Working with a bottler
Bill Hamlin of Custom Mobile Bottling oversees a recent bottling at the Winemaker's Loft in Prosser.
Here are a few key things that a winery needs to consider when working with a mobile bottler:
Materials: The winery must supply all bottles, closures, capsules, labels, and cases. Other requirements include a leveling pad for the trailer, three-phase power capable of 60 amps, and access to potable water through a food-grade hose for sterilization and cleanup. Wine must be bottle-ready, at a temperature of at least 60F. This reduces condensation on the bottle, which can interfere with labeling, and eliminates expansion in the bottle.
Bill Hamlin of Custom Mobile bottling and David Scholz of Signature Bottling both require a sample of each bottle, cork, and capsule well in advance of the scheduled bottling, and recommend that wineries check their label designs with them.
Accessibility: Bottling lines are mobile, but they are not small. Wineries need space to park a 65-foot semitrailer truck, with access to necessary electrical hookups, whether through the facility's wiring or from a generator. "One of the most important things I recommend to people is to have multiple locations for the bottler to hook up to," Mike Haddox, owner of the Winemakers Lift in Prosser, Washington, said. This is especially important if the bottling schedule might overlap with harvest. Wineries that plan on using the crush pad for bottling might find themselves squeezed for space.
Cost:Mobile bottlers all charge a daily minimum, but a run of more than 1,000 cases will probably exceed a single day. The cost can also be affected by the line speed. Most lines can run as many as 65 to 70 bottles per minute. That means somewhere around 30 hours to bottle 10,000 cases. But Hamlin often chooses to spend four or five hours on a bottling of less than 1,000 cases. "I can run my line speed at around one-third of what the big bottlers do," he said, explaining that the slower fill speed means less "bottle shock" to the wine, and that means the wine is ready for sale in a just a few days, instead of the month or more often required for wine to rest after bottling. Hamlin said that many of his customers report the slower fill speed can also translate into better wine. "They prove it time and time again with their wine scores," he said. "They see an increase of one to three points," an investment many of his clients are happy to make.