Winter Wine Bottling at Three Sticks
Hello and happy holidays from Three Sticks Wines!
Our Associate Winemaker Ryan Prichard was on the ground when we bottled up our 2014 Estate wines last week. Here are some highlights of the day he shared with us:
"Sonoma County has finally been getting some much needed rain and winter temperatures have started to settle in over the past couple of weeks. This cold weather helps the vines shut down for the winter and gear up for the next harvest season. However, the vines being in dormancy unfortunately does not mean things in the cellar slow down. We have had our hands full bottling our Estate 2014 wines.
"We normally spend time educating our fans on the viticulture side of winemaking but we thought we’d share with you the fascinating (and tricky) world of bottling. This is generally one of the more grueling processes as it requires very tight coordination of many different vendors from around the world to get the necessary items delivered, then all of those pieces have to get applied to the bottle flawlessly. While it is definitely a stressful piece of the puzzle, I actually really enjoy the bottling process for it is the time when you get to reveal the finished product to the world.
"This process starts by racking the wines out of barrel and putting them in stainless steel tanks. There we make our final adjustments and tweaks to the blend and do a last settling before they go to bottle. Like many boutique wineries, we utilize the services of a mobile bottling line. A semi-truck sets up at our production facility with all the machinery required to fill, cork, capsule and label the wines. We connect a hose from our tank and feed the truck the necessary items and then VOILA! We get fully packaged wine out of the other side – magic! Ok, it isn’t quite that easy – I’ll explain ... with pictures:
Pallets of empty wine bottles are set at the back of the truck where people remove the bottles and start feeding them into a conveyer belt system.
The glass then enters an orbital machine that gives a few bursts of inert gas to blow out any cardboard dust and also to displace out oxygen from the bottle prior to filling.
The bottle then goes to be filled through the filler spouts. The wine comes from the tanks in the winery and is hooked up to the truck where it will go through a mesh screen or a tighter filter, depending on the wine. Next the wine flows into a small 5-10 gallon reservoir called “the bowl” which then feeds the spouts of the filler.
After being filled, the wines go to the corker where they first have a tiny amount of wine sucked out to make sure it is properly leveled. The wine bottle then gets another shot of inert gas to displace the headspace of oxygen and then that gas is sucked out immediately before inserting the cork. This creates a vacuum in the headspace so we don’t create positive pressure and push out the cork as temperatures shift.
Next the wine travels to the capsuler where the tin capsules are placed onto top of the bottles. This is actually quite tricky as the capsules are shipped in nested stacks of 40 or so and to get them un-nested and onto the top of the bottle requires some air jets and fancy machinery.
Once the capsule is on, the bottles go to the spinner which spin rollers at a high rate of speed and roll down the capsule onto the bottle top.
Next up is the labeler where the front and back labels are applied. With so many different labels out there, this machine has all sort of capabilities so getting it just right always takes time and practice.
Finally, with the label on, the wine is pretty much finished. Each bottle is inspected before it heads to the packers who pack up the bottles back into the cardboard boxes, tape up the top and send the full case down to have the case sticker applied.
The wine then gets put on a pallet and shrink-wrapped up and put into cold storage until it heads to our warehouse.
During all of this we are constantly monitoring the wine, packaging and hand bottling the magnums and 3 liter bottles wines so you can imagine how busy this whole process can be!
The great satisfaction of having bottling complete comes from knowing that in another 9 months or so, these wines will be ready to be enjoyed on all of your tables – isn’t that what it’s all about?"