Friday, June 17, 2011

In The Cellar - Making Firefly

Recently we posted some pictures on Facebook showing the process of bottling Firefly.  A friend mentioned how nice it was to get a behind the scenes view of the bottling line operation in progress.  So, we figured it might be nice to provide some background, the things you don't see, and give an overview of each step in the bottling process.

The Making of Firefly

The life of a wine begins with grapes, of course, and white wine grapes follow a different production plan process than do red wines.  Firefly is a blend (98%) of Catawba and Cayuga White (the other 2% is comprised of Chambourcin and Merlot - to give it the pink hue).  
White wine production (and we consider blush or rose' wines as white wines) starts with fresh grapes.  The grapes go through two immediate processes: destemming (removal of stems) and crushing (splitting the grape berry - not really "crushing").  The crushed white wine grapes and juice are then transported via pump to our wine press.  Under low pressure and through several cycles the juice is liberated from the grapes and is then pumped to a temporary holding tank so the grape juice settles overnight.

The juice (not yet wine) is not the crystal clear juice you see in bottles of grape juice in the store - it is cloudy, with grape particles, but still very juicy and delicious.  The next day, after the heavier sediment in the juice falls to the bottom of the holding tank, we transfer off the clear juice to a temperature controlled stainless steel tank to begin fermentation.

We use a winemaking process called cool-fermentation to produce fruity styled wines.  Making wine at cool temperatures (around 50-55 degrees) enhances the fruity character (also known as "esters") of this wine.  White wines made in this style can be bottle ready in 4-6 months, while red wines, in general, take between 12+ months to be bottle ready.

After fermentation and before bottling Firefly will be treated to two stabilization processes - to make sure the wine retains its stability and brilliance in the bottle.  And before bottling the wine will go through filtration to ensure clarity.

The Bottling Line.
It takes a well-trained bottling crew and excellent organization to put together a major bottling operation.  This week Zach, our winemaker, organized three bottling days to bottle 2,600 gallons (~13,000 bottles or 1,083 cases) of Firefly.  The dedicated and hard-working crew put in long days in the cellar (broke a record or two in the process - one day we bottled 950 gallons (about 4,750 bottles) of Firefly.  Whew! 

Prior to Firefly entering a bottle it is held in a large, 1,000 gallon stainless steel storage tank and then pumped through a final filtration before entering the bottling holding tank.

In the image to the left you can see a large pallet of empty wine bottles (to the far left) and a crew of four getting ready to resume bottling.  Cases of bottles are placed on the far table and follow this process: filled with wine, closure inserted, capsule shrunk, label affixed, and then placed in empty case and put on awaiting pallet.

The Picture to the right shows the process of filling the bottles.  Wine held in storage are, via gravity, fed into awaiting bottles. Six bottles at a time are in various stages of filling at any moment.  Once filled, they are removed from spout and handed to the next person who inserts a closure.

The vacuum closure machine.   This machine evacuates the air/oxygen and inserts a closure (i.e., cork or synthetic closure).  Note the closure in the bottle.

The photo to the right shows the machine that heat-shrinks the capsule (the decorative cover on the top of the bottle).  It takes only a couple of seconds for the capsule to shrink to fit the bottle.


The labeling machine makes quick work of adding a front and back wine label.  Each bottle is placed on the black rubber rollers and then a foot pedal is depressed and the label is applied.  Once affixed the bottle is placed in an awaiting empty box.  After 12 bottles are labeled the box is taped shut and placed on the next pallet.  About a 109 boxes will complete a pallet.  The full bottles on pallets are then placed in our warehouse.

(Left) this is a portion of our warehouse where our finished wines wait for you to visit, taste, and take home.

We hope you've enjoyed this wine production briefing.  This fall we'll document the process of winemaking via YouTube videos.

Hope to see you soon!
~your pals at Fireside 

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