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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!