Monday, December 6, 2010


My apologies for the lack of entries.  I've been a little preoccupied by the fact that my wife was recently diagnosed with non-hogdkins lymphoma.  She has her own blog to keep everyone informed on how everything is going.  If you would like more information on her diagnosis and how she's doing, please visit

Now, back to wine-related topics.  In my last blog entry, I had previously written about a new wine testing center up at Appalachian State in Boone.  I decided to have the Lodi Zinfandel and the NC Syrah tested, mainly to confirm alcohol levels and malic acid content.  I got the results back a few days ago, and I was shocked at the Zinfandel numbers.  The calculation I had been using to calculate alcohol level was to take the Brix and multiply it by 0.55.  I measured the Brix level of the Zin to be 26o.  So the calculation would have been 26 * 0.55 = 14.3%.  I figured the maximum alcohol was that I would end up with was maybe 15%.  The test results show an alcohol level of 17.12%!  Yikes!  The only thing I can think of is that when I tested the Brix, there was still a lot of sugar in the pulp that hadn't broken down yet.

The yeast I was using wasn't supposed to allow it go beyond 16% so I'm not certain as to why it was able to get that high.  The one good thing is it doesn't taste like it has a high alcohol level.  At this point I am trying to decide what to do about it.  Should I add acidulated water?  Blend it with another wine? Or just leave it the way it is?  The problem with leaving it the way it is, is the fact that one bottle will put you under the table.  The malic acid content was 218 mg/100mls (21.8 mg/Liter), so it appears to have either already undergone malolactic fermentation, or there wasn't much malic acid in the grapes.

The Syrah came in where I expected with an alcohol level of about 12%.  The malic acid content of the Syrah was even lower than the Zinfandel, coming in around 77 mg/100mls (7.7 mg/Liter).  Though the pH readings indicate I will need to add some tartaric acid again.

So, let me ask my fellow winemakers out there.  What would you do with the Zinfandel, and why?

Monday, November 8, 2010


Carolina Wine Supply just recently imported buckets of juice from California.  How could I resist the opportunity to make another white wine?  I picked out a six gallon bucket of Viogner that my wife graciously drove over to Yadkinville to pick up on a recent day off from work.
The juice was approximately 23.5o Brix, which will give a potential alcohol level of around 13%.  The pH meter is still on the fritz so I used some test strips.  The pH is 3.4, which will work out well.  A small sidenote, I just recently found out that Appalachian State in Boone will do free wine testing.  I am looking forward to sending it in, and getting numbers back on some of my recent wines to see how they compare with my readings.
The ICV-GRE yeast purchased earlier in the year didn't get used for what it was intended (a rosé), so it became the yeast for the Viognier.  It should enhance the tropical fruit and mouth-feel of the wine.  It is fermenting in our chest freezer with a thermostat to keep it at 55o F.  Keeping it cool while it ferments helps white wines keep their aromas and flavor.  We've had a cold spell here recently, so I recently pulled it from the freezer to let it continue fermenting in the basement at around 60o F.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pressing the Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel

The Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel has been pressed!  The flavor of the wine at this stage is rich, jammy, and slightly spicy.  The color is a deep, dark, rich purple (almost black).  This should be an amazing wine after it ages.

The pressing was pretty much uneventful, thanks to a late-day purchase at our local wine shop, Advantage Beer & Wine Supplies of Hickory, NC.  The store normally closes at 5 pm, but one of the owners graciously agreed to keep the store open late so I could purchase some additional carboys and a brand-new winemaking funnel (see our previous post on pressing the Barbera).  Thanks again Mike!

We started with 504 pounds of grapes, and after pressing, we ended up with about 38 gallons of wine.  The wine will sit in carboys for a few weeks until I order an additional 32 gallon Vadai barrel for aging.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pressing the Lodi Barbera, and the Mystery of the Missing Funnel

It was finally time to press the Lodi Barbera.  It is always a time consuming process to clean, sterilize, and set up all of the equipment to do the pressing.  In fact, we've learned that often we spend more time cleaning and prepping than we actually do making wine.  We were almost done with set-up:  the press was ready and the carboys cleaned.  We just needed to find one more piece of equipment.  Our wine-making funnel.

