Bottling lines: mishaps and how to avoid them

Getting wine from the vineyard to the shelves has always remained a stressful experience each vintage for grapegrowers and winemakers alike. When their wines are ready to be bottled, nothing could be worse than an easily-avoidable bottling line mishap slowing down the process.

Journalist Samuel Squire spoke with bottling contractors and wineries about ways to prevent fiascos from happening on the bottling line.

Avoiding simple issues that could put the bottling process on hold, and potentially keep it down for some time, is an issue that bottling contractors say can be predicted and prevented with some careful planning.

What can happen?

According to Linda Jury, general manager at SA-based Wine Industry Services (WIS), machines can break down if preventative maintenance plans are not utilised properly on a bottling line.

“As bottling contractors, preventative maintenance plans are the big thing for us,” she said. “When a business undertakes bottling for around 200 clients nationwide, like WIS does, taking precautions is vital.

There’s nothing worse than a machine breaking down and being down for weeks while a spare part is being shipped from overseas.”

Jury said that, while machines breaking down is a rare occurrence, it can happen – and when it does, downtime depends on the problem.

“Where it goes wrong is that a machine break down could shut down production – potentially for some time,” she commented.

“As a worst-case scenario, a breakdown can halt production for a significant amount of time, which has happened to some of our clients before. We would then go to the facility WIS was contracted to, to make the repairs for our clients, which can be costly.”

Howard Park Wines labelling machine

In Western Australia’s Margaret River region, bottling manager at Howard Park Wines, Wayne Stewart, adds that there are other mishaps that can happen – some can be dangerous while others aren’t so bad.

He adds that bottles can be filled low when a filler seal has broken or degraded and labels can sometimes be creased or placed on the wrong bottle.

“Mishaps at the bottling stages can range from the occasional low fills, where a seal has degraded – usually a quick fix – to labelling issues like bubbling or creasing, which tends to be down to bottling operator skill and application. But all these issues are easily fixable,” Stewart said.

“The low fills are machine error that a machine operator would be responsible for fixing. Labelling issues can be operator error, but they are easily fixed – the badly labelled bottles are rejected.

“There is the potential for a bottle to shatter in the bottling line. The danger from that is glass fragments getting either into filled bottles without closures or in other areas of the machinery.

“In my 20 years or so of bottling, I have seen the wrong labels go on the wrong wines; whether it’s been an export label on a domestic bottle, or the label doesn’t reflect the wine that’s actually been poured into the bottle.”

How to prevent mishaps

Bottling contractors and wineries with their own bottling lines tend to rely on stringent preventative maintenance procedures to ensure bottling operations remain in full flow.

Tailor-made line maintenance reports for each machine have been an instrumental method of preventative maintenance.

Howard Park Wines bottling machine

“What preventative maintenance plans do is make sure that all machines are regularly checked, cleaned and maintained before bottling and I don’t think this process gets enough of the recognition it deserves, because it can save a lot of time, money and effort if a bad breakdown or shutdown does occur,” commented Jury.

The bottom line is that issues can happen, however rarely. Stewart added that preventative maintenance procedures seem to be the way forward to effectively plan for any and all of these potentials-for-disaster.

“With a comprehensive preventative maintenance scheme, you can avoid or plan for every possible bottling line issue,” he said.

“For example, let’s say a bottle shatters in the bottling line in the filler-section, which does happen, we have a very stringent cleaning procedure to carry out before we can continue bottling.

“We thoroughly clean the machine and reject open bottles for disposal – any that are in the filler and open – as they could have glass shards in them.

“Bottling line mishaps are very avoidable – we, at Howard Park Wines, have a very good preventative maintenance system that minimises breakdowns. This shows because, in my 12 months here, we’ve had no production downtime due to breakdowns,” he said.

This article was originally published in the February 2020 issue of the Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker. To find out more about our monthly magazine, or to subscribe, click here!