Posted by bruce-bradley on March 17, 2015 at 2:10 PM


Most people are familiar with the mobile bottling trucks that travel up and down the highways and byways of this country, going from winery to winery to bottle wine, but very few people know how that industry got its start. Forty years ago there were no bottling trucks. Every winery had to have its own bottling line, or else they transported their wine to another winery and got them to bottle it for them.

Of course, there were a lot fewer wineries then. When Robert Mondavi purchased his use permit to build his winery in 1966, it was the first permit to be issued by Napa County in 35 years, and it was only the fiftieth permit issued there. That changed quickly. By the early eighties there were over 300 small wineries in the Napa Valley. And they all needed ways to bottle their wines.

Now, a bottling line is an expensive proposition. The machines can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars and you need four of them—a sparger (which blows the dust out of the bottles and fills the bottle with nitrogen), a filler, a corker and a labeler. These are all tied together by conveyor belts and it all has to be timed so that the bottles go from one machine to the next without getting jammed up. The whole setup requires constant maintenance to keep things running smoothly.

It also requires space—a room that is dedicated for bottling only. These machines are bolted to the floor. Once you get them all working in concert with one another, you don’t want to mess with them and move them about.

Now, if there are two things that small wineries are almost always short of, it’s extra money and extra space. Even more frustrating is the fact that most small wineries would only bottle one or two weeks out of the year. The rest of the time, their very expensive bottling lines would sit around collecting rust and dust.

With the dawning of the 1980’s, Bill Harrison felt he had a solution for all that. He put a business plan together to build a mobile bottling line—a van with all the machines inside, that could be transported from winery to winery by a tractor-trailer. The idea was brilliant in every sense—wineries could save $100,000.00 (or more) on machinery costs and save space as well. They could pay him on a cost-per-case basis, saving themselves a huge outlay of cash, and they wouldn’t be tying up valuable space with machinery that they only used for a couple of weeks each year.

Unfortunately, the banks didn’t see it that way. Some of them even told Harrison he was crazy to think he could make an idea like that work. In the end, he was turned down a total of 39 times. Luckily, he didn’t give up and his determination and persistence eventually paid off. The fortieth lender he applied to made the loan, and Bill Harrison’s Estate Bottling was born. During his first year in business Harrison traveled as far as Ivanhoe, Texas to bottle wines, but by the end of that first year, his business was already in the black—and it stayed there.

Today, there are over 50 bottling trucks in California alone. Mobile bottling is now a recognized necessity in the wine industry, and Bill Harrison’s bottling truck is still running. When he’s not out bottling for others, the Estate Bottling van can be seen at the William Harrison Winery, just south of the town of St. Helena, CA., on the Silverado Trail. Personally, I think it should be in the Smithsonian Institute, but Bill isn’t ready to stop working and give it up just yet…

Here are my picks for this week:



Family Vineyards

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

$6.99 at SPD Market in Nevada City, CA

Unmistakable barnyard nose. Light American oak. Fruity, hint of sweetness.



2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Columbia Valley

$8.99 at SPD Market in Nevada City

Cellared and Bottled, which generally means the same as “Vinted and Bottled”, meaning they probably bought the wine on the bulk market.

Notes of Concord grape, with blackberry and vanilla. Hints of anise and dark red fruit. Balanced fruit and acid, with a pleasant finish.



2013 Winemaker’s Blend

Delightful, fruity nose, with maybe just a touch of Brett that comes up at the end (Brettanomyces—a wine infection that can give wine off-flavors and aromas—I actually tend to like it in small doses).

Fruit and acid balance okay. This blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon (methinks mostly Zin) is nicely balanced, with a good mouth feel and a silky finish that makes me think the pH may be a little high—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless you plan to age the wine for a long time. I’m giving it...



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