It had been a long time since we went up to see the farm at Black Ankle, but we have a French student intern, Charlotte, staying with us and having visitors always motivates us to do less work and have more fun.
Sarah has been practically living up at the farm for the last several days, and a visit there was also a good way to get to see my sister. Saturday was the last of three days of bottling, which is an expecially exciting time to visit.
Because the amount of wine Black Ankle produces is relatively small and the cost of a bottling operation is very high, Sarah and Ed hire a mobile bottling company, Landwirt Bottling, to come every year to bottle their wines. The entire operation is housed inside the bed of an 18-wheeler. They pull into the vineyard, set up their assembly line and bottle until the job is done. Then they close the doors and move on to the next small vineyard.
Watching the bottles move through the assembly line is like watching a kinetic scuplture. Parts are moving constantly. The empty bottles come out of the boxes and are loaded onto the conveyor belt. The contraption then flips the bottles upside down, washes them, and fills them with carbon dioxide to flush out the oxygen. The bottles get filled, and the level of each bottle is measured to make sure they are all the same. Any extra gets siphoned off.
The bottles then wind their way back to the beginning where their boxes are waiting for them. The boxes get loaded with filled bottles and then sent out of the truck on a conveyor belt. At the other end of the belt, the boxes are loaded onto pallets and, when each pallet is full, it gets taken into storage on a forklift.
We got in on the action, "helping" during the end stages, boxing up the filled bottles, sending them down the conveyor belt into the winery for storage, and labeling the boxes. It was just like "I Love Lucy" with the chocolates, making sure that the bottles got into the boxes as fast as they came down the assembly line.
The drawback of the assembly line is that if one falls, the rest go down like dominos. We did lose one bottle that way. One tipped over and I tried to stop the rest from falling, but my reactions weren't fast enough. It was miserable to see all that hard work spilling onto the conveyor belt and floor.