Nothing brings out the OCD in a winemaker quite like bottling. Think about it; you have spent a tremendous amount of time harvesting, fermenting, and aging your wine. You were there on the day it was born. In the vineyard you watched it grow and develop wondering what it would one day become. On harvest day your pride swells as you finally get to bring your fruit into the winery and begin your hands-on approach to helping guide your fruit to a world class wine. You have spent countless hours monitoring, analyzing, and tasting your creation. In the case of red wines, years have passed as you have raised your once young, bold and defiant wine into the elegant and distinguished specimen that it is today. You have guided it through the “awkward” years and helped it mature. Bottling is the time where you take all that hard work and long hours and prepare to present it to the world.
Bottling is also the point in which a multitude of things can go wrong. This is the last time you will have any control over the living, breathing product that will soon go out to represent your craft and your family.
Leading up to bottling day there are a tremendous amount of logistics and operational challenges. Bottles have to be ordered in the proper quantity and arranged to be delivered on time. Labels have to be designed, approved, printed and checked for accuracy and quality. Corks and capsules have to be estimated and ordered. Case labels, tape, shrink wrap, pallets, all have to be ordered and delivered. Labor has to be organized and scheduled. There are a host of winery specific items that all have to be ordered like nitrogen to sparge the empty glass prior to it being filled and filters if you filter your wine.
Your mechanic has to inspect the bottling line to make sure it is in proper working order and with several thousand moving pieces, you can be sure there will be parts to order or simple repairs to be made. The entire line has to be completely sanitized prior to running any wine through in order to minimize any microbial contamination.
Rarely does everything come together perfectly. There are almost always curve balls or contingency plans put in place. After a long day, or several days of bottling you sample the product to determine the effect of bottling on your creation. Most often there is a time period where the wine is disjointed and “beat up” from the bottling action (bottle shock). This is another point in the cycle of production where the winemaker can only wait and see how the wine will respond.
The waiting can be cruel and the wines can be stubborn, but once the wine pulls back together, the results are magical. In this profession there are a lot of circumstances that are out of our control. However, solid wine-making techniques and experience usually result in a good end product. The never ending cycle provides constant challenges and stimulation. That is what keeps us doing what we do.