By Kori ~ May 18th, 2009.
Recently, Colby and I drove to Wenatchee, Washington, to help with bottling at Fielding Hills Winery. This was the first time that we had an opportunity to take part in the winemaking process. Each year around this time owners Mike and Karen Wade invite friends, family, and wine club members to come for a bottling social event.
Their first year in business, when it was time to bottle their wines, they called the mobile bottling services only to find out that they were booked six months in advance. Out of necessity, they ended up purchasing their own equipment and enlisting family and friends to help them out with bottling. It has now turned into an annual social event with people coming from all over the state of Washington and even some from out of state. This year they even had a waiting list of people wanting to come and work.
I found this to be a fascinating event. The wine geek in me truly loved taking part in this small part of the process. I look forward to seeing a 2007 Fielding Hills Merlot on the shelf in a wine shop or on a restaurant wine list and being able to say, “I helped bottle that wine.”
Fielding Hills produces five varietal wines and one blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Tribute. All of the wines are bottled, one wine per shift, over the course of three days. Twelve people participate in each shift, each with a different job to do.
At the first station, someone picks up a case of bottles, pinches the sides, turns it over, and dumps the twelve empty bottles onto the table. The next person picks up two bottles at a time and shoots nitrogen gas into them which displaces any oxygen that might harm the wine and then places them on the bottle filler machine. The bottle filler works automatically, stopping when the bottles are full, and fills six bottles at a time. The next person removes the bottles from the filler and hands them to the person running the cork machine.
The person running the cork machine holds the bottle in place while the machine inserts the cork. From there, someone else wipes down the bottles and hands them to another person who places the foil over the top of the bottle. The next station is the foil spinner which seals the foil tightly around the neck of the bottle. Another person wipes down the bottles again and hands them to the person running the label machine. After the bottles are labeled, they are handed to someone who puts them back into the case boxes. When the box is full, the final step is to seal the box, make sure it is labeled properly, and stack it on the pallet.
After a while the work can become monotonous, but Mike Wade keeps the troops motivated by coming by periodically with a pitcher of the wine that’s being bottled and fills the workers’ glasses.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone. The workers get to go behind the scenes at a world-class winery, sip outstanding wine, and enjoy a meal outside after the shift, and the Wades get free labor.
When we finished, we sat outside on picnic tables for a spaghetti dinner and wine, of course. At the end of the day, we each got to take home a bottle of the 2007 Merlot that we helped bottle that had been signed by each person in our shift as well as winemaker Mike Wade. It was a fabulous day!
The Wenatchee World shot some video during the 2008 bottling event:
For the 2007 vintage, Fielding Hills produced about 880 cases. They will remain in storage to bottle age from now until they are released in October. I look forward to trying all of the Fielding Hills wines when they are released but will be paying particular attention to the Merlot this year to see how it has changed since bottling.
If you ever have the chance to participate in a bottling event or in any part of the winemaking process, I highly encourage you to do so. For those of us who spend most of our time on the consuming end, it is truly eye-opening to see what goes on behind the scenes to get that wine into the bottle and onto our dinner tables.
Filed under: American Wine, Washington State Wine, Wine Activities/Events