First bottles come off the line at Pallet Wine Co.

MEDFORD — Linda Donovan snatched the freshly corked bottle of wine off the table, gave it an admiring glance, then carried it to the far side of the room.

Perhaps the winemaker at Pallet Wine Co. will one day savor the 2008 mourvèdre bearing her name on the label, or maybe she will find a place to display it, like merchants who frame their first dollar.

"This is my baby, my own brand," Donovan said. "It's been a long haul. I've started up quite a few wineries and gone through bottling set-up before, but this is the first as a (winery) partner."

From vine to bottle, Donovan's personal vintage has been years in the making in the downtown Medford winery a few feet from the railroad tracks. One milestone after another had to be reached during the past 10 months in setting up Southern Oregon's first exclusively custom-crush winery. The final weeks leading up to Tuesday morning's inaugural bottling proved both stressful and rewarding.

"I'm going to be sleeping for the first time in a long time," Donovan said. "The first day of harvest wasn't this bad. A lot of little things have to be in sync. A critical part of the wine process involves having the gas right and the corks right. It all matters to the very end, even the labels have to be straight."

After a couple of bottles were passed through the machinery to steam out impurities, the GAI automated bottling line purchased from the Carlton Winemakers Studio in the Yamhill Valley was set for action. Donovan directed cellar master Patrick Carrico to set aside the first two cases, for quality control and dispersal to friends and family, as the wine began flowing out of the 500-gallon stainless steel Tote tanks for the next two-and-a-half hours. Eight spouts filled the 750-milliliter bottles, followed by a vacuum removing air and inserting a cork. Tin capsules were dropped on the bottle heads and sealed, labels spun on and the finished product boxed.

Donovan was quick to thank RoxyAnn Winery for loaning her a bottle sparger, which shoots in nitrogen to displace oxygen. Del Rio Winery sent over a filter and packaging equipment to spur the effort along.

Architect Ken Ogden, who designed the 21,000-square-foot Cooley-Neff Building's makeover, was among the bottling cast, placing capsules on the bottle.

With the first wine bottled, the pace will pick up. A second bottling, 200 cases of Donovan's 2008 sauvignon blanc, was scheduled for Sunday. Instead of corks, the bottles will have screw caps.

"The reason we're bottling my wines first is to test the equipment," she said. "We will bottle most of the whites and rosés through spring and the lighter reds right up to harvest."

Pallet Wine Co., 340 N. Fir St., took in 190 tons of fruit in 2009 and anticipates 300 tons this year from 30 vineyards in Jackson, Josephine and Douglas counties. The company, whose ownership includes Dan and Olivia Sullivan, has agreements to bottle wine for 19 clients, ranging from British Columbia to Southern California, including 15 in Jackson County. There are 300 barrels of 2008 and 2009 vintages in the warehouse and room for 1,000.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail

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