Have you ever visited a winery and wondered what the impressive stainless steel equipment is all about? Or perhaps you've seen a winery processing grapes or in the middle of bottling. Shea Wine Cellars bottled their entire 2004 vintage on August 9 and 10, 2005, and here's what happened.
Portable Bottling Line-
Used to be, if you were a small winery and needed to bottle your wine, you had a couple of not so easy solutions. You could purchase the equipment, a ruinously expensive proposition for a small business that might use it only one or two days a year, or you could prevail upon fellow winemakers to allow you to use their equipment. Ever try to transport a few thousand gallons of wine across the county? Not so easy, and if it's the notoriously finicky Pinot noir, by the time it gets there, it might just be wrecked.
Enter Signature Mobile Bottling - owner Mike Scholz had sold bottling equipment in the Willamette Valley, and he heard winemakers bemoaning the problem of getting their wines bottled. In 1988 he purchased a tractor trailer, fitted it with the right equipment, and started offering a portable solution- just schedule an appointment, gather the workers, hook up the pumps and hoses, and voila, a bottling line for a day! Signature has become remarkably popular and now operates nine different trucks, with different capabilities.
The Big Day- Lots of Prep
August 9, 2005 was Shea's big day, and the Signature trailer pulled up to the back of Adelsheim's winery building (where Shea leases space) early in the morning. Chris Matzepink, Shea's winemaker (Sam Tannahill continues as their consulting winemaker), was there to greet them, hoses, pumps, bottles, corks, foils, boxes, and all the vineyard staff assembled for the occasion. Chris took us through the tank room, showing us the Shea wines, which had been taken out of barrel and blended several months before, and were now residing in stainless steel tanks, ready to be bottled. Below, Chris shows us that the precious 2004 "Homer" Pinot noir takes up only the first few feet of space in this large tank. Precious, precious fluid!
Connecting Everything Together - Precious Fluid!
Chris was in charge of attaching pumps and hoses to each tank of wine, preparing the transport system to the mobile trailer. The wrong turn of a knob, or a loose connection, and the cement floor could hold the entire year's production of one of Shea's wines -- it's careful, precise work, and we didn't see a drop spill all day. Below, you see Chris attaching pumps and pulling hoses to lay out the route that the wine will take. It's going to go out the door at the back of the room, and travel over to the trailer.
At left below, you see a closer view of the connection at the bottom of the wine tanks, and Chris attaching a line to the tank.
In the picture at righ belowt, you can see the hose from the wine tank going into the bottom of the trailer. The man at right is feeding cardboard wine case boxes into the window - a somewhat improvised scheme to make room in cramped space for all the elements of the assembly line! In a later picture, you'll see the boxes as they come into the trailer.
Corks, Foils, Bottles, Labels, and More
There's more than wine needed to bottle Shea's wines - earlier, Chris assembled the range of corks, bottles, boxes, foils, and labels needed to do the job. It's an expensive situation if something is forgotten, and different wines each have their own bottle type, foil color, and label. Below, the pallets of bottles, the gold foils used for Shea's Chardonnay, and the boxes of different types of corks needed to complete the job.
Here's the gold foils, used for Shea's very limited Chardonnay.
In bigger systems, these foils would be fed into an automatic "foiler", but here, they are placed by hand (below).
The Line in Action
With all the prep work complete, it's time to start the bottling line and bottle the Shea "Homer" 04. Pallets of bottles sit at the far end of the line, and a worker places them on the conveyor belt, guiding them towards the bottling equipment. At left below, the Signature bottling line manager is at the rear, monitoring the line. At right, a closer look at the bottler.
Here's a look (below) at the assembly line- the wine makes a complete circle, ending up back at the pallet of empty bottles. Along the way, the bottle is filled with wine, the cork is inserted, the foil is attached, the label is applied, and the bottle is manually placed into a cardboard case box.
Below, workers check the foils, which in the case of the red foils, are applied automatically, but have to be carefully checked for flaws. At right, Chris checks the end of the line - here you see the cardboard box being shoved through the window, handed off to a worker who is filling the boxes with completed bottles.
At left below, placing the wine into boxes.
After bottling, the wine will be aged for 3 to 10 months before release.
At right the cases of "Homer" are taped shut and Chris carefully
drives the pallet back to temperature controlled storage.
From clusters of grapes to completed wine, that's the story of bottling Shea's "Homer" 2004.
Below, a cluster of grapes from Block 25, one of the blocks the Homer grapes come from. This picture was taken the same day as the 2004 was bottled, and shows a partially ripened cluster of Shea Vineyard's 2005 vintage Pinot noir crop.
If you'd like to read about
the wines that were bottled this day, check out
or take a tour of Shea Vineyards: