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Eric Johnson, Winemaker
December 16, 2013 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

The Storm After the Storm

I sometimes feel that we winemakers are gluttons for punishment. We go through a long, painstaking event like harvest and then almost immediately follow up with the most painful winemaking process of all, bottling.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t completely hate bottling, but I feel like we have a love/ hate relationship.  Bottling is obviously a pivotal part of winemaking, but I don’t think most people realize how stress inducing it can be. You have to get the wine in the perfect state before putting it to its final resting place.

Is the SO2 level right? Are we going to filter? If not, how will we make sure the wine has the appropriate clarity? Is the amount of dissolved oxygen high? Should we sparge the tank? Is the wine heat stable? Is it cold stable? These are just some of the questions that go through my head when planning a bottling. Remember if you screw up, there is no going back. That wine is cemented in history.

Preparing the wine is only the beginning. Once the wine is ready to bottle you have to make sure you purchase the right packaging materials. That might not sound like a big deal, but if any of the packaging is slightly off or flawed, it can create a series of problems. For example, in the past we had glass delivered for a very important bottling. We inspected the bottles as we always do and since they looked like the same ones that I have purchased for years we went ahead with our planned bottling. But once the bottling began we realized there was something different about this particular shipment of glass because the labels were wrinkling . It turns out the shape of the bottle was off by just a couple of millimeters. Only a couple of millimeters and that slight change in shape meant labels completely wrinkled beyond repair. We had to cancel bottling, send the crew home, ship the glass back to the supplier and plead for new glass. Then a week or two later we start the process all over again and hope for the best.

There have been times I’ve wished I could just cut out the middle part of the process and find a way to get our wine straight from a barrel into our customer’s glass.  If it were possible, I would not hesitate to sell off our bottling line.  In the meantime, I have to maintain my love/hate relationship with bottling in order to make wines people can enjoy.


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