggered workforce implementation. Bring in a small crew for blending and/or prep, when more than 4 or so people will just stand around, then ramp up (a surge!) as bottling begins.
  • Formal sign-up. Rather than the general “please show up” request, I’m thinking I’ll try getting (er, “relentlessly encouraging”) people to sign up.
  • Better and better-staffed labeling process. Garagiste Dave and I tried a few different strategies as we labeled away, and I think we went about as fast as two people could, but ultimately, it’s about person-power. I’m thinking three on the body labeler: one to send a label through the gluer and roughly position it on the bottle, two to adjust those labels and actually smack ’em down, permanent-like. Then, 2 on the top label (one gluing and roughly sticking on top of the bottle, the other positioning and adhering), and 1 to move cases and bottles around.

Any other or alternate ideas? Any improvements from the bottling line folks? Love to hear them. Log ’em here.

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