Every winery does things just a little bit differently — based on the vision and personality of the winemaker, how smoothly the harvest goes, how the grapes are processed at the winery, fermentation preferences, and how long a cuvee is aged in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks.
But a step in the winemaking process that’s often overlooked is the last one: bottling the wine and labeling the bottle.
So many factors are involved in when this step takes place that it’s impossible to cite “a general rule.” These factors include the variety (or blend), how long (if at all) the vintner wants the wine exposed to oak, the length of time specific cuvees take to evolve, and so on.
This process can range from just a few months for young, fresh white wines, to several years for more complex red cuvees that need time for their tannins to settle down (thus resulting in a “smoother” wine).
Likewise, there can be a lag between bottling and labeling. Many wines require more time in the bottle to “settle down” before they are considered ready for release. Depending on when bottling and labeling machines — sometimes shared by multiple wineries — are available, the bottles may be labeled as soon as they’re filled and sealed, or on a future date.
By the time most wines are released for sale to the public, they are ready to consume with little or no additional cellaring necessary.
If you ever get a chance to watch the bottling process while taking a winery tour, don’t miss it. Today’s bottling machinery is extremely sophisticated, and it’s fun to watch your favorite cuvees be transferred to their “final resting places.”