Late summer in the wine business is bottling season. As a new harvest approaches, it's time to get the previous vintage out of tanks and into bottles, making room to the next, latest and greatest (we always assume, of course).
Foursight has three very distinct bottlings this month: one hand bottling, one small run with a very small bottling line, and our biggest bottling of 800 cases of Pinot Noir.
Last week we did our hand bottling: eight cases of 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from our estate vineyard. We pick the grapes for this wine on Thanksgiving or the day after, coercing the entire family to go out with lug bins and start clipping clusters (we use the clippers and not the knives so we don't cut off any fingers needed to roast a turkey later!). The day is spent putting the lugs into a small, wooden basket press, extracting the juice (sometimes needing to stomp the grapes down), and then letting the wine start fermenting with wild yeast.
Because of the high sugar content of late-harvest grapes, it's unusual to use wild yeast fermentation as these yeast strains are not known to be very tolerant to the higher alcohols produced by fermenting something so sweet. However, we've discovered that the strains we have here on-site plow through without any issue at all, thank goodness, so we let it go wild, as we do with all our wines when we have half a chance to.
When we bottle our late harvest we prepare the wine, sanitize the half bottles, line them up and then start filling bottles with a tiny little bottling wand. One person fills, one person puts corks into the floor corker (requires some muscle), and one person wipes bottles and inserts them into the cases. We then leave the bottles upright for two weeks so the pressure can equalize (to ensure no wine leaks out of the corks later), and then label by hand and wax dip by hand. It's quite a process and I can't imagine having to do this with thousands of cases before bottling lines were invented.
Our second bottling tomorrow is for our 2009 Pinot Noirs, which are all between 13.5-13.9% alcohol! We're excited about this, although it wasn't necessary a style choice on our end. The wild yeasts in the 2009 vintage simply didn't produce as much alcohol as they did in previous years, so our style and winemaking philosophies stayed the same while the yeast did not. The beauty of natural winemaking! We love our wines, however, and are looking forward to being able to have that one extra glass each night. :)
We have 800 cases of Pinot to get into bottle tomorrow -- a huge lot for us -- so we'll be bringing in a much larger bottling truck for this job. We'll supervise (they have their own workers on lines of this size) and then we'll get to take home the first and last cases pulled off the line for quality control (and for us to drink at home).
The third bottling we'll be doing in another week will be with a very small bottling line that's in a horse trailer! This is fairly common for small wineries like ours, and this line is adapted to do just up to a few hundred cases per day. We'll be using this line for our Semillon, which we're producing 75 cases of from the 2009 vintage. We do have to supply labor for a line this small, which is also customary, so the entire family will be helping to put in fresh glass, put on capsules, box and tape at the end, plus a few other jobs.
So, by the end of this month, we'll have bottled our last lots from both the 2008 and 2009 vintages and we'll be ready for the 2010 harvest! Whenever that begins ...