Or do they?
Being a winemaker is probably one of the few jobs where ‘screwing’ around on the job is something you can get away with, and in some cases … necessary.
So when I was invited by Torre di Pietra Winery owner Ken Maxwell (out in Fredericksburg, Texas) to check out their screw cap wine bottling process, you bet your bottom dollar I wanted to see this for myself! In all my years of studying wine, somehow getting to see a wine being bottled by machine was something I’d never seen in person, and certainly not one being bottled with a screw cap.
Now for those of you thinking … “Ewww! Why would you drink a wine that has a screw cap?!?” I only have one thing to say to you …
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a wine that has a screw cap instead of a cork! Screw cap wine closures seem to be synonymous with cheap wine for many wine consumers, but they shouldn’t be. While a wine closed with a cork is romantic/traditional, they also pose the threat of causing the wine to be “corked”. For those of you who don’t know what that means, this is when you open your wine and notice a horrible musty and moldy smell/taste. This comes from something we call TCA in the wine world … if you wanna be a smarty pants its technical name is “2,4,6-Trichloroanisole” … but we will say TCA, and it is a substance used to sanitize natural cork before it is sent out for wine bottling. When closed with a cork that is infected with TCA … the wine becomes infected as well and you end up with a ruined and awful smelling wine. I have heard estimates of about 5% of wines on store shelves are “corked” which translates to an estimated $650+ million dollar loss to the wine industry as a whole!! Now don’t get me wrong here, I am not anti-cork either, but I just want wine drinkers to stop thinking screw caps on wines are bad. Get that crazy idea out of your head!
Back to the Screw Cap wine bottling line …
I had to bring along my “partner in wine” aka Mom! I told her she needed to be my personal photographer. But about 45 minutes on the road headed to Torre di Pietra winery … I REALIZED I LEFT MY CAMERA BATTERY ON THE CHARGER AT HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AAHHHHHH!!!!!!! I didn’t know what I was going to do when I arrived! Here was this awesome winery owner offering me this awesome blogging opportunity … and I didn’t have my camera battery!!!!
That’s like a near sighted surgeon forgetting is glasses at home on the day of a surgery.
Ok, I exaggerate, but you get the idea! I almost contemplated not showing up … but then my mom calmed me down and reminded me, “You can always see if the owner has a camera and if not, then just write a post without pictures and explain to your blog readers what happened, I am sure they will laugh about it.” All I thought was, “Ya. Real funny. [Gosh I feel so unprofessional].” … Then I remembered what blogging and social media is all about … being honest and transparent. So I decided to take my mom’s advice and just go with the situation.
The blogging gods must have been pleased with my conclusion because the second I arrived at Torre di Pietra, the owner, Ken tells me he does have a camera … one of those professional, mega-duty, my-camera-is-bigger-than-your-camera kind of cameras. (At this point I was kind of glad I left my camera battery at home, cause my little rinky dink point and shoot was just embarrassing compared to this one!) So Ken busts out the MEGA camera and saves my wine blogging day! Yaaaay!
So now I am able to show you the behind the scenes look at what a screw cap bottling line machine process looks like!
First is the section where the bottles are cleaned and dried in about 3 seconds. Then they are filled up with the wine, and some crazy wand inserts itself into the bottle, injects some inert gas into the wine filled bottle, which causes any excess wine to come out, thus making sure that each bottle is filled to the same level. Then the next section, screw caps are places on each bottle and then this crazy spinning arm comes down and spins each screw cap until is is sealed on the wine bottle.
Finally, the sealed bottles that a little conveyor belt ride to the labeling machine where labels are rolled against the cylinders that stick labels on each bottle!
We really had a heck of a time and Ken was able to explain so much about this bottling machine. He has a passion for physics, machinery, and various other sciences, not to mention he spent 25 years of his life working in the semiconductor industry. What a combination right? And the best part about Ken’s love/expertise with machines is that he can fix all his machines on his own! In all my time in the wine industry I am always amazed at what wine people have as their ‘other’ passions. Ken’s love of physics and machines is certainly a first for me though, haha. And just in case my descriptions and photos still leave you confused about this screw cap bottling process, I found a video on YouTube showing how this bottling machine works, minus the labeling part! Enjoy and nerd it up!
After the crew cap machine tour, we had the lovely opportunity to sit down with Ken Maxwell and his consulting wine maker, Don Pullum. I will let you know of our awesome conversation topics and all about the wines we tasted in Part II of this post, so please stay tuned!! Cheers!