When we press wine, we like to press it directly into the carboys.  We have to set the press up on something tall to do this (we use a garden cart).   But the advantage is that we don't have to move the wine from one container to another.  But in order to do that we need a large funnel to capture all the liquid coming out of the press and going into the carboy. 

Without the funnel, pressing the wine directly into  the carboy doesn't work well.  At all.   We tore apart our basement looking for it, but were unable to locate it.  Where had the funnel gone?  Had it fallen down some sort of wormhole and traveled to another dimension?   Had gremlins stolen it?  We tried to make a "funnel" out of a plastic jug and a smaller funnel.  Not our best idea.  It looked like a blood bank sprung a seriously leak on our basement floor.

It was beginning to look like we were either going to have to delay pressing, or press into a bucket and then move into a carboy, increasing our workload significantly.  But then, my wife came up with a brilliant idea.  Her idea was to press the wine into a bucket, hook our vacuum pump up to pull it from the bucket and into the carboy.  Hurray!  The day was saved!  Someday the funnel may rematerialize, but until then, we will use our new method of pressing wine.  In fact, we may just use this method later this week when we press the Lodi Zinfandel.

The 144 pounds of grapes is now Lodi Barbera wine, sitting happily in one 6-gallon carboy, one 3-gallon carboy, and a 1-gallon jug.  So far the wine tastes great, and the color is deep and rich.  I am feeling very hopeful about this batch.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bottling Strawberry wine

The strawberry wine we fermented this past spring was finally ready to be bottled.  In other strawberry wines I have tried, I noticed that the color was usually a very pale pink.  Suprisingly, our wine has maintained its dark rose color.  I'm theorizing that it is probably due to the large quantity of fruit we used, and the fact that we used a food processor to completely pulverize the fruit before adding it to the must.  Another possibility is that we kept sulfites in the wine to prevent the color from fading. Even though this is a dry wine, the strong fruit flavor makes it seem sweeter than it really is.  This wine will be perfect for drinking in the spring or summer. 

After bottling, we took the last 2 liters and put it in a bottle designed for maintaining pressure.  I added a little sugar (about 35 grams) and some EC-1118 yeast.  If this works out we will have a small portion of sparkling strawberry wine.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

2010 NC State Fair: Update

One of my wife's co-workers in their Raleigh office, was nice enough to send us a picture of our wine bottle with the 2nd place ribbon.

One other thing, it should be noted that a 2nd place ribbon isn't like getting a silver medal.  A silver medal usually says your wine was awarded the appropriate amount of points to achieve the medal, but there could be multiple silver medals in that category.  The 2nd place ribbon means it was considered the 2nd best wine in the entire category.  Since the category was White Vinifera, the judges thought that it was the 2nd best white wine made from vinifera grapes that was submitted to the competition.

We've already submitted this wine to another competition in California, and I am looking forward to seeing how it does there as well.

Congratulations to all the winners at the NC State Fair!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Preparing the New Barrel

The new 30 gallon Vadai barrel arrived about a week ago.  I've spent this last week preparing it for use. When you receive a new barrel, it is generally very dry.  It is important to hydrate a new barrel with water to allow the wood in the barrel to expand so that it forms a complete seal. If you put wine in it before hydrating, the wine would either leak in between the staves, or your barrel would soak up your wine - and the last thing you want to do is lose wine!

