The "off season" at the winery
It's February. The vines are dormant. Last year's wines are safely stored in barrel. What could we possibly be doing with our time now that all the work is done?
As much as we'd love to be drinking the fruits of our labors while reposing by a cozy fire, there's actually quite a lot of activity here at the winery. Winter is our opportunity to move the wines that are ready out of barrel or tank and into the bottle. And before we bottle, we need to filter. Before we filter, we need to blend. And before we blend, we need to do trials to decide how to treat each individual wine so that it smells and tastes its best.
The timeline goes a little something like this:
I, Lisa, pull samples of the wine. I'll smell and taste, and based on my initial impressions, I'll work up about eight different samples. I might be adjusting the acid balance, blending in a small percentage of another type of wine, or trying out a specialized enological ingredient. Once these samples are ready, we'll taste through them as a team, give notes, and based off these notes, I'll rule out some of the samples and identify areas to keep playing. I'll then work up another set of samples that are (hopefully) more targeted than the first set. Again, the team will convene, and from these we will choose a final blend. This process usually takes about 2 days.
After we have a final blend, I'll write the work orders for Dan, our cellar master. He will work with Tom, our cellar hand, to clean and sanitize all the equipment necessary to move the wine into a tank for blending, and together they will carry out the ingredient additions, if required. Blending usually takes a day.
After blending, we filter the wine. This step is not strictly necessary, but at Aridus we prefer to make sure that we've eliminated any possible chance for microbial contamination in bottle. We use a plate and frame filter, where the wine passes across a number of inert filter pads and in the process large particles (including microbes) are caught in the filter sheets and clean wine passes through. Filtration can take a full day as well, since we clean and sanitize each piece of the filter assembly before use-- a task that requires about an hour and a half of scrubbing. We clean the filter after we've finished with the wine as well.
Filtration days are always long days for Dan and Tom, because in addition to filtering, they are also prepping the equipment for bottling the next day. They set out all the hoses necessary to move the filtered wine from the tank to the bottling line, and clean all the components of the bottling line that touch the wine.
In addition to making sure the line is clean, our operations manager, Jason, ensures that everything is properly set up on the bottling machine so that the bottles move smoothly from one operation to the next, that the corks will be inserted correctly, the foils will be smooth, and the labels at the correct height.
The next day, after filtration, we bottle. Prior to sending the wine to the line, we complete our final sanitation steps, and away we go. Depending on the the volume of wine, we can be done in as little as an hour, or the process can take all day. But no matter what, when we start bottling, we finish the same day. There's no drop of wine left behind. (Well, maybe one or two.)
So there you have it. From start to finish, it takes us about a week's worth of work to get a wine into bottle. This winter, we're bottling 16 different wines. We're hoping some of the smaller lots we can squeeze into the same week, but as it stands, we're going to be bottling right on through to the end of March.
Keep your eyes peeled for all the new releases!