Wine Bottling 101

Bottling Circuit
A complete wine filtering and bottling system set up on the crush pad outside the winery. The blue pump (to the right) pumps the wine out of the white tub, through a filter (back center), and into the silver drum on the forklift for bottling.

It has been an incredible couple of days on the farm.  My sister and nephews arrived from Colorado for their Spring Break just in time to help us bottle some wine.  It was a great learning experience for the boys, who might grow up to be winemakers and take over the winery someday.  Don’t worry, it is perfectly legal to have kids in the winery as long as a parent is present.  This is how our winemaker, Nathan, learned the craft from his father and grandfather.  And now, he is passing it along to another generation.

Nathan, pulls a sample of the White Pinot which was made by crushing and fermenting red Pinot Noir grapes without any contact with the skins.
Our winemaker, Nathan, shows Memphis (left) and Iain (right) a sample of the White Pinot which was made by crushing and fermenting red Pinot Noir grapes without any contact with the skins.

We had two very small lots of wine for the boys to bottle, about eight cases of White Pinot and an equal amount of Rose’.  Our White Pinot confused the boys at first because it is a white wine we made from red Pinot Noir grapes.  How is that possible?  Nathan, explained that the color in red wine comes from pigments in the grape skins.  A traditional red wine is made by soaking the juice on the skins for a while to extract the color compounds, while white wine is made with little to no contact with the skins to avoid color.  To get the White Pinot from Pinot Noir grapes, we simply processed the red grapes as if we were making a white wine by fermenting the grapes without any contact with the skins. Ah-ha!

We made our Rose' with our own Pinot Noir grapes and limited the skin contact to limit the color.  However, we found the result too pale (right) and so we blended in some 2013 Pinot Noir (left) to boost the color and add a little "earthiness" to the wine.
We made our Rose’ with limited the skin contact to keep the color light. However, we found the result too pale (right) and so we blended in some 2013 Pinot Noir (left) to boost the color and add a little “earthiness” to the wine.

Knowing this, it was easy for the boys to guess how we made the Rose’ wine.  We started with red, Pinot Noir grapes and let the juice soak for just a little while on the skins to extract just a little bit of color. The glass on the right shows the Rose’ color we got by soaking, and the glass on the left is the same Rose’ with a dash of our 2013 Pinot Noir mixed in to darken the color.  After some taste trials by my sister, Kathie and the other adults present, we decided we liked the darker Rose’ better, so we added some Pinot Noir to the lot before bottling.

Nathan inserts a paper filter into the filtering device.
Nathan inserts a sheet of paper filtering media into our Plate and Frame Wine Filter.

Once we settled on the wine blend, Nathan put the boys to work setting up the wine filtration system.  A paper filter medium is used to filter out any yeast or other microbes that might cause spoilage in the bottled wine.  This is especially important with wines like the Rose’ that contain residual sugar because if there is any yeast in the bottle, it will start to ferment the remaining sugar.  Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, which in turn creates pressure inside a corked bottle.  If enough carbon dioxide builds up, BOOM!  The bottle could explode ! (The boys thought that was pretty cool).

Once Nathan placed all the papers in the filter, our nephew Iain tightened down the plates.
Iain turns the big screw on the wine filter to tighten the plates and hold the paper filtering media in place.

Once the filtering system was set up, Nathan and the boys pumped a citric solution through it to clean the filters and all the hoses that would carry the wine.  Then, they ran about 150 gallons of clean water through to flush out the citric and get the paper taste out of the filters. You might not think paper has a taste, but you can detect it in wine if you push it through the filters without neutralizing the paper first.

Nathan shows the boys how to check the sulfur content of the wine.
Nathan shows the boys how to check the free sulfur content of wine.

While the wine was being filtered, Nathan and the boys were off to the lab to check wine samples for free sulfur.  A very small amount of sulfur is needed in wine to prevent spoilage and oxidation.  But too much can bother some people.  So it’s very important to know how much sulfur is already in the wine before adding any at bottling.  Both the Rose’ and the White Pinot had just the right amount, so no additions were needed. But the sulfur check was a great chance for the boys to see chemistry in action.

Nathan helps Iain raise the variable container holding the filtered wine so gravity can be used to fill the bottles.
Nathan helps Iain raise the stainless steel container holding the filtered wine so gravity can be used to fill the bottles.

Then, it was time for some basic physics.  Nathan let Iain hit the button on the forklift that elevated the stainless steel drum containing the filtered White Pinot.

Nathan runs a siphon hose out of an elevated, stainless steel drum holding the filtered wine.
Nathan checks the siphon hose that dispenses the wine into the bottles.

Once the drum was hovering high overhead, Nathan showed the boys how to use gravity and a small hose to siphon the wine out of the drum and into the bottles. Genius!

Filling the bottles to just the right level is precision work and Iain did an excellent job.
Filling the bottles to just the right level is precision work and Iain did an excellent job.

Iain volunteered to be the bottle filler.  He controlled the flow of wine by pinching off the siphon tube when each bottle was filled.  Then, to prevent oxidation, he had to watch for an air bubble to rise up out of the wine before he pulled out the tube.

My sister, Kathie, was in charge of volume control.  She topped off the bottles to exactly 750ml each.
My sister Kathie was in charge of volume control. She topped off the bottles to exactly 750ml each.

My sister Kathie, who is a PhD, checked the wine levels to be sure each bottle was filled to exactly 750 millilitres and adjusted them if needed.  During the bottling, and perhaps after a little sipping of excess wine, she was inspired to name the White Pinot Umpqua Loompqua, which is a play on the name of the nearby Umpqua River.  A label is in the works.

Memphis used his strength to man the corker and also did an excellent job.
Memphis used his strength to man the corker and did an excellent job.

Finally, Memphis used the manual corker to squeeze the corks into the bottles.  This job requires a good amount of steadiness and strength.  Working together, Iain, Kathy and Memphis got all eight cases of the White Pinot bottled before dinnertime, a total of 96 bottles of wine!

Bob tops off the bottles while Tylor operates the corker.
The Second Shift; Bob tops off the bottles while Tylor operates the corker.

The bottling of the Rose’ had to wait until after dinner, and fortunately for us, our friend Tylor showed up to help because the boys were exhausted by then.  We adults stayed up late to  finish the job.

The full moon rising over the drum of Rose'
The full moon rising over the drum of Rose’

At one point we looked up and realized were bottling under a full moon. This inspired me to name the wine Moonlight Rose’.  A label is in the works.

The Second Shift working well into the night.
The Second Shift working well into the night.

This isn’t how we usually bottle our wine.  Usually, several of the small wineries in town band together to hire a mobile bottling truck. Those are exciting but busy days when time is money and everyone is a little uptight. It’s not a setting where you can take your time and let your nephews fill bottles and squeeze corks.  But with small lots of wine meant for ourselves and not for commercial sale, we can take our time, do it all by hand, and invite our family and friends to help out.  And that’s the true magic of having a winery.

The "Bottling" Moon
The “Bottling” Moon is the most beautiful of all full moons.

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