Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bottling 8/27

I've done small scale bottling with Burt before, with a siphon and hand operated corker, but this was very different...

Paul and Stef invited a bunch of their friends to help out on the industrial scale, up at Chaine d'Or. There were at least 10 of us in addition to the crew of 3 that came with the bottling truck. There were 3 different Cabernet Sauvignon's to be bottling, totaling about 400 cases. Inside the winery, Paul and Ingrid combined the barrels into a tank. From there, it got pumped to the truck.

The production line: A forklift holds a pallet of cases of empty bottles up to the level of the truck bed, on the left side. The bottles are in upside-down, so Millie would take the case, hold onto two flaps, flip it over, and deftly release the bottles. 400 times. The empty boxes go on an over head rack for the people on the back end to grab. The bottles are then taken onto a system of conveyor belts and diversionary loops. The bottles are filled by an automated system, then taken down to the corker, then to the capsule-o-matic at the u-turn. On the way back they are squeezed by the label thingamabopper, where the edge of a label catches onto a bottle which rotates until the label is on, then released. They then travel down to where two people reload the boxes. The full cases the go through an automatic taper doohickey and down coasters where they are stamped, labeled, then carried over to a pallet. Full pallets get wrapped up and labeled - ready to be trucked to storage.

The truck's crew watch to make sure everything is running right, slowing or stopping the line if there's an issue, making adjustments, helping with quality control, etc.

The first batch was the Chaine d'Or. I was at the bottom end, stamping cases and loading the pallet. It seemed to go smoothly, though I heard later our two people at the capsulator had a heck of a time, as it had a significant failure rate and they had to pull those off the line, remove the bad capsules and put them through again.

Lucky, the Stefania wines don't get capsules. Luckily, as in that freed up 2 people to help out with the looming disaster...

The second wine was the Stefania Uvas Creek Cab. I was again at the bottom end, with just me stamping and labeling and Jerry loading pallets, with a couple more people set to rejoin when they finished their tasks of the moment. It started fairly slow. Adjustments were being made and I didn't know what. After maybe 10 or 12 cases the line stopped. The labels weren't coming off the coil regularly. Paul asked a couple of us to go to that side of the truck to pull label-less bottles to be put through again. When the line started again, hardly any were getting labels. Now I'm reaching over machinery to grab these bottles and there's very little room to put them. The other person had to grab those and put them about 6' up the line. The line was quickly stopped again. I Love Lucy.

I've never seen Paul mad before. The crew guy basically told him that since the problem wasn't theirs, but the labels (the printer screwed up) they might as well pack it up and come back another time! Or they could leave a logistical nightmare of 110 cases of unlabeled wine. No way! Everything is set up, friends took a day off work, etc. etc. We are doing this today! The crew didn't seem too happy, but the line started again, though with many stops and adjustments. We had 2 people inside the u-turn manually labeling. I had to get stern a couple times because I'd have my hands full with up to 6 bottles and no place to put them. There was a shelf at the loading area where they could put the ones I missed, but that filled up quickly and the line would have to be stopped. I needed the little surface cleared as fast as I was loading it.

After a bit, 3 more were able to join us. The was a deck out the side entrance. We ended up with two people sitting and labeling, I was snagging, one person was putting bottles back on the line and the other passing some down. We worked out a circular pattern, so we wouldn't get in each other's way. Finished bottles were put at my feet, so I could put them up when the line stopped or a group were coming through labeled. Stef joined in, labeling down at the packing station, and some of the time one of the crew was able to snag on the inside. So, with the line at full speed, two of us maxxed out snagging, five labeling and two others moving bottles, we had success. And those crew guys had their morale back.

With the third wine, the SCM Cab, we were ready and primed. But the labeler was working. Emory and I stayed at our station just in case...

Case. After a bit a few were missing. No biggie, just needed to be put through again. Later on the failure rate increased a bit, but nowhere near before. Master labeler Tracy rejoined us. The situation was in hand.

Good thing we were "overstaffed". One person fewer and that second batch would've taken lots longer. Several fewer may have added hours. Excellent save!

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