Bottling & Labeling
Before bottling we make final adjustments to the SO2 and CO2 levels in the wine. Then, when the desired blend of wine is ready in the mixing tank,
- we sparge each bottle and then fill it with wine
- we insert a cork
- we cap the top of the bottle with a foil
- we put a printed label on each bottle
We sparge, fill, cork and cap a bottle in a continuous process. With two people it takes around 30 seconds per bottle – so we can process 100-120 bottles, per hour. Labelling is done later. The picture shows a friend, Jost von Allmen, in action with the Sparger (bottom left) the Bottle Filler (left), the Corker (middle) and the Foil Spinner (top right). This page explains the final adjustments and the 4 bottling steps.
Final adjustments in SO2 and CO2
We make one, possibly two, final adjustments to the wine just before it is bottled. The first is adding more SO2 to enhance its resilience against spoilage organisms; the second is increasing the level of dissolved CO2 to enhance the perception of fruitiness if desired.
We increase the level of molecular SO2 to 0.50 ppm right before bottling; this is an increase from the 0.40 ppm target level during cellaring. We discussed the reasoning for SO2 additions in the Winery section, Step #8: Adding SO2. We measure the level of free SO2 with OenoFoss and then calculate the amount of KMBS (Potassium Metabisulfite) that needs to be added to reach the target level for molecular SO2 of 0.5 ppm. The details are explained in the Laboratory Section, page “Measuring and Adjusting SO2.”.
If we decide that the perceived fruitiness of the wine needs a boost, then we measure the dissolved CO2 in the wine with a Carbodoseur. For Bordeau style red wines 400-800 ppm is a reasonable target range. To increase the level of dissolved CO2, we add dry ice, which is frozen CO2. The amount of dry ice to be added depends on the volume of wine to be treated, and the assumed uptake of the CO2 gas as it bubbles through the wine. The page “Measuring Dissolved CO2” in the Laboratory section describes the Carbodoseur and the formula. We start out by adding 30%-50% of the required amount of dry ice and retest before adding more.
Filling the bottles
We buy standard greenish Bordeau bottles from regional distributors by the pallet. (e.g. Vitroval USA, www.vitrovalusa.com ). In bulk, they cost around $0.50 per bottle.
The wine flows from the elevated mixing tank by gravity to the bottling machine. We sparge the bottles (i.e. filled halfway with Argon) before we fill them with wine. Sparging has two purposes: first, it reduced the wine’s contact with oxygen as it pours into the bottle. Second, it fills the headspace; the airspace left to make room for the cork, with the inert gas, to reduce oxygen contact while the wine matures in the bottle.
The bottles are placed by hand under one of two spouts, and the filling machine (Zambelli Tivoli2, http://www.zambellienotech.it/index.php/en/products/enologia/item/filling-machine-tivoli, purchased from Napa Fermentations) automatically fills each bottle to a predefined level. When full each bottle is handed to the person operating the corker and the foiler.
As we plan for extended bottle ageing, we buy high-end corks. Our supplier is Portocork in Napa, http://www.portocork.com and we end up paying around $0.75/piece for natural corks.
Our corking machine (Zambelli Bacco Vacuum Corker, http://www.zambellienotech.it/index.php/it/zambelli-prodotti-enologia/enologia/item/linee-di-imbottigliamento, purchased from Napa Fermentations) is fully pneumatic. A vacuum is created before the cork is pushed in and the pushing action is created by pressurised air. So we need both a compressor and a vacuum pump to operate the corker.
Capping with a Foiler
Foils are put over the top of the bottle to protect the cork from mould formation. While mould is no longer a significant threat, foil tops survived mostly for aesthetics. Foils are today made from thin heat-shrinking plastic or metal slightly larger than the bottle top. They shrink and form a tight seal when the Foil Spinner is lowered over the bottle top.
