Tucking in the 07 Peugeot

A blur of labeling
600 bottles and corks. 1200 labels. Just short of 3 hours. As James pointed out, that’s about a case every 3 minutes. That much throughput in that little time is unprecedented, and nothing short of amazing. When the last bottle went into the last case, I don’t think anyone truly believed it.

Now, we did get a running start. James, and a little later, Whit came over early to begin setting things up, so between the three of us, we had the bottler set up (an art in and of itself) and the settling tank filled by the time most of the crew arrived.

But that’s not to take away from how much this crew got done and how quickly. Indeed, that prep stage of bottling is in fact hindered by a lot of people, who really have little to do until the bottling armada cranks up. So when a great crowd showed up at 3, it was the appropriate force at the right time, and off we flew. Incredible.

More pics and a play-by-play after the link.
Leveling the bottler
James has pretty deep experience with the bottler, having set up and run it so many times, so it was a boon that he could come early and get it just so. After a thorough cleaning, the first step is to get it level, no easy task on the funhouse basement floor.

The bottling machine

Right about when Whit and I got the settling tank filled and connected to the bottler, the rest of the crew arrived and quickly divided into bottlers and labelers. Once the bottling line gets its rhythm (which happens sooner with every year we do it), it’s a human machine, gobbling up empty bottles and spitting out full ones with unrelenting speed.

Above, right to left (click image for a larger version of the shot), bottles come off the case palette and are set up for the bottler, who loads them up into the bottling spigots in flights of 5. Of course, every bottle seems to fill at a slightly different rate, so it’s not long before the bottler is loading and pulling off bottles up and down the line in a seemingly random pattern — no mean feat to keep track of.

Next, the bottles are whisked up by the corker, who’s had his simple but brutally efficient machine pre-loaded by someone else with a fresh cork. Entering the chamber at about an inch in diameter, the cork is contracted to about half that size and rammed into the bottle below. It’s an awful way to go, but we wipe away our tears, pass the corked bottle to the packager, and call for another.
The label team gets to work
Once a case is filled, it gets transported upstairs to the labeling team. This has traditionally been the understaffed part of the operation, so it’s almost always been the case that the bottling line is done long before the labelers are. Coming back upstairs to find the labelers are still busy arranging their fancy labels and babbling about their feelings, the bottlers usually groan and add their calloused, tough-guy (and gal) hands to the effort.

But not this time. We finally had the right force for the job: one person running labels through the gluer for two people labeling the fronts of the bottles; one person dabbing glue at either end of the top label and handing them to two other people stretching them over the tops of bottles and loading them into finished cases. It made a huge difference.

Note Jon in the foreground of this shot: as the sole top-label gluer on the line, he daubed fully 1200 blobs of glue onto labels that afternoon (one blob for each end of the top label to adhere it to the bottle’s neck).
Getting the Peugeot label just so
Adjusting as it went, the labeling team fine-tuned who did what and when until no one was waiting for anyone else to complete his or her micro-task and the bottles sailed through this part of the process as well.

Nevertheless, the real innovation of this labeling was George’s idea that we let labels soak up their glue for 10 seconds or so before being pressed onto the bottles, a strategy that effectively ended the curse of puckering labels as the glue set. Of course, that introduced some potential delay into the line, but we quickly compensated by lining up more bottles and then lightly tacking freshly glued labels to each of them, letting them curl up for a few seconds as the glue absorbed before pressing them down.
The bottling team takes a break
Near the end of the run, Dana takes an incredulous look at his watch. It’s a land-speed record for Les Gs.
How close to perfection?
How close to perfection was the machine that is Les Garagistes? This close, my friend.
Roger pours the last drops of 07 Peugeot out of the bottler
Waste not, want not. Roger pours the last half bottle or so out of the bottler reservoir into a waiting receptacle.
Whit had to cook around the sampling table
Whit had prepared a beautiful lamb stew, but he wasn’t prepared for how quickly we got through 50 cases of wine. So he quickly jumped from the labeling line to the kitchen, and Mike sprinted to the store for a couple of chickens to roast. But by the time the last chores had been ticked off, bottles had been uncorked (for research purposes only, of course) and a fantastic meal began to unfold.
Whit's amazing lamb stew
One Garagiste complemented Whit up and down about how great the stew was, only to learn it was lamb stew. “I’ve never liked lamb,” he said, incredulous and reaching for seconds.
A nightcap seals the deal
At last, night fell and nightcaps rose. It escaped no one that in previous bottlings of this size, we’d actually be just sitting down to dinner in this darkness, a revelation that made this year’s efforts all the sweeter.

——–

As always, I’d suggest that you forget about this particular bottling for a least a year — maybe opening one during the holidays to see how it’s coming along. If past experience is any guide, Peugeot takes about 1.5-2 years to really hit its stride, so if you can wait, you’ll be richly rewarded.

Dipping a glass into the settling tank, I thought this year’s effort was pretty dang good: nice richness in the mouth, lovely ripe fruit, the beautiful floral aroma of the Franc defining the nose as it’s wont to do. The only disappointment we all remarked upon was how short the finish was, but with luck, that has more to do with its youth than its legacy.

One of the things we changed for the 07 vintage was to keep each component wine in the same barrel, even as we racked the wines through the year, and I think that showed up in the final blend. Keeping the Merlot and Cab Sauv in the same one-year-old barrels (which we chose specifically for the characteristics of each grape) meant the oak had time to intertwine itself into them. Perhaps just as importantly, leaving the Cab Franc in its neutral barrel kept its essential freshness undulled. The result was a little more vanillin oakiness in the right places, just enough to add a little depth and spice to the wine without impacting its fragrance. We’ll know soon enough whether that was a good call, of course.

Can’t wait to find out when it begins to unfurl in 2010!

3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. John Christopher Hall April 19th, 2009 9:45 pm

    Looks like you weren’t too far from perfection and a good time was had. Nice job Garagistes.

  2. David Barbour April 21st, 2009 6:43 am

    Great work Garagistes! . . . an extra case and I won’t tell The Revenuers.

  3. Ziraud April 22nd, 2009 10:19 am

    Oh, I think we know a friendly judge who would throw it out of court…