Vadai sends along detailed instructions on how to hydrate the barrel. They recommend pouring boiling water on each of the heads, and then put a prescribed amount of boiling water on the inside (a certain percentage of the overall volume). That would be someone difficult given the size of the barrel.  Instead, I filled the barrel up with tap water mixed with SO2. During the week, I monitored the water level of the barrel, and refilled it as necessary in order to keep it full. I also soaked down the outside of the barrel regularly as well. After a week the barrel was no longer leaking water, so it was ready to fill with wine

The next phase was coating the barrel down with a substance called Mildewcide. This prevents mildew from growing on the exterior wood of the barrel, or in any of the cracks and crevices. This can happen if you store your barrel in a humid environment. My basement has been humid a time or two, and I didn't want to take any chances with 32 gallons of wine. With a smaller barrel, if that happens, you can easily move the wine to a carboy or two and take care of the issue. With 32 gallons, that's a little more difficult.

Another thing about preparing a barrel for use. Once you fill the barrel with wine, it will be impossible to move around, plus you need something that will be able to sustain the weight of the barrel, and prevent it from rolling around. I had previously purchased two furniture dollies back when we moved here from Florida a few years back. I modified one of them by screwing two boards on each side of dolly, to hold the barrel snugly in-between them. The wheeled dolly also allows for me to easily move the barrel around as needed.

Using the pump from my Buon Vino Superjet, I pumped the wine from three carboys, and a demijohn into the barrel. The wine was our 2010 NC Syrah. The demijohn and one carboy contained the portion of Syrah fermented with D254, and the other two carboys contain the portion fermented with RP15. After aging, these two wines together should present a complex, jammy and spicy Syrah. At least, that's the plan.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

New Barrel

For the larger volumes of wine I am starting to make, I am starting to purchase larger-sized barrels.  Prior to this, I used oak chips and spirals, and also had one small barrel.  My first large barrel was delivered and sitting in the driveway when I arrived home from picking up the Zin and Barbera grapes in Durham.  What a pleasant surprise!  It is a 32-gallon Vadai Hungarian Oak Barrel. I've been very happy with the 8-gallon Vadai barrel I purchased earlier this year, so I think I am going to stick with them. Not only do they provide great flavor enhancements, but they are economical. To give you an example, a $275 32-gallon Vadai barrel is much more affordable than a $480 29-gallon French barrel.

This barrel will first be used to store the 2010 NC Syrah. With this size barrel, I believe I will be able to leave the wine in it for a full year.  But it is important to taste regularly to make sure the wine doesn't become over-oaked.

Right now I have it outside to hydrate since the weather has been warm and dry. It should finish hydrating this week so I can fill it over the weekend.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lodi Grapes

This past Saturday, my wife, sister, and I traveled to Durham, NC to pick up our long-awaited order of California grapes.  A group of winemakers in the North Carolina area have been doing this for a while, and the person coordinating sought out other local winemakers through a wine forum that had interest in participating in his annual order. He coordinates the purchase and uses his contacts to negotiate a purchase through Delta Packing.  Everyone comes to his house for pick-up.  He also lets amateur winemakers use his crushing and destemming equipment if they do not have their own.  It is generous of him, and I'm sure local winemakers appreciate the opportunity to make wine from grapes that are not available locally.

We ordered 14 lugs of Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel, and 4 lugs of Lodi Barbera which equates to about 504 lbs of Zinfandel, and 144 lbs of Barbera. Considering the quantity, we rented a mini-van for the weekend.

The lugs that the Old Vine Zinfandel came in were made out of wood, which was a nice surprise, I expected them to be plastic lugs like the ones that contained the Barbera.  The wood lugs have painted designs and are well-stained from the grapes themselves. We are planning on taking those boxes apart and using them to make a table top or something. The Zinfandel berries were larger in size than the Barbera, and were bigger clusters. However both types were very deep dark purple (almost black) in color. I tasted them, and could tell that the sugar level was very high.

When we got them home, we hauled the grapes down to the basement on our garden cart. The day before, I had built a small make-shift stand for the crusher/destemmer. It got the job done, but I think I am definitely going to spend the money next year and get a proper metal stand.

