Bottling 101 at Bluebird Hill

3 min read

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in, that’s certainly not because we haven’t been “wandering,” but because winter wandering in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is just not the same as summer! We continue to visit our favorite wineries and discover new ones. We also continue to drink our favorite wines and discover new ones. I chose to have a dry January, a great way to start off the new year. It did, however, put a damper on our Winery Wanderings adventures. I’m back now and the fun started with a lesson in bottling at Bluebird Hill Cellars, one of our favorite wineries in the area.

Neil and Sue Shay, the proprietors of Bluebird Hill, first invited us to help with bottling their 2015 private reserve Chardonnay and 2015 barrel select Pinot Noir at the end of December. Alas, a freakish ice storm hit the Willamette Valley and disrupted our plans. The rescheduled event took place late last month in the garage turned bottling line at the winery. Seven hearty souls joined together to bottle over 600 bottles of wine on a chilly January Sunday afternoon.

Our first order of the day was setting up the space so that we could be an efficient, well-oiled assembly line. Neil Shay (Tall Neil) was excited to show off his new bottling machine and his power corker, a step up from a single bottle machine and a manual corking machine. In the old days, Neil would use a plunger to cork each bottle, putting his rotator cuff at risk with each cork.

Neal (short Neal of Winery Wanderings fame) seemed to have a great handle on efficiency that day. He helped arrange the room to create an smooth system. We started with the Chardonnay. There was a worker at the cases filled with empty bottles whose job it was to label the boxes, load empty bottles onto the tray and fill each with gas. Then Short Neal and I put the bottles on the filling machine which automatically filled each bottle. We then passed them over to the table for corking. Tall Neil did the corking and then those corked bottles were handed off to a wipe down expert who then gave them to Sue, the labeller. Her handy dandy labeller made fast work of that task. Finally, the last person loaded the bottles into the now empty boxes, stacked and ready for sale.

All in all, our bottling experience was a great success. We didn’t break a single bottle (although there might have been a spill or two) and there was no sampling during the bottling process. We did look a bit like Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory on a couple of occasions but other than that, the process was flawless.

We continue to learn the ins and outs of getting a bottle from vine to consumer, thanks to our friends at local wineries. What a difference it makes to consume a glass of wine when you understand the attention to every second of the grape’s evolution that is necessary to create that wine experience. Our next experience will be in the vineyard, preparing for the spring rebirth of vines in the lush Willamette Valley. We hope you will continue to experience our journey with us.

Let us know if there’s any wine experience you think we should try. We’ll make it happen and report back.