Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Will Work for Wine...Two Shepherds Vineyards

Literally.  Yesterday I worked for wine.  It was my first experience on a bottling line.  Though I was the one “working” (and it was pretty hard work), I felt incredibly lucky to be working on bottling some great wines, Two Shepherds from William Allen.  (I recently shared last summer’s post about his winemaking; read it here.)  Ultimately, this was a great day learning even more about wine!

As many of you have noticed, I am on an extended wine vacation to northern California, enjoying all that both Napa and Sonoma Counties have to offer.  My goal for this time here is to learn something more about wine every day.  Yesterday it was the bottling process.

I have written before about how un-romantic wine making actually is, even though the beverage seems so romantic and mysterious when it is in our glasses.  However, making wine is incredibly hard work.  And when I experience this hard work, it is only for a brief time doing the easiest of jobs in the entire process, so I don’t truly understand the hours of grueling effort it takes to go from bud on the vine to wine in the bottle.  But I have tried.

The entire bottling starts earlier, when the wine maker must put the wines from their barrels or storage vessels into large plastic tanks so they can be attached to the bottling machine via the machine’s hoses.  Then the wine is siphoned through the tubes into the bottling line—a machine that does most of the work, though several human hands must be involved.

At the beginning of the line, someone must empty the glass bottles from their boxes so they can be fed onto the conveyer.  This was retired teacher Bob’s job.  And he was good.  He has helped William on every bottling of Two Shepherds wine.  (Plus he has been in education for forty years, so he is kind of my new hero.) 
Bob feeding the bottles to the conveyer to start the official bottling process.
Next, Matt—owner of the mobile bottling line—stood watch over the machine as it pumped gas, then wine, then gas, then cork into the bottles.  (After this, the foil capsule would be added, but William uses great glass bottles instead of a capsule, creating a very modern overall look.)  Then the Two Shepherds labels are rolled on the bottles as they slide by, and the bottles round a curve on the conveyer belt, pushing them to the end of the line.  This all happens quite quickly. 
Matt overseeing the wine filling the bottles.
 At the end of the line, someone has to catch the bottles, check them, and put them back in the case boxes; this was my job.  Though this job was not hard, it was an arm workout as I repeated the same pick up-twist-inspect-lower motion hundreds…and hundreds…and hundreds of times over the course of five different wines and five different hours.  My final part of the job was to push the case full of wine off the conveyer line. 

Pick up.  Inspect front label.  Twist.  Inspect back label.

Put in the box. 
After my job was complete, new winemaker Mark took the cases of now-full wine bottles, taped them shut, made sure they were properly labeled, and stacked the boxes on a pallet.  Then William moved the pallets of wine to his temporary storage; eventually they will be moved to long-term storage until ready for tasting and sale.

At the beginning of the first bottling, twelve full bottles of wine are dumped, in case any water may have been in the bottling machine’s lines.  When switching between different varietals of wine, the first six bottles of each wine are also dumped to ensure that none of the first wine taints the second.  Proper cleanliness is of the utmost importance throughout the entire process.  All of these steps help to guarantee quality wine. 

The final product.
Now, I am obviously not the expert in this endeavor, as it was my first time, but by the end of the day, I did feel like a bit of an expert on what a properly-adhered label would look like.  Seeing hundreds of them made me great at that job!

Working for wine—and Two Shepherds—was a fun and educational day of my summer vacation.  I can officially say I have harvested grapes twice (read about that here or here) and now bottled wine.  What’s next for my wine education?  Who knows?!  But I truly thank those who have helped me learn so far.  I also truly look forward to what I will study next.