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We’ve all been there.  A beautiful day, a perfect strategically arranged project with every detail anticipated and planned for, steadily, inexorably turning into an absolute nightmare. We’re labeling the freshly bottled wine.  Normally we’d label at the same time as bottling, but we failed to get our label approvals in time from the TTB in the States and so are at the warehouse engaged in remedial labeling at additional cost.

I show up in the near dark to hire a three-phase generator at a town forty-five minutes away. I tow all two tons of it against the morning commute, sipping honey-spiked green tea, a contemplative Dylan loop moving me into the day. Meeting up with the bottling crew on the highway, we caravan to the warehouse and begin the set up.

I fire up the forklift, lining up the crates of bottles and cartons and inserts, shifting pallets of wine and supplies as if engaged in some sort of oversize Tetris game. Meanwhile the crew is tearing out their hair as they labor to get the labels to go on properly. First the machine can't detect where one label ends and where the next begins, causing labels to spew everywhere and posing the very real threat that we might run out of labels before we even label a single the bottle! Luckily they succeed in training it to put on one label at a time, but then it refuses to fix them on evenly. 

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There’s been an ongoing discussion about our label.  Until this run, every single label had been hand numbered by yours truly, which entailed reopening every sealed box, removing every bottle, writing the number, returning bottle to box, sealing the box, stacking the box, resealing the pallet. It’s a big job and is extremely time consuming.

Just as every single one of our vines has many passes, so do every one of our bottles! In the case of the vines, I carry an unsubstantiated belief that the intensive human to vine interaction makes a tangible difference in the grapes and thus the wine produced. As for the handling of bottles, I’d be hard pressed to say that multiple handling of the bottle makes any substantial difference in the taste of the wine, but each bottle gets handled a bunch of times, both in the bottling, the labeling, the numbering, the picking and the shipping. Honestly I’d rather cut off this particular type of intensive human contact!

The way the labels end up also has great variability from bottle to bottle. Sometimes they go on perfectly flat. Other times they’re affixed across the seam of the bottle, leaving a vertical line through the label. On other occasions random patterns of air bubbles end up under the labels. I’ve always liked the look of the bubbles because it reminds me of clouds and this is Cloudburst after all. And I’ve received comments from consumers and from various sommeliers that this look matched the artisanal feel of Cloudburst.

My design people, however, have been adamant that such “imperfect” labeling doesn’t match the “classy” image of our brand. They want every bottle to look airbrushed perfect. Unfortunately it just is not possible to do with the bottling technology available in Margaret River.

To insure that the label is not placed over the seam requires a “keyed” bottle, one with a built-in indentation in the bottom.  The bottling line utilizes a “key”, a piece of metal, placed in such a way to catch the bottle and hold it in place so that the label is affixed in the precise spot wanted.

Our clear label was designed for it’s elegant minimalist feel.  It’s subtle, feeling like it floats off the bottle.  But the bubbled execution is artisanal elegant, a different type of classiness, but one somehow suited to Cloudburst. In visions I see our Facebook wall hung with pictures of Cloudburst labels from drinkers across the globe. And like snowflakes, no two are alike… 

It was calculated to be a three-hour day. Accordingly I hadn’t packed a lunch. And the day wore on. We had to shut down numerous times. We actually ran out of back labels for the 2013 Chardonnay, a headache that keeps the work incomplete. Most distressingly, many labels went on with bubbles. Sometimes the bubbles were so egregious that the labels had to be scraped off, the adhesive washed off the bottle with solvent, and the bottle placed back on the line. 

It wasn’t a fun day. I had to remind myself that I am a spiritual being in a material world. Eventually I did find my breath, my humor and my hope. It helped to finish the day with a drink of 2012 Cloudburst Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a mind blower. Thank goodness for that.

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