My sister helped my wife and I crush and destem. Her favorite job was dropping the clusters into the top. I am not sure if it was the fact that the stems had begun to turn brown (and thus became more like wood than vegetative growth) or it was just that the stems were very thick, but the Zinfandel grapes were very difficult to move through the mechanism. After we finished crushing and destemming all the grapes, we were all exhausted.

We split the Zinfandel batch up into two 32 gallon Brute containers for fermentation. The Barbera was divided up between three fermentation buckets. When I tested the sugar levels that day, the Zinfandel came in to around 25o, and the Barbera averaged out to about the same. My pH meter had flaked out on me, and I hadn't had time to get a replacement probe, so I used the numbers the rest of the group who got the same grapes came up with for the pH and TA. Their numbers averaged out to about 3.60 pH and the TA was about 0.60%. Pretty much perfect I think, I don't think I will have to make and acid changes.
That day I added Opti-Red, Lallyzme EX, and Pectic enzyme to each of the musts to break down the grapes and extract as much color as possible. I also added some SO2 to prevent any wild yeasts from starting fermentation.

The next morning, I tossed in the yeast. In one container of Zinfandel I am using BM45, the other RP-15. The Barbera, two out of the three containers are using RP-15, the third is using D254. As of now, they are fermenting away, I'll keep everyone updated with the status.

Monday, October 11, 2010

2010 NC State Fair

We submitted two wines to the state fair this year, our 2008 Yadkin Valley Cabernet Franc, and our 2009 Columbia Gorge Pinot Grigio. The Pinot Grigio won 2nd place in the White Vinifera category.

2010 NC State Fair Amateur Wine Competition Results

Monday, October 4, 2010

California grapes, they're unforgettable...

Previously, I had blogged that I would be getting Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin from a local vineyard.  Unfortunately, that deal fell through.

This weekend, I will be getting about 500 lbs. (fourteen 36 lb lugs) of  Old Vine Zinfandel from California.  I  also added about four 36 lb lugs of Barbera (144 lbs total) to our order.  The truck carrying these grapes should be heading in our direction this week.  Both of these grapes will be from the Lodi region.  This is the first time I have ordered actual grapes from California.  In the past, I have purchased frozen pails of must (crushed & destemmed grapes).  I am hoping that the time spent on the truck doesn't lower the quality level.  

Luckily for me, there is a group of home winemakers in the area that have arranged grape shipments like this for several years now.  They place a large order and have them shipped through Delta Packing to Durham, NC.  In total the group ordered about 393 lugs, which equates to about 14,148 lbs of grapes.  So while my order seems like a lot to me, it's nothing compared to some of the other guys in this group.

So, this coming Saturday (October 9th), I'm going to be driving over to Durham to pick up my order, and heading back for crushing and destemming.  I'll try and remember to take some pictures both of the trip and of the crushing when we get back to Hickory, so I can post them.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hard Apple Cider

This year we are experimenting with making hard apple cider.  The plan is to make a cider with a low alcohol level, around 5 or 6% alcohol by volume, and have it carbonated.  And to carbonate it using the "old fashioned" method, after the cider has fermented to a still wine, put it in a pressurized container, and add sugar.

One of our local apple orchards, Perry Lowe Orchards filled a container of ours with five gallons of fresh pressed cider without preservatives.  The specific gravity measured out to about 1.050, perfect for what we wanted to used it for.  Next we added quite a bit of yeast nutrient, as apples don't have much for yeast to eat besides sugar, and some acid blend, as it needed more of a crisp bite to it.  The must was innoculated with EC-1118 yeast, and was fermented for six days at a constant temperature of 60o F.

After that, the wine was racked into a 5 gallon cornelius keg.  There should still be living yeast in the wine, and just to make sure, a small amount of the slurry at the bottom of the bucket was added to the keg.  This yeast will help produce the natural carbonation we're looking for, all we have to do is feed it some more sugar.  Adding too much sugar would create too much pressure, and not adding enough would give the cider a weak, almost flat kind of carbonation.  After some online research, we added about 330g of sugar.

