WINE BOTTLING – Bottling Video
Bottling is the last phase of the wine making process. It is a complex, important and, at least according to our own Stone Hill wine team, the least favorite step of the wine making process (probably safe to say that others in the industry would concur). This phase requires a lot of professional expertise and the utmost attention to the smallest of details. During bottling, wine undergoes several operations: pumping, filtration, filling, and corking or capping. Maintaining the best wine quality throughout these final stages is of the highest priority ~ from bottling, storage and ultimately shipping. The goal of providing superior protection of the wine, so it will be at its optimum for as long as possible, all rests with getting it into the bottle correctly.
1.) BOTTLE CLEANING
The first step is to wash the bottles and at Stone Hill Winery we use sterilized and micro filtered water. While the bottles do come sterile from the manufacturer, it is still necessary to ensure any dust or other materials from transit are removed from the bottle, using air and/or water. Once washed, our machine uses gravity to drain the bottles with a small vacuum pump at the end to remove any remaining liquid from around the bottle neck.
2.) GETTING WINE TO THE BOTTLING LINE
Once we have determined that the wine is organoleptically correct and chemically and microbially stable the wine is transferred, via rotary lobe pump and PVC food grade hose, to our bottling plant. We have a capacity of storing 20,000 gallons of wine at our bottling line. At this time we have the option to sparge the wine with inert nitrogen (N2) to help remove any unwanted dissolved oxygen or carbon dioxide. Food Grade Nitrogen is added through a porous stainless steel cylinder suspended in the wine. As the wine passes around the sparger, gas bubbles enter the product and displace the dissolved oxygen or carbon dioxide.
This is arguably the most crucial step. There are numerous parts to the filler bowl, and the spouts, along with every component, need to be extremely clean and in perfect working condition. This will ensure preventing any air from leaking into the wine, potentially through a faulty seal. The inside surface of the filler bowl and spouts are all made from pharmaceutical grade stainless steel in order to keep the contact surfaces as clean as possible. The first step on our filler is to inject gas into the bottle to displace any oxygen. Nitrogen is also the gas of choice at this stage. The 2nd step, the bottle is sealed against the spout and a vacuum is created inside the bottle. This vacuum allows the wine to flow through the spout into the bottle at a rapid, but gentle pace. Through these spouts each bottle is filled with the specific quantity of wine ~750 or 375 milliliters.
4.) BOTTLE CLOSURE
We use natural cork as well as screw caps for our bottle closures. Before a bottle gets corked, a vacuum is pulled on the headspace (this is the space left between the top of the wine and the closure). The vacuum removes any oxygen from the headspace, as well as creates an equilibrium in pressure, so the cork does not push out of the bottle. The corker jaws squeeze the cork to plunge it into the bottle. Corked bottles also then get a polylaminated capsule to cover the cork. The same process is followed for screw cap closures. Headspace is filled with nitrogen or CO2 to displace any oxygen, before a screw cap gets put on the bottle. It is important to adapt the final headspace pressure to the specifications of each closure/bottle combination. The screw caps we use are aluminum with saranex liners. The saranex liners essentially allow little or no oxygen ingression during the wine’s life in the bottle. This is especially important in the aromatic styles of wine we create. The more oxygen ingression into the bottle the quicker the wine will lose its freshness.
5.) LABELING AND PACKING
Labels must be precisely fed through the machinery to guarantee they are aligned and applied correctly both to the front and the back of the bottle. The wine bottles then travel the last part of the line to be mechanically plucked and placed in cases where they are ready to be stacked on pallet for shipping.
OTHER FUN FACTS:
- The Stone Hill Winery bottling line can bottle about 3,500 cases in an 8 hour day.
- 4 people can run the line but it will be a very exhausting day. 5 is perfect (when boxes and bottles behave)
- We only bottle about 40 days out of the calendar year.
- Everybody who makes the wine, bottles the wine. There is no separate bottling crew.
Each step of the bottling process must be watched like a hawk. Even with the advances of our modern state-of-the art equipment, this is not “set it and forget it”. Bottling receives the honor of being the least favorite part for our wine making team because the pace is fast and the stakes are high. Our bottling line can bottle up to 120 bottles per minute. Any error along the way can quickly result in unintended waste if not caught immediately and corrected ~ of wine, time and energy. Fingers crossed everyone on the crew has had a good night’s rest and eaten their Wheaties before bottling begins……this is a marathon, not a sprint! GO TEAM GO!!