Diaries from the vines #2: Bottle Job

One of my jobs at the winery is to take people around the vineyard and give them a tour. I have been doing this twice a day since the start of the season and often find myself repeating the same things word for word. When I realise I am doing this I make a conscious effort to change it up and keep my speech fresh, however, one thing I never change is the sentiment that wine is romantic. When I say romantic, I mean it in every sense of the word. It’s often the drink of choice when couples go on a date, and the fact that so much hard work goes into producing wine just reaffirms to me how romantic it can be. It’s a labour of love and producing wine comes with huge risks as we are dependent on weather. Mother Nature is your best friend and worst enemy. In past years; about 90% and sometimes 100% of the crop in Burgundy have been destroyed due to hail stones, Chablis and Macon were hit very hard last year. It can be a crippling, both emotionally and financially.

So why do people start to enter the wine industry? Well, I can’t say for everyone but it was the romance and the whole ceremony of opening a bottle of wine that attracted me to it. In the ‘New World’, the industry is young and we don’t have the generation upon generation of family tradition that ‘Old World’ countries such as France, Spain and Italy have. I see this as a good thing as it gives winemakers more freedom to explore different blends and push the boundaries of what is possible without being bound to strict appellation laws. It gives them the chance to do what they love and explore/push the boundaries of wine production.

I can talk about wine all day, and that’s fortunate as my current job is primarily focussed on talking about wine all day. It’s one thing to speak about wine but when I happened to stumble upon the opportunity to work at a winery in Canada (it literally happened by a chance meeting at a wine tasting in a bar in Sheffield train station… I shit you not!) I was excited to be able to be a part of the whole process. A few weeks ago I assisted on the bottling of the Luckett Vineyards 2016 Ortega and it was a great experience. When we sit in a bar/restaurant or our front room, pouring a glass of wine, we don’t think of the process and journey it took to get from the vine to our glass. We have the finished product with the nice label and we are making our own romantic memory. This is all well and good and I love those moments, however, the wine has gone through an industrial procedure to get to that moment.

In the Ortega bottling, there were five of us in a freezing warehouse all dressed in our ‘grubby clothes’ working the bottles like a production/assembly line. One of us prepped empty bottles onto a table, the next person put them into a machine to rinse, then the next person took the clean bottles and put them into the actual pump, the next task was to put the cork in, then the final person put the bottles in a case. It was just like a factory production line and in five hours of more or less non stop repetition, we processed about 3000 bottles. This was just one day of bottling and it was fast paced, manual work. It really enhanced my romanticism for wine, as I could now appreciate the dedication that it takes for a small vineyard to produce their wine. The team on this particular day consisted of an array of people from the winery, from our head winemaker and his assistant, to a server, to a chef and to an idiot from England who co-runs a blog and repeats himself on a weekly basis that he is proud to be a working class northerner who loves wine (me, in case you didn’t realise who I was talking about).

The whole process encapsulated my love for independently produced products, not just wine, because I appreciate the hard work that goes into the whole process of creating any product/commodity. Manually bottling wine gives it a personal touch that is lost when we rely on a machine and automation. In particular with the 2016 Ortega, I feel pride and sometimes I tell visitors that we get at the vineyard that I helped bottle it, because it gives it more of a personal touch. Processing 300 bottles was a drop in the ocean considering that we produce an average of 120,000 bottles of wine per year and I guess that the romance may go out of the window a bit when you have bottled your 50,000th bottle and then realise you’re not even half way through the year’s produce. However, as I am also a consumer of wine; I would rather spend a little bit more money and drink a bottle that has been produced and bottled by a vigneron with a motley crew team of people who all share the same passion for wine, who were all listening to the one station that the radio in the warehouse could get reception on, than spend a little less on a mass produced bottle that was part of an automated production line. The personal touch, the physical exertion that go into these processes all go towards giving a bottle of wine that extra bit of personality, and in my opinion, encapsulates the romance that we normally associate with it.

– J A M E S



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