The cider will ferment then sit in the keg, and if all goes well, we could be drinking it in a month or two.  The plan is to leave it in the keg and dispense it using a special tap attachment and a CO2 injector.  Bottling a carbonated beverage requires some special attachments, and we didn't want to invest in anything like that as this is more of an experiment to see how well this method of carbonating a wine works.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Que Syrah, Syrah

Harvest time is something special, and this year was no different.  My wife and I woke up at 5:30am to make the drive up to Stony Knoll Vineyards, where the owner, Van Coe, had graciously allowed me to purchase some of his Syrah grapes.  We got there around 7:00am, and walked out into the vineyard, where we proceeded to pick the grapes.

Syrah grapes have an odd tendency to get twisted around the vine, and the trellis system, it makes picking the clusters off a little harder.  This slowed us down a bit, but we had fun while we were doing it.  The grapes were much darker in color this year than they had been in the past.  The sugar levels were a little low (19o Brix), but that can be solved very easily by adding sugar to the must.

We realized fairly quickly that we were a little slow in picking the fruit.  Van had designated rows for us to pick from, with the understanding that eventually, his picking crew would catch up with us.  His picking crew was lightning fast, it was like a swarm of locusts had hit the rows and the clusters of grapes just disappeared from the vines.  But luckily, by 9:30am or so, we managed to pick about 486 pounds of grapes.  We had to fit that much grapes into our Toyota Camry, so we used a new method of storing them.  We used some Rubbermaid Roughneck bins, each about 18 gallon capacity, which can hold up to 100 pounds of grapes, if you feel like carrying around that much.  We didn't want break our backs, so we spread them out a bit between the containers.

When we got home, we crushed and destemmed the grapes, the resulting must almost completely filled two 32 gallon Brutes!  For those of you who don't know, some Brute plastic garbage cans are made out of food-grade plastic.  From what I understand, it is only the grey, white, or yellow colored versions, and even then you want to check the bottom for a stamp that says NSF.  They make great fermentation containers for red wine.

The pH testing was a little troublesome.  Our pH meter decided to "flake out", but luckily, we were able to get a reading of 3.85 just before it went completely crazy.  We double checked that reading with Stony Knoll Vineyards, and theirs came out to be about 3.77, so its very probable that my reading was correct.  I added a little bit of Tartaric acid to the must, and we'll check the pH again later on in the process to see if I need to make any other additions.

We checked the sugar levels again, and one container came to about 18o Brix, and the other 19o Brix.  So we added enough sugar to raise one Brute to 22o Brix, and the other 23o Brix.  After that we added pectic enzyme, and some new additives to enhance color and mouth-feel, Opti-Red, and Lallzyme EX.  

Part of our plan for this year's Syrah was to ferment each container with two different yeasts.  One was fermented with RP-15, a yeast I hadn't used before, but reportedly is used to enhance spicy or peppery characteristics of a wine.  The other yeast was D254, one I used before with Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.  That yeast enhances the jammy and fruit-forward characteristics of a wine.  The plan is to combine these two together, to make a more complex, multi-dimensional wine.

The containers fermented for about eight days before we pressed them, and ended up with about 39 gallons (one 15 gallon demi-john, and four 6 gallon carboys) of finished wine.  They'll sit in the carboys until I get a 30 gallon Vadai Hungarian Oak barrel to put it in (or as much that will fit in it).  I expect I will end up with around 36 gallons of finished wine from this batch.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Red, Red Wine

So, how long do you think it would take to bottle about 18 gallons of wine? Well, it takes a lot less time than it used to for me. Why? A handy-dandy little device called the Enolmatic, which was my birthday present this year.  The picture to the right is from the Tenco website, who manufactures the Enolmatic.

We used this device to bottle four different wines, those wines include our 2008 Syrah, 2008 Cabernet Franc, an "accidental blend" we are calling Cab Fusion, and our "on purpose blend" we're calling Howling Good Red.  Earlier I mentioned that I was going to make 3 gallons of the Howling Good Red, but I decided to up it to 5 gallons.

