Bottling day: Neighbours Helping Neighbours
This past Wednesday we bottled a thousand cases of wine — a drop of wine by industry standards but a new record for us. As a small winery, we bootstrap whereever we can, so instead of buying bottling equipment, we rent a bottling line.
The Custom Quality Bottling transport truck arrives on bottling day at 6:30 am and backs down the long laneway. Grant, the proprietor, leaps aboard the long trailer to start steam-sterilizing his equipment. When he’s done, we have a short meeting to go over the bottling order — white wines first, cork-finished bottles together, and screw caps together. Once we agree, I hook up a forklift onto the three-point-hitch of our little tractor, and start moving stacks of bottles so we are organized.
Moments later, Chris from the winery across the road Gravel Hill Vineyards, arrives toting a few small tanks of his wine on a flatbed trailer.
The bottling truck is a great service for smaller wineries like ours to share. It’s a costly scramble to get labels printed, bottles and closures delivered, wines finished, and VQA approvals completed in time for the hard deadline of bottling day, but the effort is worth it. One day of hard work, and everything is professionally bottled. Because of the high quality equipment and sterile line, we can be sure our wines are very stable. The line itself is an assembly line of filters, fillers, corkers, and labellers installed in a mobile tractor trailer. All we have to do is hook up a hose to our tanks, and supply bottles, labels and corks. The assembly line does all the work except the heavy lifting.
Even with automation, bottling a thousand cases of wine is a big job. It’s all hands on deck. Micheline even took the day off her corporate city job to work with us on the assembly line.
Once the hoses are hooked up to the first tank, the pump starts and Micheline’s job is to turn 1000 cases of bottles upside down at the start of the line. The bottles are packed upside down in the cases so they land right side up on the conveyor, from where they march towards the sparger. (Poor Micheline texted me later that evening to say that she could hardly steer the car home, her shoulders were so sore after so much lifting). Two more workers grab the finished bottles as they arrive at the end of the line and put them back into the cartons. The filled cases are then pushed under a taping mechanism from where they roll down to where the Broken Stone Winery crew Yvonne, Julie and Sue, and Michelle from Gravel Hill stack them.
I operate the tractor, loading pallets of bottles onto the truck and moving stacks of wine around. Woe is me if a pallet of bottles isn’t ready to be loaded onto the line…I know Grant will definitely have words with me then, so I make sure the pallets are always in position and ready to go.
By four pm, 700 cases of Simplicity, Riesling, Estate Pinot Noir, and Estate Chard, as well as 300 cases of Gravel Hill wines sit on our lawn, ready to be put away. Grant cleans his truck efficiently and drives off in a wake of empty boxes, wrappers and leftover corks and labels. As is our tradition, we give each of the crew bottle of wine in appreciation of their work as we bid them thank you and farewell.
The day wasn’t yet over. It wasn’t until 8:30 pm before neighbour Chris and I finished loading his bottles onto his trailer, unloading them into his winery across the road, and pushing all my pallets into the back door of Broken Stone Winery.
Even winemakers get their fill of wine, and we had seen a lot of it that day. So Chris and I toasted a job well done with a couple of Coronas in the waning daylight. As the saying goes, it takes a lot of beer to make good wine.