Our Bottling Odyssey: Strickling the Extra Mile


A moment in the life of wine like any other. As important as the pressing, as important as a million other details. Yet it is a moment to which I have devoted a lot of time, energy, thought, (money, too) over the last few years.

It all started with my own discontentment. I just couldn't transfer 100% of the quality of the wine into the bottle without losing something.

(Important premise, we are talking about wine without added sulphur here. Adding SO2 is of course an option that absolves you of all this trouble. I am not dogmatic, I use it myself in minimal doses in some wines. But still, wine without added sulphur is the best option for me when possible.)

I recently talked with my long-time colleague Vašek about how we used to bottle wine ten years ago, no worries at all. At the time, we were fine with that, we thought we couldn't do any better, and it didn't seem to us that the wine suffered in any way.

So why the shift? Because I want to bottle a living wine, with all the energy and peps I know from my barrels. I want the bottled wine to have the same tension, the same vibrancy. At some point, I started to miss that in my wines right after bottling. Often it took a while for the wine to return to its original state, sometimes it was an irreversible process. To preserve my mental health, I would taste the wines no earlier than a month after bottling, when they were partially "back" to what I remembered them from the cellar.

Come to think of it, it all started five years ago with the closures. I started trying Ardeaseal because I wasn't happy with the expression of the wine under natural cork. Not because of the TCA, that's a minor issue nowadays, but because of the difference in the expression of the wine after years. We want our wines to stand the test of time and cork just wasn't doing it for me. Some bottles were normal, others past their prime, others reductive. Each cork breathed differently.

Everyone's response was Diam, I tried it, it probably works, but visually I don't enjoy it. I tried Ardeaseal: while still using corks, we put a few bottles of each batch under Ardeaseal. We opened them after two years and voila, the expression of all the bottles was the same.

I then replaced all the corks with Ardeaseal despite concerns that it was plastic or that some people might not like it. Ultimately, it's only up to me and the quality of the wine comes first. Problem solved, what can we improve next?

We tweaked our bottling line, tried gentler pumps, the results got better but it still wasn't what I had in mind. The idea was this: to have the entire "last mile" of the wine, from the barrel or tank to bottle, under inert gas so that the wine doesn't come into contact with oxygen at all and can't get unnecessarily "stale".

And we did it. We now have a linear isobaric GAI bottling line. It is primarily designed for bottling sparkling wines from pressure tanks, which is handy (here's to looking at you, KIDDO), although it wasn't our primary goal. We use it for still wine, pushed through the line by gas instead of pumps. Mission accomplished, and I must say, successfully. I can open my wine immediately after bottling and it is not "shaken" or affected. Hooray.

But since we never rest on our laurels... we're currently working on using the inert gas also for racking. We first suck the air out of the empty vessel, gradually getting the oxygen out. (Simply pouring inert gas into the tank doesn't work, the whole process is far more complicated.) And only then do we start pouring the wine from the other tank (also de-oxygenated during the process) into the voided one. We have done some analyses and the amount of dissolved oxygen in the wine is noticeably less than during a conventional racking.

I am a fan of simple solutions and use them liberally. On the other hand, I like progress and use technology when it helps me to put a better wine out there.

A lot of people who have been here have shaken their heads. They don't get it. They ask why all this trouble when all you have to do is add a little SO2 before bottling or call a mobile bottling line, or this and that.

Yes, it's definitely possible and you can get good results. However, I chose this, it works for us and it was worth it. Despite plenty of skepticism around.

Another winemaker a few villages from us has the same line. He also bottles wine for other colleagues, including still wines, because it has reduced sulphur addition before bottling by up to 30 mg/l. Nobody wants to drink over-sulphurised wines, natural or not. It's a move in the right direction. Thanks to physics, not chemistry.

I'm not saying that you can't make good wine without this system. Of course you can. The quality and essence of wine lie elsewhere, of course, it is after all a fermented grape. But bottling is one detail out of a thousand that we've managed to improve, we're happy about it and we say try it too if you have the chance.

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