All wine enthusiasts appreciate the finished product with minimal contemplation of the energy required for the process of bottling the wine you just uncorked. In corporate wineries the process is fully automated with equipment that ensures the shimmering consistency of identical products. Machines adjust the wine levels, cork the bottles, precisely label and encapsulate the neck, but most boutique wineries do all of that work by hand. Valley Girl Wines in the past used an Igloo cooler (one of the gold and red plastic dispensers commonly seen at athletic games for storing an unspecified “sport’s drink”) to fill each bottle, corks were pressed into each bottle using a borrowed hand lever device, and capsules were melted unevenly with a hair drier. It was all very “artisanal” and charming, but also a slow and laborious process that tested our ingenuity.
Although, Valley Girl Wines is aspiring towards a consistent production increase we have no desire to achieve mass quantity and full automation at the expense of quality. But, when you have to bottle six barrels of your big red blend in a single day the back spasms and stained palms make you appreciate the allure of technology.
After aging in the barrel all the wine needs to be pumped out, discarding the lees (or solid particles and yeast that settle to the bottom of the barrel, if you ever had an inexpensive red from Trader Joe’s and found matter that resembled a melted lipstick at the bottom of your glass you have just encountered the lees). Once the wine has settled after a period of rest it must enter the bottle, fortunately we have generous friends at both Montaño Benson and Shedeh who loaned us their bottling machine. Wine enters into a reserve tank at the top of the machine and there are six nozzles that gravity feed the wine. The bottle rests comfortably on an adjustable bar that is fixed into place based on the level required to fill with wine, leaving enough space for a cork. This equipment enabled our team to fill more bottles rapidly. Though the machine had a hose that would attach directly to the pump and fill the reservoir on top with wine, we needed to mildly filter the wine before bottling it so the tank still needed to be filled by hand.
Once the bottle had been filled with wine they were sent to be corked by two strong members of the team (including the winemaker Sitara). The lever machines required quite an exertion to force the cork into place, both Sitara and Chente kept up with the endless bottles of 50 Shades of Red being filled by the machine.
These bottles were then placed in boxes of a dozen and carried across the room by Ava. In eight hours our team of Sitara, Chente, Ava and the author bottled 150 cases of wine or 1080 bottles. We were covered in sweat, wine, tears, though fortunately not blood having sustained blisters, box cuts and sprained wrists. We retired to the El Corcho Rosa trailer to lick our wounds and drink a couple of bottles.
By Michael Beblowski