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Bottling Day

Back in October of 2010, I picked-up my first fruit from Black Ridge Vineyards in Los Gatos and probably dreamed of this day, and now, after three harvests, 27 months in barrel, and a lot of help from friends, the first vintage is ready to bottle.

The winery is in San Martin, California with views to the west of the Santa Cruz Mountains where I source fruit from small mountain vineyards. The name “Left Bend” actually refers to a slight leftward bend in the San Andreas Fault, which helped these mountains form.

Vineyard view

A week before bottling, Richard and I blended barrels of Syrah in a 1,000 liter stainless steel tank.  We selected barrels based on blending trials and tastings to achieve a balance of new oak, tannins, and fruitiness.  Samples were collected from the final blend and tested for pH, titratable acidity, alcohol, volatile acidity, and SO2.

Blending 2010 Syrah
On bottling day, the team set-up the equipment and moved bottles and supplies into position.  Here, I’m connecting the stainless steel bottling tank to the bottle filler before elevating the tank with a fork lift. The filling is done by gravity flow, which is more gentle, and better for the wine than pumping.
Connecting tank to bottle filler
Barry fills the corker bin with Left Bend corks.  The corks are shipped from the supplier in a sealed bag filled with SO2 gas to inhibit growth of bacteria while in storage.
Corker set-up
Tria settles in to guard full barrels of wine.  She knows the routine well.
Guard dog

The first step in the bottling line is purging the empty bottles with nitrogen gas.  Nitrogen is an inert gas used to displace air from the bottles.  Throughout many of the later winemaking steps, a lot of effort is taken to minimize wine/air contact.  Oxygen promotes microbiological growth and ages the wine prematurely.

Nitrogen purge
After the purge, the bottles are gravity filled on the 4-spout filler. The filler reservoir holds about 5 gallons of wine. As a bottle fills, the nitrogen is displaced and bubbles up through the plastic tubing into the filler reservoir.  A blanket of nitrogen builds up over the wine in the filler reservoir further minimizing air contact.
Bottle filling
The filler spouts are adjusted to give a consistent fill level in the neck of the bottle.
Checking fill level
Barry pulls a bottle off of the filler spout and corks it on the pneumatic corking machine.  This is at the start of the day, because eventually, Barry mastered the bottle filler and maximized output through continuous improvements.
  
Corking
About a quarter of the way through bottling, the corker fell out of alignment.  In an effort to fix the alignment, I bent the piece that drops the cork into position.  With a slew of engineers on the job, it didn’t take long to get the part fixed and whip the bottling line back up to full output.  John quickly mastered all aspects of the corker.

Corker repair
Bottled wine is packaged upright in case boxes for about a month until the pressure in the bottle, produced from insertion of the cork, equilibrates with the outside environment. The bottles are then turned upside down for long-term storage and aging. The bottles will be labeled at a later date, before sale.
Cases of Wine
Seh was the master of many trades on the bottling line; moving cases, purging bottles, filling, and here, first in line to sample the bottom of the barrel.
Bottom of the Barrel
The bottling crew: Seh, Barry, Marc, John, Richard (taking the picture), and me.  
Bottling Crew
We bottled 66 cases of 2010 Syrah and 33 cases of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon in about four hours.  With set-up and break down it took us under seven hours.  I went back the next day to clean and sanitize all the tanks, barrels, and bottling equipment.  As with most all steps in winemaking, cleaning and sanitizing is about 50% of the job.

We plan to release this wine for sale in the next 4-6 months. Send an email to list@leftbend.com if you would like to be notified. 

Richard captured the bottling line in operation on this video.
Here is additional information on the wines.
2010 Syrah
877 and 99 clones
Harvested on October 27, 2010
Santa Cruz Mountains AVA
Black Ridge Vineyard, Los Gatos
Aged 27-months in oak barrels
33.3% new American oak and 66.6% neutral oak
No fining or filtration
Basket pressed 
Alcohol = 14.4% (vol)
pH = 3.67
Acidity = 6.1 g/l
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
4 and 377 clones
Harvested on October 27, 2010
Santa Cruz Mountains AVA
Black Ridge Vineyard, Los Gatos
Aged 27-months in oak barrels
60% new French oak and 40% neutral oak
No fining or filtration
Basket pressed
Alcohol = 13.8% (vol)
pH = 3.57
Acidity = 6.3 g/l