The Terragena team often talks about our handmade wines, and that is something we’re serious about – our grapes are harvested by hand, and our winemaker is involved in every step of the process, including bottling. What does “hand bottling” wine look like? Well, we’ve tried the funnel-and-hose method before, but we have to say we’ve found a strategy that’s a bit more reliable and involves minimal mechanics so as to be off-grid friendly and gentle on the wine.
Back in the day when winemaker Chris Buchanan was still “learning” to make wine (which was delicious, by the way), we hand-bottled using a very simple gravity method with a hose and a hand-corker. The wine bottled in that way has mostly been enjoyed already by family and friends, some of whom helped to make or bottle the wine.
Now we have a bit more than a quarter-barrel of wine to bottle, so we’ve moved on to more efficient methods. For example, we recently bottled several barrels of Abbassi Vineyard Chardonnay, which was the first wine bottled in our own off-grid Humboldt County winery. Though we make relatively small lots of wine compared to the wine industry standards – some large wineries will bottle tens or hundreds of thousands of cases of a wine – we do produce at least 50 cases of most of our wines. So, efficiency is important. But not as important as preserving the quality of the wine and being sustainable in terms of our energy usage.
Our solution is to use a system with minimal mechanics that runs via compressed air. First, we blend our wine from barrels into a stainless steel tank, and then compressed air moves a diaphragm that gently squeezes the wine from this tank through tubing and into a tank at the top of our bottler, which is shown in the video below. Each bottle is placed by hand on the bottler, which fills each bottle to the right level using gravity.
We chose to use the diaphragm method rather than a more simple centrifugal pump because the diaphragm pushes the wine more gently and is therefore less likely to disrupt the complex tannin structures of our wines. It also reduces vibrations and other disruptions to the wine’s structure. In contrast, a centrifugal pump “whips” wine through tubes more quickly, and thus can “cut” through some of the complexity of a wine by creating a shearing effect. Additionally, the diaphragm can be run through an air compressor that uses relatively little electricity and can run off our solar power system.
In the video below, winemaker Chris Buchanan narrates the process of bottling our 2016 Seppa Vineyard Pinot Noir. You can see him clean the bottles and place them on the bottler, and then you will see vineyard and sales manager Michael corking the bottles.
This process is more labor intensive than fully mechanized bottling lines, but we think it’s worth it, both for the quality of the wine and the sustainability of using solar power. For more information about this and our other sustainable practices, you can visit the winery, contact us, or read other posts here.