5:00 am: My alarm goes off and as a habit as soon as I wake up I login and check that the nightly sanitation has finished. Our bottling line has an automated cleaning process which is scheduled each night, so this tells me if it’s going to start out as a good day or a more challenging one. Everything was good today, so I got ready and after a quick breakfast I was off to the winery to bottle our 2014 LangeTwins Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. I tasted the wine the night before and talked with our winemaker Karen Birmingham about it. The wine tasted great so it has me a bit excited today.
Shakib Ali and Randy Lange working on installing the line in November of 2014
6:00 am: I arrive at the winery with two employees and begin preparing for the day's bottling run. We confirm that our nightly automated sanitation has completed and that our filters, the last line of defense to remove any yeast or bacteria, have passed their integrity test values. Then we take a final measurement on the bottling tanks for record keeping and connect the wine lines to the tank. Now we’re ready to send the Cabernet to the filler and perform what we call the “first flush” where we flush about 120 gallons of wine through the wine filter and the filler to remove any remaining water that may have been in the system from the sanitation.
Now that we have performed our first flush, we begin syncing the machines up as our line is designed as an “MBF Superblok” meaning that all of the machines are synced together in one much smaller footprint than a standard line of our size. Once the machines are synced we send a sample set of bottles through the line so that our Lab Supervisor, Lindsey, can run a final analysis on the bottled wine to confirm that it meets all of the set specifications which include checking the alcohol, dissolved oxygen and fill height among other things. With these specifications checked off and one final taste approval done by Lindsey we are given the OK to bottle the wine.
All of this is happening in the first hour of bottling and is usually completed by 6:45 am. Today we were right on time.
Sample bottles for quality control
7:00 am: The remainder of the bottling team comes in and we have a quick meeting to discuss the day’s run and any changes or specific points we think may be challenging. Today we had three employees out for CPR and First Aid Training so our mechanic, Jose, and I will have to work on the line. No problem.
As soon as the meeting is done its time to begin. This is the most critical point of the production run as we have to make sure that our setup has been done correctly. We typically start off slow, around 120 botles per minute, while we check that the label placement on all four label stations is looking good and that our inspection system is checking the fill height, cork insertion and the labels correctly.
It took a bit longer than normal today as we just changed over from a week of running a reverse taper bottle. We also had to replace a spring on the capsule applicator star wheels (which guide the bottle into the spinner heads from the screw that moves the bottle down the line) as well as two actuators on the infeed star wheel that guides the bottles into the corker. With so many moving parts, we are always fixing something.
Reverse Taper Bottle (left), Claret (right)
8:00 am: We finally have the line dialed in and the package looking great! Now we can turn it up to 200 bottles per minute and let it run.
1:00 pm: We are done with the LangeTwins 2014 Cabernet! No time to rest as we need to get the line changed over to run our Sand Point Cab tomorrow. This is where all of our operators turn into a NASCAR pit crew and we all work together to get the changeover done as quickly as possible. This changeover is a bit more involved but by 1:45 pm the changeover is done and I can finally get back to my desk to answer emails and work on ordering parts for our upcoming filler rebuild next month.
3:30 pm: Time to go home. I walk the bottling line to make sure that all of the equipment is shut down properly and that all of the lines are correctly setup for the nightly automated sanitation.
3:45 pm: Lock the doors and go home. Another successful day of bottling done.