Winter Bottling Blues

January 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

At Sunset Hills, we do most of our bottling in the winter, because the vineyards are dormant and don’t require nearly as much work, plus all the wines in tank and barrel have been “put to bed,” which is another way of saying that, for the time being, they are happy to sit in barrel and not be touched. We don’t do all our bottling in the winter, because some wines just aren’t ready, but I try to fit as much in as possible.

Start with some wine . . .

The first thing I like to do when planning a bottling is look at the Farmer’s Almanac and pick the days which will be  the coldest, windiest, and snowy-est, because if there’s anything I love more than putting labels on 12,000 bottles by hand in 17F weather, it’s putting labels on 12,000 bottles by hand in 17F freezing rain weather.  You haven’t lived until you’ve had to defrost your fingers with a PVC capsule heat shrinker.

Mix in some bottles . . .

Here’s what happens in a standard wine bottling:  the bottles are first rinsed with filtered water to clean them of any possible debris from the glass factory or their cardboard box homes; the bottles are sparged with nitrogen to displace the oxygen, and thereby protect the incoming wine; the bottles are filled with wine; a cork is squished into the bottle; a capsule is placed on the cork; the capsule is “spun” onto the bottle, for a tight fit; labels are affixed to the bottle; the bottles are placed in cases; the cases are stacked on pallets; the pallets are stacked in our warehouse.

Throw in a few corks . . .

For each pallet we stack in our warehouse I am very grateful.  The wine in those bottles was once a few guys pruning in the winter, then it was small buds in the spring, it was a dodged spring frost, shoot thinning, mowing in June, leaf pulling, lateral removal, crop thinning, pest management, picking until dusk, destemming, pressing, fermenting, ageing, racking, blending, fine-tuning, and finally bottling.  Some would argue that this is the end of the process, but I don’t see it that way.  These wines still have years in the bottle, they have competitions to enter, Estate Club members to impress, thousands of tasters to judge them, customers to buy them or not buy them. 

Add a dash of labels . . .

This reflects one aspect of winemaking that I love: it never ends.  We empty the tanks into bottle just in time to fill them again with new wine.  The warehouse cycles in and out new vintages.  We don’t sell out of a wine, we just move on to the next year, or the next blend.  The vineyards move in circles of seasons, customers are ecstatic in summer and subdued in winter, over and over and over again.  There’s nowhere to win at wine.  There’s just room to learn from the previous year, and try to get better.

Don't forget the capsules!

We’ve been doing a lot of bottling this winter, and still have a lot more to go, so we’ll have a lot of new wines to offer as we nudge them onto our tasting sheet and send them off to the Estate Club.  Be on the lookout for our first Late Harvest Petit Manseng, our first off-dry Petit Manseng, our first Tannat (which I am very excited about), and the first wines to be released from the 2010 season.  Hope you guys enjoy!

Voila! Wine on its side!



Solar Panal Video

January 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Check out this article/video of our work with Green Brilliance and their solar panal installation at Sunset Hills Vineyard.


An Event I Love

January 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

We strive to provide a wide range of events at Sunset Hills, from our Life’s A Beach with seafood and steel drums, to special vertical or horizontal tastings, to events focused around wine education, like blending seminars or wine history classes.  It is different aspects of wine that appeal to us all, and I accept and enjoy that no two customers are alike – they’re all here for different reasons, and they all want different things from a winery.

Route 9 Barrel tasters after a hard day's work

One is my favorite events to host has become the Route 9 Barrel Tasting.  Each winter, we and three other wineries – Loudoun Valley, Hillsborough, and Doukenie – open up our barrel rooms to customers to give them a taste of new wines, special wines, experimental wines – really whichever wines the winemakers are in the mood to pour.  The purpose here is to allow customers to taste wines before they’re bottled, to meet the winemakers, ask questions, see the cellars, and really get a feel for the types of wines each separate winery is striving to produce.

I enjoy this event so much because it gives me the opportunity to meet and talk with around 300 interested wine geeks over the course of a weekend.  It is fairly often that I’ll be walking through the winery, and there’ll be a couple who loves the wine and would love a tour, and while it’s something I sincerely enjoy doing I think to myself, “Well, I’m in the middle of bottling and I’ve got two guys out there pruning and I’m pumping tank 6 to tank 13 and we’re fermenting this and pressing that and I think I just heard something leaking, so I’ll have to pass on the tour.”

While I know barrel tastings and tours are meant for the customers, I see it as a win-win, because it’s a pleasure for me, and I always learn a lot.  I pour different wines for different people, I ask what they like and what they don’t like.  If they’re in the wine club, I ask which wine shipments they liked this year and which they didn’t.  “Would you be opposed to receiving two dessert wines?  What about a port?  Do you know what mourvedre is?  Would you drink something called grenache?”

In the end I guess what it boils down to is that I enjoy the Route 9 Barrel Tasting because it’s such a social event for the winemakers, whereas much of the other work we do – vineyard work, cellar work, and lab work – are such solitary jobs.  I often joke that nobody has a job better suited for an iPod than me – nearly everything I do at the winery is done alone and for long periods of time.  So when you throw me in the cellar with six customers who think they might like to try every barrel of 2010 Syrah I’ve got, I’ll probably hold them to it, and give them a lengthy monolouge on each one.


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