How to Kill a Sommelier

I really love wine. I even love the whole process of how wine is made….from picking the grapes in the vineyard to fermentation to bottling to putting labels on the bottles.

So when my two favorite wine makers: Chris Lawler from Times Ten Cellars ( and Benjamin Calais from Calais Winery ( call me to help out, I usually say “yes”. Because to me, a bad day of picking grapes or bottling wine is better than a good day sitting in my gray cubicle staring at a computer screen.

Benjamin has called me several times to help with bottling, and even though it is physically hard work, I still enjoy it because I like the people who show up to help. We crank up the music, and work as a team because we want to help Benjamin and his winery be successful. Also, sometimes we get a “wine break” and get to taste the wine we are actually bottling.

So when Benjamin called for help, of course I said “yes”. However, he warned me that this will be the biggest production we have ever done. He estimated about 2000 bottles (I think the previous one was about 700-800). So we started at 10 am on a Sunday.

.Benjamin & Nick setting up for bottling This is Benjamin and Nick setting up the winery for bottling. All of the boxes you see are full of empty bottles that need to be filled.

There are 2 manual corkers to the right of the photo. One is attached to the table and the other stands on the floor. Benjamin and Nick handle that part of the process because I don’t have the strength to pull down the levers all day long and it really is the worst part of bottling because the corkers will get out of alignment and you have corks going in crooked, or breaking, or flying out of the holder….not good!

Benjamin is demonstrating one of the corkers and Nick is well…being Nick…I love him. He is always fun to be around and I don’t notice my aches and pains because he keeps me laughing. To the left of the photo is the 6 place dispenser “of Death”. It is my job to put bottles under those spring-loaded spouts. The lip of the bottles compress the springs so the juice will flow through the spouts and fill up the bottles. Thank Goodness they automatically cut off at the right level so I don’t have to pull the bottles out before they overflow. However, I do have to watch the tank at the top of the dispenser because the float inside is not quite accurate  and the pump that is attached to the barrel full of wine will keep going. We have had overflows before and it is amazing how much Chardonnay one can mop up after one of these accidents!

On this particular day we were bottling Cabernet Sauvignon (La Cuvee Du Chene) & Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend (La Cuvee Du Commerce). Because this was going to be a big production, Benjamin got another friend of his, Antje, to help put the paper caps over the tops of the bottles once they are corked. You do that with a funky looking “hair dryer” that heats up the paper and shrinks it to seal around the bottle.

We have our assembly line going; I take the bottles out of the boxes (I wear gloves because reaching into the boxes shreds my cuticles) and “feed the Dispenser of Death” 6 bottles, then pull them off and give them to Benjamin and Nick to cork and then they give them to Antje to seal. Things are going o.k. until the corkers get out of alignment and one absolutely can’t put the cork in straight and keeps breaking corks, so we have to uncork some of the bottles and do them over again. We finally have to stop production; so I am texting Chris, telling him that Benjamin is armed with a mallet (I didn’t know if he was going to use it to put the corks in the bottles or bludgeon the corker to death!). Chris texts me back and asks if we need his pneumatic corker? Benjamin says “yes”. Nick and Benjamin go to Times Ten to get the corker, Antje gets lunch for us and I stay with the mess.

The life-saving pneumatic corker. It is a serious piece of machinery. Goggles and gloves are highly recommended because if you put a bottle in crooked or the cork goes wonky; you may explode a bottle.

Now we are back in business! Unfortunately, because we can go at a faster pace; I can’t keep up and my back and my hands are telling me to slow down or quit. I always tease Benjamin that it so nice that he employes the elderly (I’m twice as old as he is!). So I change jobs and Nick & Antje take over the dispenser, Benjamin corks the bottles and I put the bottles away. We finally finish at 7pm. We did 2004 bottles!

But we are not through!!!!!

Now we clean everything. That means taking apart all of the pumps, hoses, dispenser and washing them off, as well as cleaning the barrels (not oak barrels). This adds about another hour to our day. I get a call from my Hubby, saying he will meet me down the street at St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin ( Funny enough, I can’t wait for cold beer! So I carefully shuffle my carcass to St. Pete’s and plop down in a chair. I notice my back is stiff, I have blisters on my hands, bruises on my arms and few scrapes and cuts; but all in all I am happy because I really feel like I accomplished something and I got to witness the generosity of people. From Nick and Antje taking over my job when I flat-out could not do it anymore to Chris letting Benjamin borrow the corker (the dispenser is his too).

Did I tell y’all that I really love wine? Here are boxes filled with love…


9 thoughts on “How to Kill a Sommelier

  1. Wow! Very intersting! Glad you are adding to this blog. I know you have been busy, but I am really happy to see this new entry.


  2. Loved this post. Though I’m sorry for your aches and pains it made for fun reading. The workings of a winery is always interesting to me.


  3. I agree with the manual labor…it is so tough…but so rewarding.

    I’d love to help out (really), but working 6 days at a part-time job is ALMOST like 5 days at 40. Well, it is the crazy hours I have, I’ll admit.

    Enjoyed the write up.

    Your amiga de vino y sommelier,


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