This was the first time I got to use the Enolmatic for bottling.  I cannot stress enough how much easier this device made the whole experience.  The Enolmatic uses a vacuum pump to move the wine from the carboy to your bottle.  You just put your bottle up against the nozzle, the Enolmatic will suck the air out of the bottle, while pumping in the wine at the same time.  Bottling wine can be done by one person now!  The old method was using an auto-siphon and a bottle filler.  Someone would have man the auto-siphon, and someone would have to man the bottle filler.

Overall, we ended up with about 16 bottles of the 2008 Syrah, 15 bottles of Cab Fusion, 26 bottles of 2008 Cabernet Franc, and about 25 bottles of Howling Good Red.

One last thing about Enolmatic, you can also use it for racking between carboys.  Unless you are using those new plastic carboys, the vacuum would likely make those implode.  Yet another reason why I prefer glass carboys.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


We've changed our wine label.  Before we used a picture of one of our dogs on the label, which dog depended on whether the wine was a white or a red.  This was a little confusing, so we wanted to simplify it.  The goal was to have something more generic, so that every label appeared the same, and thus we'd have a "brand identity."

Below is an example of our new label.  The image of the beagles is actually a trace drawing made from two separate photographs of each of the dogs.  The traces were put together and then colored in.

This label I feel accomplishes the goal of having a brand identity while still retaining some sentimental value to us, as these images of our dogs are representative of their personalities.

New Sink

I finally have a sink in the basement winery!  It was installed a couple of weeks ago, and it has really made a difference.

As anyone who makes wine knows, most of winemaking is keeping everything clean.  With carboys, you clean them before you use them, and again after they have been used.  In order to clean those carboys before the sink, I had to carry them along with everything else that needed cleaning, up and down the stairs to the kitchen.  My wife was very patient with me cluttering up her kitchen.  Well, no more!  I can do everything I need to do in the basement.

Thanks to the guys at Minyard Plumbing for doing such a great job!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blending trials

I have three red wines that need bottled within the next week. Before bottling them as stand-alone wines, I thought it would be a good idea to explore the idea of doing a small portion of them as our first blend, to be dubbed "Howling Good Red."

The batches of wine to be bottled and to evaluate for blending are:

A) 6 gallons of 2008 NC Cabernet Franc
B) 8 gallons of 2008 NC Syrah
C) 5 gallons of 50% 2008 NC Cabernet Franc & 50% 2007 CA Cabernet Sauvignon

Wine C is already a blend that came about from a storage crisis. I only had a 5 gallon carboy available, and 2.5 gallons of Cabernet Franc and 2.5 gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon leftover after racking the wine.

The procedure for developing a blend is most often referred to as a blending trial. The first step is to take small portions of each individual wine evaluate it based on appearance, color, aroma, acidity, tannins, and the overall flavor. Based on the information gathered, you decide what to blend based on the characteristics of the individual wines and the end-product you are trying to achieve.

The next step is to measure out portions using a cylinder of the various wines to mix. It's important to measure because you want to be able to adjust and re-create. After measuring and mixing the wines into what you believe to be a suitable blend, you taste and evaluate. Basically the process is adjusted and repeated until you feel you have achieved your desired blend.

When we evaluated each wine, my wife and I both agreed that the best was Wine A (the 2008 NC Cabernet Franc), it was well balanced and tasted fantastic. Wine B (2008 NC Syrah) was a little acidic, but had good tannins and aromas. Wine C (the unintentional blend) was not acidic enough, and very fruity in flavor. We'll probably add some acid to Wine C for the portion of the wine that will be bottled on its own.

The first blend "guess" was a 50/50 blend of Wines B & C We figured the acid from Wine B would help balance out Wine C. Considering that Wine C is a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, the breakdown by varietal for this blend would be 50% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. That blend was pretty good, but lacked that well-rounded full-bodied wine we were trying to acheive.

