Last weekend it finally happened. After all the hard work, the waiting, more work, and more waiting… my first wine is finally in bottles!
After adding the oak spirals for one month, the wine had improved. It had much less astringency and greenness. The oak had done it’s job. It was finally time to bottle! From one of my wine-making classes, I knew that bottling would be stressful. It is literally your last chance to screw things up. My first bottling was not without mistakes; read on to learn more. Or, skip to the end and watch bottling in hyper-speed.
Mr. B had given me some tips a month earlier to help with the process since I had no bottling line, and this process was going to be entirely manual. To get the wine from tank to bottle, I used The Easy Siphon, 10 feet of 3/8-inch vinyl tubing, and a spring-loaded bottle filler.
To avoid having to manually hold the siphon above sediment at the bottom of the tank, Mr. B recommended attaching the siphon to a stainless steel bolt, so that the siphon would only pull wine sitting above the sediment. And that is when my first mistake came in. I had completely forgotten that I had bought zip ties to attach the siphon to the bolt (as Mr.B had recommended). Instead, I began fumbling with the fishing line I used to attach the oak spirals to bolts to weigh those down. Attaching a bolt to a siphon with fishing line was not easy and super frustrating. Drew’s (my husband’s) business partner showed up right when we started fumbling around with that fishing line. Drew and Dr. S proceeded to tie surgical knots. Go figure, that worked well enough. However, if I had only been a little more organized, I would have realized that the zip ties were on the counter all along. I would have avoided much grief.
From Tank to Bottle!
Once the bolt was attached to the siphon, we sanitized one more time and lowered the siphon into the tank. Getting the flow going with an easy siphon is well…relatively easy. Once the flow started, it was time to sparge the first bottle. Sparging is the method used to displace oxygen from inside the bottle prior to filling it with wine. I used an easy method, a can of Private Preserve, which is a mix of argon, CO2, and nitrogen. In the future, I will likely use a more sophisticated method, because I am not sure how well this worked.
After sparging comes filling. The bottle filler worked beautifully, and we quickly learned how far to fill. Due to the principals of liquid displacement, we had to fill the bottles to the very top. There were a couple of spills, but we got the hang of it. As soon as the bottle was filled, I handed them to Drew for corking.
Bit of a Snag
After the first 46 or so bottles, I started getting nervous that the siphon was not low enough. It was impossible to tell where the wine ended and sediment started (the alicante bouschet varietal has a deep color and you can’t see through any wine if there is a lot of volume). So, I moved it around a little. And, I promptly caused a clog, introducing oxygen into the siphon/tube. Not good.
Side Note on Racking & Filtration
Let me take a moment for a side note about sediment. Most wineries rack their wine at least twice so that when they bottle, minimal sediment remains at the bottom of the tank or barrel. However, due to my lack of fancy equipment, it was impossible to tightly control the introduction of oxygen into the wine. Oxygen will inevitably be introduced into a wine every time you do something with it. But, with my setup, a lot more oxygen would be introduced. Therefore, I only racked one time. I believe the majority of commercial wine is also filtered to some degree. There is much debate on this topic: to filter or not to filter. Some people strongly believe that filtering makes a wine worse (especially reds). Also, filtration equipment is expensive. Needless to say, my wine is unfiltered.
The Last Bottles
Back to the snag…after bottle 46-ish, more oxygen clearly made it’s way into a few bottles. The bottle filler also got stuck (due to the sediment clog) and the spring would not stop the flow. I held the siphon in the tank to have more control over things, and Drew had to furiously switch from bottle to bottle without stopping. Prior to this moment, we had a great system going where I would sparge and fill, and he would cork. Now, the corking had to wait. However, we successfully filled the remaining bottles and used up all the remaining corks. We marked these last bottles with tape and are curious to see if the accidental oxygen introduction and furious pace of bottling makes any difference. What was the final bottle count you ask?! 72!
After we finished corking those last bottles, we tucked them in and turned out the lights. Goodnight bottles, goodnight corks, goodnight wine and all you wine dorks.
In case you are wondering, I do plan to add a label, but I do not plan to add a capsule. It is actually somewhat trendy not having a capsule over the cork and neck. Plus, capsules cost money.
Also, though it’s nice to say that tucking in the wine for a period of sleep is the last step. Alas, no. Cleaning and sanitizing everything you just used is the last step. As I have said before, wine-making is mostly cleaning and sanitizing.