Bottling at LaVelle Vineyards
I’ve often wondered what it takes to get the wine I love so much from the barrel or tank into the bottle, so when owner and winemaker Matthew LaVelle of LaVelle Vineyards invited me to check out LaVelle’s bottling process, I jumped on the opportunity to see how it’s done.
LaVelle Vineyards is located in the heart of the southern Willamette Valley wine region in Elmira, Oregon. Aside from attending many of their super fun year round events, I’ve popped the corks on a great number of LaVelle wine from Pinot Gris and Riesling to Pinot Noir and Syrah – Matthew LaVelle makes some excellent wine.
One of the three times a year that the LaVelle’s bottle their wine is in the Spring, when the ornamental Cherry Blossoms at the winery are in full bloom and bud break has just begun. Inside the winery is the tasting room, and beyond the tasting room is the barrel room that houses the wine barrels and stainless steel tanks. The barrel room is also used for winter events, so I’ve spent some ample time in this room listening to live music and enjoying great wine.
When I met Matthew on a rainy Spring day to learn about the LaVelle bottling process, we immediately headed into the barrel room so he could show me where it all starts.
Starting with the stabilization process, both red and white wine are placed into stainless steel tanks to remove the cream of tartar; also known as, potassium bitartrate. Potassium bitartrate crystalizes in wine casks during the fermentation of grape juice. These crystals can often form on the underside of a cork in wine-filled bottles. To remove the potassium bitartrate from the wine before bottling, the LaVelle’s stabilize their wines in the tanks by chilling them to 30 degrees for a period of 10-14 days. During this chilling process the crystals bond together, get heavier and fall to the bottom of the tank. Course filtration will then remove these crystals, and the entire process is done chemical-free.
Once the wine is stabilized, it’s time to go into the bottle. Since the LaVelle’s do not have a bottling system at their winery, they call in a mobile bottling company. A large semi-truck pulls up along the side of the winery and inside that truck is a state-of-the-art wine bottling system.
A hose goes from the tank and hooks up into the truck where the wine is pushed through the hose using nitrogen. Nitrogen is used to move the wine for three reasons: it’s inexpensive, it’s not water soluble and it doesn’t allow any oxygen to interact with the wine. A puff of the nitrogen is also used to clean out the empty bottles of any dust particles right before the wine goes into the them, so even up to the last second, there’s no air contact with the wine.
Inside the truck, empty bottles are placed onto a conveyor belt that moves them into the machine that removes any dust particles from each bottle, then onto a machine that fills each of the bottles with wine, then to a corking machine, capsules are then fitted around the top and finally onto the labeling machine. After they’ve been labeled, each bottle is quality checked to make sure they are filled to the correct levels and that there are no issues with the packaging. Once they pass inspection, they are then placed upside down into boxes that hold a case (12 bottles) of wine, and each of the cases gets a label and is then stacked inside the winery.
This bottling system is so efficient, the LaVelle’s are able to bottle approximately 1,600 cases of wine using an eight person crew for an eight hour period. On the day of my visit, Matthew LaVelle was hoping to bottle about 2,000 cases of the 5,000 he plans to bottle this year. This system isn’t only super efficient, but it’s much less expensive than bottling manually or out-right purchasing the machines needed for the process. In fact, Matthew LaVelle said that most of the wineries in the south Willamette Valley use this same mobile bottling unit, with the exception of a couple larger wineries that have their own systems and smaller wineries which bottle manually.
Amazed by the efficiency of this state-of-the-art mobile bottling unit, I now look at each bottle of LaVelle wine I open with a new found respect. From stabilization to bottle to the wine in my glass, this bottling process is extraordinarily impressive.
For an entire photo essay of the bottling process at LaVelle Vineyards, click here.