A Nice Package
Exploring VA Wine
By Doug Fabbioli
A Nice Package
In these writings I sometimes make an attempt at explaining a few of the different parts of my job, sharing insider tidbits and hoping to make it interesting to both the wine geeks and the non-wine geek consumers. This month I want to get a little deeper into the bottling and packaging of wines.
Wine has been stored in many different vessels over the centuries. Oxygen is not a friend to a finished wine, so storing it in smaller vessels, always full, is an important part of the planning. If you were quenching the thirst of an army in Roman times, drawing wine right from the barrel into pitchers to fill mugs worked just fine and barrels were the best way to store it. Those soldiers drank a lot and drank it fast. Finer wines are usually consumed in much smaller quantities than a legion of Roman soldiers might put away, so bottles make more sense.
Although wine bottles have been around for ages, it is still an evolving process: when we consider consumption, cost, and perception, some winemakers are changing things up quite a bit. Canning wine has become popular but I found that our volumes are such that I could not make the numbers work. Even with the ciders, I would spend more on the package than on the product inside. We have been using the three liter pouches for some of our wines, and that seems to be working out well. As the pouch empties, air does not enter so the wine can stay fresh for months. This method will not work for the ciders, though, as the effervescence will dissipate as the pressure of the pouch drops. We have been using kegs for the ciders as well as for a couple of our wines. The keg is pressurized with CO2 in order to push out the product, preventing oxygen from entering. This system is working well for us in a number of local restaurants.
Our main method of packaging our wine is in a 750ml bottle. We do fill some of our specialty bottles by hand, but most of the time our wines are bottled by a mobile bottling line service. This large box truck has an assembly line built inside it with specific equipment made to process a wide variety of bottles, labels, and wine types. A typical bottling run for me usually involves bottling seven different wines into as many as five bottle types, some with a screw cap and some with a cork finish. We can do a run like this, totaling about 1500 cases, in one day. I usually have them scheduled up to five times during the year so I can have time and space between bottlings to get the next round of wines ready. I also make some wines for other wineries, so this adds to the number of wines I make per year and the changeover needs during the bottling run.
The process preparing for the bottling date is the key to success. Blending and filtering the wines so they are high quality and ready is the base for all of this, but not the only part. Getting the labels designed, approved, and printed is a time consuming and tedious part of the process, and the bottles, capsules and corks need to be ordered ahead of time based on the volume of wine. Multiply the process by seven to cover each wine in the run, and then multiply that number by five over the course of a year to get all the wines in the bottle properly! Each wine needs individual attention to make sure the quality and distinctiveness is what it should be, and every detail needs to be in place to make sure the day goes without a hitch.
Time for me to double check my latest order so we have what we need for the next bottling. Be sure to appreciate the craftsmanship in each of your local craft beverages. Each one of them goes through a similar intricate process and reflects the care and passion put into it.