Two changes slashed our bottling times, effort and costs.
One was Peter Kozik building a fill level controller for the bottle filler and the other was going to screw caps.
Peter K is an electronics wizz kid who, in his other life, has built radar systems and assorted control systems around the world. So a simple fill level sensor was a snack. It turned a pump on when the level got low and turned the pump off when the level was right. Pretty easy compared to stacking boxes and tanks close to the roof.
Now we left the tank on the ground next to our bottling line and worked wherever we wanted to. As you can see our bottling line was pretty modest but again, it worked and I didn’t have to sell any body parts to finance it.
The other major change was going to screw caps. You’ve read all about corks and how wonderful they are in another section. For us, they were a royal pain in the arse. There is nothing, I repeat nothing good to say about a natural cork seal for a good wine. Sure there’s tradition saying this is how it should be done but tradition also states that we use leeches to cure headaches rather than newfangled aspirin.
A screw cap gives a perfect seal, it’s clean, there’s no possibility of TCA/cork taint and you don’t need a corkscrew to open the bottle. And who hasn’t had a corkscrew or your favourite swiss army knife taken off you at an airport? No, there is no good, sound, repeatable, testable, believable reason to use a cork on a good wine.
The only reason the wine industry didn’t move to screw caps sooner was simple market perception. A huge number of people still associate screw caps with a cheap wine and it’s taken a long time to overturn that association. Even Penfolds trialled screw caps on Grange and have gone all screw cap for their premium ranges.
As you can see we were quite passionate about screw caps. And the screw cap machine made life a breeze.
But back to corks for a minute. Before we went all screw cap we tried the popular cork alternatives; the synthetic corks. The first batch were too small and they fell out of the bottles. The replacement batch went in fine but you could break a corkscrew getting them out they were so damned tough. So we did what Goldilocks did and got something just right. We went to the highest possible cork grade money could buy and stayed with it. It was the only acceptable cork grade for fine wines until we went all screw cap.