Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Bottling Line Blues

As vintage starts to crank up, it is time to clear some storage space in the cellar to accept the newly crushed grape juices. As such, there has been a flurry of activity on the bottling line to try and move some finished wine. I was asked to assist with bottling one afternoon and was warned I would likely have to stay back an hour or so in order to complete the job. It seemed like a pretty easy if mundane task, with the added drawcard of some overtime cash.

Here is a rundown of how the bottling line works:
1. Bottles are dumped from cartons onto a conveyor where they are picked up by a wheel and distributed one by one onto the start of the bottling line.

2. Bottles are filled to a pre-determined level with wine which is being pumped from the tank, via a filter.

3. Corks are inserted into the bottles (the line is set up so that this step can be substituted for screw caps if required).

4. Bottles are capped and then labelled.

5. Completed bottles are ready for packing into cases.

I was quite interested to see the bottling line in action, as it was much more automated than the bottling line I have worked on back in Australia. I figured that most of the work would just be in packing the finished bottles and stacking them onto pallets, whilst keeping an eye on the line to pick up any issues. Pretty straightfoward, one would think.

Oh how wrong I was! 

During our extended afternoon with the bottles, pretty much every section of the bottling line malfunctioned at one point. One such error required about an hour's worth of repair work and another error resulted in about 30 or 40 bottles being incorrectly capped and/or labelled, so we had to soak and remove all the labels, and remove the caps. Of course, then there were the bottles that weren't quite full so we had to remove the cork and refill them to the correct level.

When one of the issues was deterimined to be that the very thin caps were getting caught together in the automatic dispenser, I was the lucky person who drew the short straw and found myself becoming a human part of the bottling machine. The next two hours involved me individually placing each cap on each bottle - fun times.

All being said and done, a fully mechanised and interlocked bottling line can speed up the process of bottling significantly, but it also adds many more factors that can malfunction and hold up the process. At the end of the day, at least I earned some decent overtime during the experience!