It will be several months before they are released, but this week we are bottling the 2018 reds as well as the 2019 white LeDomaine. Under the watchful eye of cellar master Julio Sierra, four workers make sure that this operation goes smoothly.
The silence that usually reigns in the winery is broken by the tinkling of the bottles. The noise is arguably the most striking thing for anyone visiting a bottling line for the first time. It is not unusual to see the workers wearing safety ear muffs.
Bottling is done before the summer to avoid the high temperatures. Although the process is fully automated, there is a team of four people on duty. One operator loads the bottles, another one monitors the machine every hour, a third one places the bottles in the storage cages and the fourth one moves the bottles with a forklift.
Helping wines to age better
The bottling line at Abadía Retuerta stands out for its active use of nitrogen, which limits the presence of oxygen in the bottle and ensures that the wines develop better over time. Empty bottles are first treated with nitrogen and then again after filling. The vat that feeds the bottling line is also filled with inert gas.
The improvement has been considerable compared to the preceding machine, which provided a single supply of nitrogen. “The presence of oxygen has been reduced by one milligram per litre of wine”, says Julio Sierra. This explanation, which may sound somewhat technical, means in layman’s terms that the wines retain their intensity of colour and fruity character over a longer period of time. This is confirmed in the tests and comparative tastings which are regularly carried out.
It is no coincidence that Abadía Retuerta has expanded its collection of library vintages in recent years. At present, we hold back between 5% and 10% of the total output of our single vineyard wines and between 9,000 and 10,000 bottles of each new Selección Especial vintage.
At full speed
“Attention must be paid when creating the vacuum before placing the cork in the bottle because the liquid will expand if the temperature rises. And if the vacuum is not properly done, the cork may be forced out,” says Julio Sierra. “These are the usual wine losses that we see in bottles that have been exposed to heat”.
The cork also needs to recover after the bottling process. It is customary to leave the bottles standing cork up for a day or a day and a half in the storage cages so that the cork can expand. The bottles are then laid down for ageing. This is a particularly important process for reds, as they mature and all wine components are integrated.
Single vineyard wines are generally bottled in one batch, while Selección Especial, given its higher production, is bottled in different batches. “We can bottle 3,000 litres per hour, which is equivalent to 4,000 bottles of 75cl. If we bottle 1,5-litre magnums, the rate drops to 2,000 bottles per hour,” explains Sierra. Labelling is done at a later stage and is planned according to sales estimates. It is also standard to label specific orders, especially in the case of export consignments requiring back labels adapted to the legislation of the recipient country.
Identification of the different lots ensures the traceability of all the wines in the winery. The wine inside is obviously the same, but the corks and the day of bottling change. This is why we take control samples from each of the lots which are then monitored for 10 years. From that moment on, these bottles are moved to the “historical reserve”.
In order to get there in perfect condition, it is important to have a totally reliable bottling line. That is the reason why Julio’s attention is focused this week on the readings of the pressure gauges and on the correct vacuum of the bottles. Any slight variation in the monotonous tinkling of the glass is a wake-up call that something may not be working as it should.