Bottling Whoopsies

Bottling time is often the most stressful time of year for winemakers. Yes, sometimes even above harvest. Here's why: people are mistake-prone, and after you've spent a year, two years, sometimes even three nurturing along a lot of wine, making sure it's going to be utterly delicious and, as important, sellable, you suddenly have to give up control of your baby to the bottling line.

Getting ready for bottling is a fairly painstaking process. Estimating numbers of bottles and cases produced, allowing for loss from filtration or racking, then ordering supplies like corks, capsules, glass and labels, all the while remembering to allow for loss from setting up the label height and orientation on the bottle at the line, or in case of bottling line malfunctions. Making sure to order 1 3/4" corks for the whites and 2" for the reds, both at different grades and prices of course, and making sure the facility/cellar can store all the supplies and arranging delivery times that don't clog the cellar when they're trying to prep the wine for bottling are also considerations. And there are more, of course.

I've been doing all of this for our winery for several years now, without a hitch. Until last week.

My father and I were hanging out and supervising the bottling of our 2009 Pinots when the owner of the line announced that we weren't going to have enough labels to finish the lot currently making its way through the truck. WHAT???? I mean, I did the math. And checked. And double-checked. I know I was a journalism major, but that's why I triple-checked!! Sure enough, as it turns out, my math was correct. So what else was wrong? We searched for missing rolls of labels (they come on giant rolls and are peeled off by the machine like little stickers), and none were found. No malfunctions had happened with the line to use extra labels, nor could we find any other cause.

We ran out of labels with 80 cases of wine left to go through the line. Luckily, we had plenty of corks, capsules and glass, so we went ahead and bottled and capsuled the wine so at least it was safely in bottle.

Thus began the search for the little plastic wrappers the label rolls came in, on which were conveniently affixed stickers listing the # of labels on the roll for easy double-checking of your math. This took a bit longer, but we did find them and, indeed, they were marked correctly. Hmmm...

We did some more math with the line and, as it turns out, instead of the rolls having 1,600-something labels in them, they only had 1,250. And we were about one 1,250 roll short. So, the printing company somehow had spun the incorrect amount of labels onto the rolls but labeled them correctly. So, after throwing a tantrum and making some phone calls, we found out the employee in charge of double-checking this was recently fired! Yikes.

This wouldn't be such a big deal except you pay by the case to have wines run through the line. Running them through a second time equals double the cost, and that's not even thinking about scheduling with a line to come back out in a timely manner (some popular bottling lines book up six months in advance). Luckily for us, the printing company felt like providing us with good customer service -- a rarity nowadays -- and tomorrow they'll be sending up a small labeling machine to label, for free, the remaining "shiners" (as we call bottles without their packaging). It will take five hours! But it will be done, finally, and our cases can go to the storage warehouse all properly packaged.

This time of year can be so stressful because of whoopsies like this. When labels come in a roll, you're not going to unwind them and hand count them (not sure the bottling line would like you messing with the tightly wound labels even if you had a mind to). So, you have to rely on other people and your own sanity during the supply ordering time. It's hard to do, and when it goes wrong it can be expensive and perilous to the wine in some instances.

So, five hours of bottling for us tomorrow, then we'll return to the winery to prep our 2009 Semillon for bottling on Wednesday. Then we'll be done with bottling for the year and ready to focus on harvest 2010!


Sandi said…
Doh! Glad it's going to get worked out, though.

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