The vines are heavy, the days are long, and the leaves are a brilliant green: we’re on the cusp of harvest time, about to enter the state of perpetual grape-covered bliss. But as the 2013 grapes tingle in anticipation of their departure from the vine, a few of the 2012’s are reaching the final stage of the winemaking process: bottling time.
We have a love-hate relationship with bottling over here at the winery. On one hand, it’s one of the most exciting times of year: after a six-month hiatus, the winery is back in full swing as the team sanitizes equipment, moves the wine from barrel to tank, and gathers everything from glass bottles and labels to corks and foil caps.
On the other hand, nostalgia hits: after almost a year of living and breathing under our winemaking team’s hands, it’s time for the wine to set off on its own, continuing to grow and thrive, but inside the bottle this time.
Bottling is also a high-pressure time for the winemaking team; consulting winemaker Jeff Gaffner describes bottling “like being at the end of the tunnel. It’s the last place as a winemaker you can really affect the wine.” From ordering and quality-checking labels, bottles, corks and foil to coordinating schedules with the bottling team, the bottling process has the same feel of the start of harvest: the entire winery is abuzz.
“The best thing about bottling is that we get to see the finished product. It’s a relief for a lot of reasons: it’s an entire year’s work come to fruition and you get to taste that, even though the wine will still change in bottle. It’s our last chance as winemakers to get your hands on it, then the wine is out of our hands; it’s passed on.” -Jesse Fox, Assistant Winemaker
The Bottling Line Nitty Gritty
Like most wineries in California, we work with a professional bottling team to transport the wine into bottle. After moving the wine from barrel to tank and preparing it with any settling, filtering, or blending, our team connects the wine to the bottling line. What ensues looks like a mix between an assembly line and a synchronized swimming act:
Act 1: Filling the bottles
Bottling professionals arrange the bottles at the beginning of the line and send them down a moving belt. An inert gas is sprayed into the bottle to make sure absolutely no oxygen gets into the bottle; a filling machine fills the bottles with the wine, pumped from the winery tank.
Act 2: Corking
A corking machine inserts the corks into bottle as the bottles move further down the line.
Act 3: The Foil
Bottling line professionals hand-place the foil onto the bottles – they are professionals, so they don’t have to worry about having a “Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory” moment.
Act 4: Labeling
The Ram’s Gate Label is two pieces, with a 1/2-inch label beneath the main label; most labeling machines have a minimum requirement of 3/4 an inch in order to get the label on the bottle. Thankfully, our awesome bottling team boosted the power of their labeling machine to account for the two-piece label.
Act 5: Quality Control x3
Members of our winemaking team check the quality of the bottling at three different points: first, assessing each bottle and removing any with imperfections; second, checking the wine’s fill height and wine clarity; and third, ensuring the bottle is dressed to perfection, with correct label placement and flaw-free foil.
Act 6: Boxing
The filled, corked, foiled, labelled wines are then hand-packed into case boxes for storage – and shipment to thirsty wine-drinkers.
In the last few weeks, we bottled all of our vineyard designated wines: five Chardonnays and six Pinot Noirs, including our Estate Pinot Noir, in addition to a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel. In a few weeks we’ll bottle the two appellation wines (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).
Until next time!