Finally the time has come to bottle up the juice I’ve tended to for the last year or so. In my cellar bottling line, I employ some friends to help me get the job done. Below is an outline of each station the bottles go through to be filled. One person will man each station and it goes pretty smoothly. After a 100 bottles or so we take a little break for meatball hoagies and some other snacks. I also put out previous vintages and beer too. This little event at my wine cellar attracts friends and family alike. Folks just seem to be interested in the process! Plus I can employ those folks to because everyone wants to take a turn with the corker or bottle filler etc...
I have built a bottle washer out of a shallow tub, water pump, and the bottle rinser base and rack from morewine. The rack is filled with 12 bottles, then placed on top of the washer. The pump is turned on with the flip of a switch and the bottles have a sulfite/citric acid solution circulated through them. The solution then drains back into the tub. This sanitizes the bottles and they do not need to be rinsed after.
The rack of bottles can then be lifted off the washer and placed on the purging base. The purging base is just another rinsing base but is connected to a nitrogen tank instead. The bottles are gassed to purge the oxygen out of the bottles. This does a couple things: It significantly reduces oxygen pick-up sustained to the wine and reduces bottle shock. The flow meter is set pretty high and purge the bottles for about 30 seconds before passing them on to the bottler.
The bottle filler I use is a dual-spout gravity style filler. The vessels are placed on an elevated plane and a siphon is started. Once the reservoir of the bottle filler is full enough, the spouts can be primed and remain that way until the vessels are empty. The bottle is placed under the spout and placed on the shelf while it fills. Once the bottle is full, the flow stops and the bottle is removed and passed to the corker. This makes quick work of bottling. Eventually I would like to have CO2 flowing into the reservoir blanketing and protecting the wine to better help with oxygen pick-up during the bottling process.
Before the bottle is corked, it is checked for the proper fill-level (about 0.75”- 1” from the bottom of the cork once it’s inserted.) Before a cork touches the corker, I spray the driver and jaws with 90% alcohol to sanitize it. The cork is driven home and passed to the shrink capping station. I use the Portuguese floor corker for this job. When dong more than 50 bottles at time, this is the corker to use. The hand held corkers are difficult to use and get poor results.
I use a pot of boiling water to apply the shrink caps. Simply put the cap on, and dip the neck of the bottle into the water for a few seconds and cap will shrink uniformly around the bottle. I plan to upgrade to a heat tunnel shrink capper now that I have kids running around the bottling area. Plus, anytime someone bumps the table the water is disrupted and spills.
Labeling is typically done later after everyone has left. I like to do it myself to make sure they go on right. This is no offense to my crew, but I serve wine and beer during bottling day and well you know, some may go on crooked after a while! I use a glue stick to apply my labels. By the time the caps and the labels go on, the bottles are looking pretty snazzy in my opinion!
Once the bottles are filled, and dressed, I allow them to stand upright for a few days before laying them down to age. This is so the corks won’t leak and any pressure within the bottle will equalize prior to laying down to age.
All done! Now my carboys are free to accommodate more wine in the coming year.