Bottling Wine with Sam Pillsbury and Co.

Categories: Wine School
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Nicole Whittington and James Waldron
When I went up to the Verde Valley to bottle wine with winemakers Eric Glomski, Tim White and Sam Pillsubry, I kept hearing that "wine making isn't as romantic as everyone thinks."

Maybe the guys were afraid that I would find the monotonous assembly of bottling, corking, sealing, labeling and packaging dreadfully boring. But I just couldn't get past the romance of the story these grapes tell.

Some people say it's too hot to grow grapes in Arizona, but the real trouble in Cochise County (where most of the vineyards exist) is the frost. Winemakers do crazy things like light 100s of mini bonfires around the vineyards when there's a frost warning to keep from losing grapes. In the case of the 2010 vintage, hail really wreaked havoc on a lot of the crop.

But these desert grapes are survivors, as evidence by the wine I had the pleasure of helping bottle.

It takes six people to run the bottling line, and I was put in the toughest seat.

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Arizona Stronghold Vineyards Facebook
Person 1 is in charge of setting up the vats or barrels of wine to be bottled. Person 2 takes the empty bottles out the boxes to be filled. Person 3 watches to make sure the corker is sucking out the oxygen to form negative headspace, makes sure the bottles are filled to the proper level and puts the tin foil on top of each bottle without bending, denting or obstructing the foils. Person 4 double checks that all bottles have been properly labeled, foiled and filled before packaging each case of wine and sending the box down the conveyer belt. Person 5 stacks the cases of wine onto a pellet to be taken into the warehouse. Person 6 is a floater and keeps the filling machine in running order making sure all the valves, pumps and gases are giving a proper performance.

My job was to put the tin foil over the top of the bottle. Super hard, right? I heard rumors that Eric had said my position was a"woman's job." Of course I confronted him and he quickly recovered by saying he may have said that in the context of women being great multi-taskers.

I may be guilty of texting, eating, applying mascara and shuffling through my ipod all while driving, but being apart of this bottling line was straight out of a scene from I Love Lucy. One mistake or delay in grabbing new foils, and bottles would start to pile up at a rate impossible to recover from--especially since I was unable to sneakily stuff bottles of wine into my mouth or pockets the way Lucy was able to with the chocolates.

Our assembly line (or assembly squiggle seeing as how the bottling equipment was housed in what looked like a large horse trailer hitched to the back of the building) was fueled by taco flavored Doritos, bagels and organic apples; along with an eclectic sound track of Talking Heads, Gorillaz, Otis Redding, and Snoop Dogg.

The five hours I spent bottling felt more like playing a small role in a romantic comedy.
Sam's crazy dance moves never ceased to make me giggle, and Eric's charming smile was absolutely hypnotizing. I relished in every opportunity to soak up his knowledge of wine.

I also found myself transfixed by the instantaneous glow created by the simultaneous removal of oxygen and and redistribution of carbon dioxide just after each bottle was corked. It was as if I was the conductor of my own fireworks show.

I didn't find bottling the least bit boring; it illustrated why the love interests (of my imaginary romantic comedy) were meant to be together against all insurmountable odds.

It's nearly a year's worth of work come to fruition in 750 milliliters. Here's to 2010.

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