Thursday, August 30, 2018

3,072 Bottles of Wine in the Box

Do you recall that wonderful "I Love Lucy" episode at the chocolate candy factory? The one where Lucy and Ethel can't keep up with the candies coming at them on the conveyor belt. I worked with seven other people recently to bottle wine. We all commented that we felt like we were on that episode, but with wine bottles. As much as we would have liked to have tucked some bottles here and there to speed up the process, it just wouldn't work!

We have become members of a local winery. One of the benefits of membership is that we can go to their tasting room, a convenient mile from our home, and have a free glass of wine. Many evenings we ride bikes to "Rigger's Loft" to enjoy our free glass, then head home for dinner. Members received an email inquiry asking for help bottling. We both decided it sounded like it would be interesting. So, Wednesday morning found us at the loft, ready to learn what we were to do.

There were seven stations in the bottling process.

Station 1. Bottles are dropped onto a table by the case. If you hold the carton by the corners, and place it open side down,  you can lift the carton off the bottles and most of the time the cardboard grids stay in the carton. The cartons are piled on the floor and will be taken to the other end of the line to be filled with full bottles of wine. The bottles have to be "sparged". A quick jet of nitrogen is blown into each bottle using a hand-held tool similar to a tire inflater. The jet of nitrogen blows any dust in the bottle out, and stays at the bottom of the bottle keeping any contaminated air out of the bottle.

Station 2. The filler grabs each prepared bottle and pushes it up to a nozzle. On this particular machine there were six nozzles. A long 2" diameter hose runs from the tank to a hopper at the top of the filler. The wine is gravity fed through each nozzle into the bottle. If the filler is set up correctly, wine will stop flowing at the exact "full" point.  (At first we had some problems with too much wine in the bottles... the corks were not going in all of the way.) When the bottle is full, the filler lifts it out of the nozzle and puts it on the table.

Station 3. The corker operator (that was me for quite a while) grabs the full bottle with his/her right hand. It is pressed into a "V" in the machine which has a switch that activates a piston, driving the cork into the bottle. The bottle is then lifted out with the left hand and put on the next table.

Sparging going on in the background. Bottles waiting for corks in the foreground
If the bottle is a bit too full, a tablespoon or so is poured into the pitcher.
Station 4. The foiler places the foil cap over the top of each bottle. No machine is involved! It sounds simple, but this is one place where we would run into a bottleneck (I just had to use that term!!) The foil caps are nested, making a long tube, and it takes some finesse in getting just one cap off.

Station 5: The foil shrinker grabs a bottle with the right hand and places it on the platform of the machine in a V made by two pieces of wood. Then the operator must use both hands to push two buttons. The machine lowers over the neck of the bottle and emits heat and pressure which shrinks the foil. When the machine lifts, that bottle is placed on the table to the left and the next bottle on the right is placed on the bed of the machine.

Station 6: There were two bottle labelers. Bottles were picked up and placed on the first labeler, or passed on to the second labeler. Once the bottles were in place, lying down on the machine, a foot pedal was pressed and the bottle rolled as labels for the front and back stuck to the bottle. Bottles were placed on the last table.

Station 7: Full, labeled bottles of wine were placed in the cartons which had been emptied at the first station, and carried down to the end of the line. Once 12 bottles were in the carton, it was taped shut and placed upside down on the pallet... which was actually right-side-up as far as the box label went. Each pallet held four layers of 16 cartons of wine. That's 768 bottles... and each person touched each bottle at least once, sometimes twice! During the entire day 4 pallets were filled... 3,072 bottles of wine!

A few rejects have been set aside. The labels will be scraped off  before new ones are applied. 
 We had a wonderful time. We were tired, but it was fun to be part of the team. Certainly there are larger operations with more automation, but this system works for this small winery. Will we do it again? Certainly!


  1. That was interesting! I would like that kind of volunteer work! :)

    1. You'll have to come visit and we can bottle some wine... and drink some wine... in that order!

  2. Replies
    1. Its was truly entertaining... if not a bit tiring! Great satisfaction for sticking it out!


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