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An Afternoon of Bottling Wine

I guess whenever someone asks me to help with bottling wine, I immediately think of standing on a bottling line with funny looking goggles and protective gloves, loud noises of compressed air and rattling bottles making it impossible to have any fun. But when my good friend, Mark Blanchard of Blanchard Family Wines asked me help him with the bottling of 30 cases of a private label for Ronny Turiaf’s Heart to Heart Foundation, I agreed – not just for the free shiner bottles that would be inevitably left over, but because I always love to get my hands on all aspects of winemaking.

A quick word about The Ronny Turiaf Heart to Heart Foundation, it was established in 2009 after Turiaf (an NBA basketball player) needed a heart surgery right out of college, but did not have the money to pay for the surgery. Fortunately, people came to Ronny’s aid and he was able to have the surgery and save his career as a basketball player. Now Ronny is paying it forward by establishing the Heart to Heart Foundation to provide medical care for children who do not have health insurance and cannot afford the care that they so desperately need.

The Blanchard Boy’s are very proud to be part of this foundation, as this marks the third special bottling that has a cause attached to the label. Earlier in the year they bottled a Pinot Gris under the label, “Peoria Pink,” paying homage to their Illinois roots. 20% of the pink-tinged wine sales go directly to the Susan G Komen foundation to raise funds for breast cancer awareness.

Their other special bottling is labeled, “Red Scarf Blend,” and is a tribute to the men and women of the MH-53 Pavelow helicopter. A portion of the proceeds go to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, who’s mission is to provide scholarship grants and counseling to the surviving children of special operations personnel who are wounded or die in operational or training missions.

The Heart to Heart bottling will not be sold through Blanchard Family Wines; it was bottled especially for a dinner, auction, and fundraiser that was held in Spokane Washington at the end of the June.

Now, back to the bottling project. Bottling wine in the fashion that we did was about as old school as it gets; large plastic holding container of wine using gravity flow to the filling station, levered hand-corker, foil spinner, and hand-crank labeler. It was a 4 to 5 man team that cranked out bottle after bottle four nearly four hours. There are always unavoidable issues that you run into while bottling. For one, the filling station can be about as fussy as a leaky faucet – ebbing and flowing its drip with fillers that stick and stop working until you’re down to 3 functioning spouts, from the 5 that you started with — and a mess of red wine at your feet (note: don’t wear white shoes while bottling).

For some perspective, an automated bottling line would be able to pump out about 45 cases in an hour. We managed about 40 cases over the span of 4 or 5 hours. That being said, it is a lot more fun getting to do things by hand vs. watching a machine do most of the work.

Switching up jobs is necessary, as pulling the crank for the corker can become quite tiresome – despite that great workout that it provides. Spinning foils with a bottle on your hip is only fun for so long – though makes for some good profiled pictures that make it look as though you’re getting fresh with the foiler.

It’s only not long before you start cursing at the filling station for being finicky and spilling wine all over the place. But rest assured there is always wine to make you feel better, oh and pizza!

Bottling wine is always an exciting time for a winery. It means that a new wine will soon reach the hands of their customers. In the case of this bottling, it was exciting to have a hand in being part of a cause, and well to be completely honest, it was also exciting because of the fact that a bunch of famous people would be going home with a bottle of Blanchard Family Wine (I’m secretly keeping my fingers crossed that Mark gets the hook-up for some Warriors tickets next season).

The music choices for the day where not quite to my taste. I really can’t quite identify what we were listening to — I detected bad 80’s pop and classic rock that I wasn’t familiar with and assume only generations before me can appreciate. And so I focused on my work and daydreamed about being in a rural Italian village in the 1800’s, hand-bottling a couple cases of Grandpa Romano’s homemade wine. The family and neighbors gathered and chatted while a handful bottled with the sound of kids running around outside and Grandma Romano filling the house with aromas of garlic and basil.

When it was all said and done, and you actually get a chance to stop and notice all the wine stains you’ve acquired, the only thing left to do is to pack up a case of shiner bottles and head home.

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