|Early morning fog begins to lift off the mountains |
on the approach to Markham (I-66 west).
A few minutes before 9, I pulled into the winery's parking lot, navigating around a food truck-sized truck plugged into a generator. I could see two moving conveyor belts -- one that took the empty bottles into the center of the truck, and another that spit the filled, labeled, and corked bottles back out for boxing. Soon I got to meet Seth, three other winery employees, two mechanically inclined chaps who operated the innards of the truck (and who kept us entertained and motivated with an energetic playlist) and two other volunteers.
I'd been curious about who would volunteer for such a weekday event. In addition to myself, there was another retiree and a young schoolteacher off for the summer. Before long, a forklift pushed a 7-foot cube of shrink-wrapped empty bottles into place. The other retiree and I were assigned the task of loading the empties into the hopper of the first conveyor belt. The teacher and a winery employee would staff the other end, carefully loading the completed bottles into boxes.
With a few false starts and groans, the conveyor belt began moving, and we started grabbing bottles and pushing them into the hopper. The work was fairly constant, with a half-dozen instances when the mechanics had to make some quick adjustments to the inner workings. Once we'd finished with that load of bottles, another 7-foot cube of empties was forklifted into place.
After about an hour, Seth invited me to see the full process behind the truck's thick plastic curtains. "Don't touch anything!" he warned good-naturedly, as I marveled at all the metal moving parts. The bottles are grabbed by the machinery, cleaned, then filled. A big roll of labels are glued on in another spot in the works. An enormous bag of "Drink Naked" corks hung on a hook, ready to refill the mechanical corker. The foils are added at the end, and then pinched for a tight fit before the bottles make their way down the other conveyor belt to the two women who boxed them up.
I lost count but think we emptied three of those 7-foot cubes of bottles before the next forklift swung into action. This time, behind the shrink wrap was an equivalent sized collection of case boxes with 12 empties in each. Instead of grabbing empty bottles and feeding them into the hopper, we "dropped" onto the table the opened bottoms of each case to let the bottles out, then pushed them onto the hopper table before lifting off the box. It took a few tries before I was able to do this in a smooth fashion and without knocking over bottles or losing the cardboard dividers inside. Three or four more of those shrink-wrapped case box monoliths were positioned as we continued to work away.
After about 4-1/2 hours, we were done. The leftover corks and labels were handed off to Seth, and the two mechanics packed up their truck. "We're off to Horton [in Gordonsville] for the next 2 days," the truck operator declared. So this is how it's done, I thought: traveling bottlers.
Hot and tired, our group was beckoned inside by the luscious smell of a barbecue lunch in the air-conditioned tasting room. I don't think I've ever been so happy to sit down!
After chilling (myself as well as the vino), I'll look forward to tasting some of my reward -- we each earned three of the 2014 Chard we bottled today. Not a bad trade for an honest day's work.
|Naked Mountain's 2014 Chardonnay.|