05 August 2018

Bottling the Wine - When things go wrong!

There was an occasion (back in the 1970s) when the wine section of the NZ Dept of Agriculture decided to dispose of some of its experimental wines by public tender. I thought it a great idea to form a syndicate and submit a tender. First, of a couple of us visited the winery at Te Kauwhata, and sampled the wine, it was good we thought - fruity and dry. So a group of us (about 12, I recall) formed a syndicate, submitted a tender and crossed our fingers. Some time later a letter arrived - our tender had been successful - we paid up - arranged a bottling party and collected the bulk wine.

The day arrived, everyone turned up with their cleaned bottles, siphons were organised, a corking station was established and the work streamlined. An appropriate couple of glasses each were consumed - everyone was happy and all departed homewards, each with a few dozen bottles containing a delicious white wine. All was well.

No - Not That Sort of Party

A few weeks late my phone started ringing. Several members of the syndicate reported that their bottles had started blowing their corks. Their wives were very unhappy at the free flowing wine in their cupboards. One even had their bottles exploding in the linen cupboard! It was soon established that there was something seriously wrong with the wine. I made inquiries and was told that we'd probably not sterilised our bottles properly. This information was relayed to the syndicate members but was not well received. Most of the syndicate were in the science industry and one had even sterilised his bottles in the institutions autoclaves. It was time for serious investigation. Some inquiry established the real cause of the problem. After our initial sampling had established the quality of the wine, some staff member had blended our wine with a sweet wine and established a secondary fermentation. So unbeknown to us we had been dealing with an early champagne - with ordinary bottles and corks. No wonder the bottles were exploding!

By good fortune one of our members wives had been a legal executive in Auckland during a previous incarnation and offered her skills. Over a glass of better wine we constructed (I thought) a very good letter. Made it look very legal too with the appropriate professional phraseology. It included the relevant facts regarding cause and effects, the effects on those who had sampled it - who it was said - suffered from 'borborygami' and concluded with a hardly veiled threat 'to take the matter further'.  We decided that recompense for damage done in the homes and damage done to the reputation of the syndicate factotum was taking it a bit far. It was later reported that the responsible Director, instructed his 'Mr Fixit' to deal with and resolve the issue in our favour. We were to return any unopened bottles and our payment would be returned.

I parked my trailer on the front lawn and asked the syndicate members to return their bottles into it at their convenience. A week or two later the trailer was half full of half-empty bottles, the lawn covered with wine corks and the neighbourhood smelled like an ill-kept winery. Our money was returned but I did wonder if the incident ever had any effect on my future chances of promotion. However the whole event was a great learning experience - and very memorable.