With pruning well under way and wine fermenting in tanks and barrels, bottling lines throughout the country are working non-stop to get Marlborough's 2014 vintage to market.
Villa Maria Estate and Hunter's Wines were just two of many companies whose bottling lines were working overtime to get the first of the vintage to their distributors.
Villa Maria began bottling their 2014 vintage in mid-May with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Private Bin the first off the line. Their bottling line is located in Auckland.
Villa Maria executive director Fabian Yukich said the wine was transported to Auckland as fast as possible to maintain quality.
"Speed is of the essence, so we have a number of ways of bringing it up - either by truck, by rail or by tanker.
"It's cool when it leaves and it's cool when it gets here, so it's just a matter of making sure that the tanks are absolutely full, so there's no contact with air."
The process of bottling began outside with the arrival of the empty wine bottles. It was there that brand-new New Zealand-made glass bottles were taken off pallets and then photographed to check for any deformities, Yukich said.
From there, the bottles progressed along a conveyor belt, which led inside the building. They were sterilised, filled with wine and capped at 208 bottles per minute.
Every 30 minutes, 12 bottles were pulled from the line and checked to see if they were full enough and if the cap was properly sealed, Yukich said. The next phase was the labelling machine, which would label 300 bottles per minute.
"The speed of your bottling line is determined by the fact that you can keep the filler going all day long, even if something down the line stops. So every piece of equipment after the filler is around about 10 to 20 per cent faster than the filler," Yukich said.
"So if the labeller has to stop, the bottles can accumulate and the filler is still filling, and because the labeller is faster, it can catch up.
"Maximum efficiency is determined by keeping the filler going the whole time."
After the bottle was labelled, it was photographed again and rejected if the label was incorrect, he said.
From there, the bottles were machine or hand-packed into cartons and loaded onto pallets.
Villa Maria would only hand-pack boxes if they had a special order or small volumes of reserves, Yukich said.
From the bottling line, the pallets were either stored in their temperature-controlled warehouse or loaded into shipping containers ready to be exported.
Villa Maria had a large bottling line compared to smaller wine companies in New Zealand, such as Hunter's Wines.
Hunter's Wines winemaker Inus van der Westhuizen said they started bottling last week with a small parcel of 2014 rose. This week they began bottling this year's sauvignon blanc.
They processed about 1200 bottles per hour, which equalled 1000 cases per day, van der Westhuizen said.
Their bottling line starts with people loading the bottles by hand, they were then machine sterilised, filled and capped. It ended with people checking and boxing them.
Winemaker James Macdonald said they bottle nearly every day of the year.
"We basically bottle sauvignon blanc May to Christmas, January we bottle sparkling, February, chardonnay and March, pinot noir, then we start again. Everything has its place."
It was rare for a company of their size to have a bottling line on site, but it worked for them, Macdonald said.
"We won't ever give up our line . . . it suits us to be able to make smaller runs - we don't have to join a queue."
- The Marlborough Express
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