Our Foil Spinner is Italian made (Binello - Alba); we purchased it from Napa Fermentation. We buy our foils in boxes of a thousand from Ramodin USA in Napa (www.ramondin.es/en/ ).
As with all other steps, we decided to design and print the labels in-house and affix them to the bottles ourselves. This requires some equipment choices (label printer, software and labeller) Because we do not sell our bottles, we have the freedom to design labels without artistic or content restrictions – for commercially distributed wines, the government specifies what can and what must be on each bottle label.
Equipment Choices: We purchased a special-purpose label printer in 2012 (Zeo! from QuickLabel Systems, www.quicklabel.com) with associated spooler and label design & printing software plus rolls of label stock. This was a poor choice because the software and the printer are badly designed, and the company refuses to upgrade the software to work on Windows operating system beyond XP – thus we need to maintain an old PC running Windows XP dedicated to the printer! The company introduced a new printer at twice the price instead. Bad customer service. In recent years we have thus switched to an external label-printing service Fernqvist Labelling Solutions in Mountain View, CA (www.fernqvist.com/); the material and printing costs for a simple design are around 50 cents per label.
We bought a basic electric labeller (Bottle-Matic II, from Dispensa-Matic, www.dispensamatic.com/bottle-matic/ ) which works very well, is ideal for our requirements, is reliable and easy to operate. With it, we can easily label around 150 bottles per hour.
As with all other steps, we decided to design and print the labels inhouse and affix them to the bottles ourselves. This requires some equipment choices (label printer, software and labeller) Because we don’t sell our bottles, we have the freedom to design labels without artistic or content restrictions – for commercially distributed wines, the government specifies what can and what must be on each bottle label.
Equipment Choices: We purchased a special purpose label printer in 2012 (Zeo! from QuickLabel Systems: http://www.quicklabel.com) with associated spooler and label design & printing software plus rolls of label stock. This was a bad choice because the software and the printer are very poorly designed and the company refuses to upgrade the software to work on Windows operating system beyond XP – thus we need to maintain an old PC running Windows XP dedicated to the printer! The company introduced a new printer at twice the price instead. Bad customer service.
We bought a basic electric labeller (Bottle-Matic II, from Dispensa-Matic , http://www.dispensamatic.com/bottle-matic/ ) which works very well, is ideal for our our requirements, is reliable and easy to operate. With it we can easily label around 180 bottles per hour.
We decided to produce very classic labels with a fair amount of information about how the wine was produced on the back label. We also manually number each bottle.
2009: we produced 3 very similar labels: one for each type of cellaring we tried out. “2009 oaked” for the 450 bottles we got out of mixing the contents of the new French oak barrel with half the contents of the neutral American barrel. “2009 unoaked A” for the 150 bottles we got out of the neutral American half-barrel, and “2009 unoaked B” for 150 bottles we got out of the remaining half of the neutral American oak barrel.
The back label texts were similar; for the “2009 oaked” it read: This wine is made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown, vinified and bottled at 21891 Via Regina, Saratoga, California. We harvested 1.3 tons of grapes at 23.6 Brix on October 10, fermented without the addition of yeasts over 2 weeks and pressed into 2 ½ barrels plus top-up carboys. The wine was aged 27 months in a new French oak barrel and 1 ½ neutral American barrels. The goal was to produce a benchmark wine. In March 2012 we blended the entire French oak barrel with half of the neutral American barrel and filled 450 bottles labelled “oaked”. The remaining neutral wine filled 150 bottles each labelled “neutral A” from half barrel and “neutral B” from the full barrel. Chief winemaker Aran Healy, assistant Till Guldimann. / This is bottle # of 450. / Government Warning: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of risks of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery and may cause health problems. Contains sulfites. Alcohol 13.5%. General Warning: Consumption of this wine may also make you feel smarter and funnier than your mother ever thought possible.”
2010 & 2011: We changed the text on the back label
2012 - 2015: we changed the design of the front label slightly and started using an external printing service (www.fernqvist.com/contact-us )