Bottling Up Canyon Wind Wines: Part 1
Since grape harvest doesn’t happen until September at Canyon Wind Cellars in the Grand Valley of Colorado, my blog series on winemaking processes will not be sequential. Also, since we age wine in oak for various amounts of time (anywhere from four months to two years), our winemakers are constantly working on various stages of wine production throughout the year. There are so many steps to winemaking that I will address in future blog posts this year: lab work, harvest, crush, fermentation, pressing, cold stabilization, secondary fermentation, barrel aging, and racking. I last explained blending in February this year. We recently wrapped up two consecutive weeks of bottling, so now is as good a time as any to learn about this step in winemaking!
If you are now envisioning two solid weeks of bottling, think again. Several steps go into each bottling: obtaining the materials, settling, filtration, and the actual bottling. All of this happens once our winemakers, Jay and Jennifer Christianson, decide that a wine is ready to roll.
Obtaining the Materials: When planning bottling, materials must be ordered and shipped to us. We need bottles (which come in case boxes of 12), corks, foils, labels, and gases. Sometimes obtaining these things is harder than you would think due to West Coast port strikes and such. The bottling line, purchased in 2000, is already in place at Canyon Wind Cellars. Also already on site is the pump and the plate and frame filter. Of course, our winemakers have to ensure that all of this equipment is in good working order before a bottling. However, the bottling line manages to keep Jay and Jennifer on their toes every bottling day, and improvisation is a necessity. During a recent bottling, we found ourselves hand-labeling a couple of pallets of the 2014 47-Ten Red when the machine’s labeler was not cooperating for a while.
Some of our huge stainless steel tanks used for settling and storage before bottling. Our tanks range in capacity from 1500 to 4500 gallons.
Settling: About 10 days before a planned bottling, we pump the wine out of the barrels in our underground cellar and into stainless steel tanks. And then it just sits there. The wine comes out of the barrels with some sediment (called lees), and it helps to let that settle to the bottom of a tank ahead of time. This makes filtration faster and easier.
Overhead view from the winery catwalk of our plate and frame filter (upper left) and pump (lower right) in action.
Filtration: Our winemakers like to say that winemaking is 80% cleaning, 19% moving heavy things, and 1% drinking cold beer. So the bottling process really starts with cleaning. Before filtering the wine, they must sanitize the filters and the tanks into which they will be moving the wine. The filter is sterilized with hot water (180 degrees minimum) for at least 20 minutes. Pre-bottling filtering is a two-day process. At this point, the wine does not necessarily have large particles in it, but particles can be present from the time the wine was in the cellar. Filtering is also a safeguard against any possible spoilage organisms, ensuring high quality and tasty wine in every bottle. Day one is for coarse filtering, during which the wine is pumped out of a tank, through a plate and frame filter, and through filter pads that are rated to remove particles less than 1.5 microns. Afterwards, the filter and the tank are sanitized again. Day two is fine filtering. The winemakers go through the same process with the cleaning, filtering, and cleaning, this time with filter pads rated to remove 0.45 microns or less (smaller than any spoilage organisms) from the wine. This filtration needs to happen just before bottling day, within 48 hours. Also, Jay and Jennifer check the bottling line functionality on filtration day two.
Stay tuned for Bottling Up Canyon Wind Cellars' Wines: Part 2, in which I will describe the actual bottling process on bottling days!