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Enology Corner

As an enologist (winemaker), the two most satisfying moments in wine-ma king are first enjoying a glass of wine that you started making two years ago and secondly, bottling. The first is obvious but the bottling process has many moving parts that have to come together at just the right time.

It all begins months before the bottling date. Any new labels need to be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in Washington, D.C. (basically another way to tax). Glass bottles and cartons need to be ordered along with labels and capsules (the sleeves that cap the bottles); all of them from different vendors. A sample needs to be sent to the mobile bottling company to assure that they have all the correct dies. The week before bottling the wine is filtered for clarity and to improve microbial stability. Filtering starts with 20 microns and decreasing in porosity until it ends with .45 microns. By comparison, a human hair is 70 microns.

Bottling day arrives. Sulfite corrections are added and mixed. Sulfite helps preserve wine freshness and is essential for aging wines. The mobile bottling trailer arrives and is moved into position. It undergoes sterilization with steam, alkali and mild acid chemicals, a process that takes about two hours. The hoses are attached from the wine tanks to the trailer and then it begins. Four or five laborers and two technicians oversee the entire process.

Empty bottles are dumped from their box onto the receiving table. The empty bottles are back-flushed with nitrogen, filled with wine and a vacuum removes any oxygen in the neck of the bottle before it is again back-flushed with nitrogen. In one process, the cork is pressed, the capsule spun on and the label applied and down the line they go. At the end, the finished product is cased, the cases taped, date stamped and a label applied to the case at a rate of three cases per minute. And this is with a "small trailer."

At the end of the day, the enologist breathes a big sign of relief. The process that started 12 to 18 months back, with the vines budding in April, the harvest in late September and wine-making through November, is finally complete. The wine is safe in the bottle, aging and waiting to be consumed. And by the way, the vines "broke bud" this year on April 18 and so the process has begun again.

Marc Nail is the enologist for Tehachapi Winery located at 22136 Bailey Rd. (off Cummings Valley Rd.) in Cummings Valley.