Rathfinny Wine Estate

About bottling…

I felt uninspired when I was reminded that I had to post on the blog this week.
My wife kindly told me that I should talk about what I do—or, what I would be doing—if the winery was up and running.

As Mark and I are scheduling a trip to Italy in March to go and visit a bottling-line manufacturing plant, it reminds me of the many stressful days and restless nights I had when I first started bottling over a decade ago. (Yikes, that makes me sound old!)

Bottling is easy, right? After all, a bottling line is just a big piece of equipment that, after proper set up, runs by itself. Well, that’s what it SHOULD be.

I started bottling on older equipment, where each machine was a mechanism that had to be set up independently, and also synchronised with all other machines, so the entire line would be able to run efficiently and smoothly.

Human labour was pretty intense: filling the conveyor with bottles, insuring that machines were always loaded so they would never run out of corks, bidules, crown caps, foils, and labels. Finally, transferring the finished product into cases. Any problem—even so much as a wrinkled label or one improperly-inserted cork—would most likely end up stopping the line, requiring restarting it, which felt like a waste of time. This used to be my nightmare. My reality.

The last bottling line I used was a “monobloc”, where all units are built in a single large unit, already synchronised, and the only adjustments were about shape and size of the bottles. It still required the same amount of human labour, but this was much easier to run, and it did not give me as much trouble, just a bit from time to time.

Bottling season is always a very stressful time for me. From making sure that it is a sterile environment, to making sure that it runs continuously and fast enough, and ensuring constant quality of the delivered product. As bottling is an addition of many different steps, there are lots of parameters to control, and it can get overwhelming at times.

And of course, when one thing goes wrong, it usually creates a chain of reactions on the entire line. Translate: late day.

Bottling is a fast paced process that really needs constant attention.

Bottling still wines is usually done in one session, from filling to packaging.

Bottling sparkling wines is a multi-step process: filling/crown capping the bottles for second fermentation, then disgorging, and finally packaging.

I do remember, in my early years (but after all, wine keeps me young), hearing the bottling line in my sleep, the perpetual clinging of the bottles bumping into each other, and dreaming that the line was having problem after problem… and me trying to fix them.

It takes time to get used to a bottling line, to “master” it. It is funny how eventually in such a noisy environment (earplugs mandatory!) any change in the surrounding noises indicates a problem or a fault, and how you do not even have to look at the line because you already now what the issue is. A simple grinding noise, a vibration, or even a subtle change in bottle-clinking. These are the moments when you know that you finally have it all under control.

Domination over the machine is a very nice feeling indeed.

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

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