Week in the Life of a Production Manager

Like many of our team, Alex studied at the world-renowned winemaking college, Plumpton before working harvests in the Mosel, Margaret River and Sonoma. He returned to England and joined the winemaking scene, working in production at Bolney Estate and now Rathfinny.

As Production Manager, Alex takes custody of our wines from the point of bottling, so is responsible for bottling, cellaring, riddling, disgorging, labelling and dispatch. The job involves a lot of quality control to maintain the integrity of the base wine in the look and taste of the final product. Come to work with Alex and read what he gets up to during a working week.

Words by Alex

On Monday we disgorge our 2018 Classic Cuvée. For the uninitiated, disgorgement is the final winemaking process for our sparkling wines, and involves the removal of the yeast sediment from the bottle, the addition of dosage liquor (a combination of sugar and preservative), and finally the sealing of the bottle with cork and wire hood. Of all the operations under my control, this is the most fraught with risk. It’s complex, with many pieces of equipment required to work in harmony and the wine itself has to play ball too. Disgorgement is also the final part of the production process where the wine is accessible, and where there is potential therefore to tweak the liquid – or conversely to ruin it! So, my main priority is to ensure that we have eyes on the process, and it remains under our control.

Tuesday we label – a new vintage of our Blanc de Noirs, and none other than 2018: vintage of the century! While most people are interested in how this anticipated new release will taste and develop, for me the most exciting aspect of the day is the first use of our brand-new box design, closely followed by the performance of a newly sourced packing tape, which I have good reason to believe will be a real game-changer…

Wednesday – After two days on my feet I try to spend as much of the rest of the week as possible at my desk. First things first is recording the disgorging and labelling work that we’ve done over the past couple of days onto our winery management software. This allows us to track our wine batches – what goes into them and where they go. Then at this time of the month the next task (coming around all-too-quickly) is the stock-take. Normally I delegate this to my capable team, but it being the end of the financial year there is no escaping the count for me!

Thursday – With the count complete I have to interrogate any discrepancies, log duty returns, make W1 excise declarations (feel free to take a breather if this bit is getting too exciting). With that done I start to look at the sales figures for the previous month and feed them into the long-term demand picture. As a relatively young and fast-growing business we are still in the early stages of understanding how demand flows throughout the year and between the different SKUs we produce. So, a management group gets together each month to go over our sales figures, anticipate future orders and plan production work to satisfy them.

Friday – In the morning I’m taking apart the disgorging unit to deep-clean the dosage apparatus. After two days looking at spreadsheets it’s nice to get the spanner out! The afternoon is spent with a little CPD – recapping on some webinars covering upcoming labelling legislation changes. I’m tasked with developing labels for new vintages, so keeping on top of changing regulations is vital to avoid releasing something non-compliant onto the market, and this picture gets more complicated when you include export markets and post-Brexit divergence. With the week drawing to a close, the whole winemaking and production team get together for a little blind tasting of a competitor. It’s a good way to finish the week and gives us the chance to think about the style of our own wines and whether there is anything in the glass that inspires us. Although we’re proud of Rathfinny’s distinctive style, we’re always open to learning and evolving.