The second blend was 41% of Wine B, 41% of Wine C, and 18% of Wine A. The varietal breakdown would be 41% Syrah, 39% Cabernet Franc, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. That was better than the first blend, but still needed a little more acidity.

We tweaked that blend a little bit by using more of Wine B in the blend. That blend was 54% of Wine B, 36% of Wine C, and 10% of Wine A. We both agreed this was the best iteration, and decided to use those proportions for our final blend. The varietal breakdown of this blend by varietal will be 54% Syrah, 29% Cabernet Franc, and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon.

I plan on making about 3 gallons of this blend, which will equate to about 14 bottles. The remainder of each of the wines will be tweaked and bottled as a single varietal wine.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Getting ready for fall with yeast selection

August is the month I usually use to make sure I have all the supplies I'll need for both picking grapes and making wine from them.  Yesterday, I mapped out the type of grapes I am going to have this year, and based on the kind of wine I want to make, picked out the right yeasts.  A lot of people in the winemaking world think that different yeasts don't make a difference.  This past May, when I was at the Winemaker Magazine Conference, I discovered how untrue that statement is.  Different yeasts enhance different aspects of the wine's flavor and aroma, and they can also diminish other aspects.  Yeast isn't the most important aspect of making a great wine (the quality of the grapes you use is), but they are an important part of the process.

The grapes I believe I will be able to get this fall include:
  • Syrah, ~500 lbs, should come out to about 30+ gallons
  • Zinfandel, ~500 lbs, should come out to about 30+ gallons
  • Cabernet Franc, ~120 lbs, will make about 6 gallons
  • Chambourcin, ~120 lbs, will make about 6 gallons

I'm planning to split up the Syrah and Zinfandel grapes into two separate fermentation batches, as I will be getting so much of them.  For the Syrah, on batch will be fermented with D254 yeast, and the other batch will be fermented with RP15.  The two different yeasts will enhance different aspects of the grape in each batch.  The D254 will round out the tannins, give it more body, give it a dried fruit flavor and enhance the spice of the fruit.  The RP15 will emphasize the fruit, and give the spice flavor more of a black pepper note.  After fermentation, I'll combine the two batches into a single barrel, giving the wine a very complex flavor, more so than either of the two separate batches on their own.  The Zinfandel will be done the same way with BM45 and RP15.  BM45 yeast will give the Zinfandel a big mouth-feel, a jammy flavor, along with enhancing the plum and berry flavors.  RP15 with the Zinfandel will have the same sort of effect it had on the Syrah.

This year, I think I will make the Cabernet Franc into a rosé wine, using the traditional French method.  All red wines get their color from the skins of the grapes.  To make a rosé, you restrict the amount of time the juice and skins come into contact, giving it some color, but not a deep, dark rick red.  It comes out more of a pale red.  So I'll crush and de-stem the Cabernet Franc grapes, and ferment them on the skins for only a short period of time, then press the grapes into juice and let the fermentation finish.  For this I will be using the yeast ICV-GRE, to give it stable fruit characters, and good body.

For the Chambourcin, I'm either going to use the MT or the D254 yeast.  I haven't decided yet.  Chambourcin is a French/American hybrid grape, and I've had it several different ways.  Some are very acidic, and some are very rich in flavor.  The MT yeast is recommended for Chambourcin, and it is supposed to emphasize berry flavors, along with strawberry jam.   I'll have to continue to do some research on this one before I make my final decision.  However, I ordered both yeasts, so I will have them on hand when the time comes.

So remember, when making wine, yeast selection is important.  The best way you can prove it to yourself is to split a batch up and ferment with different yeasts.  Taste each one and see how much it differs in flavor.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Work in the Cellar

Today I racked the Traminette off of the gross lees into a 5 gallon carboy.  The new 5 gallon carboy was first cleaned and sulphited, and then I removed as much oxygen as possible by sparging it with Nitrogen.  I added a little potassium metabisulphite to increase the SO2 levels and protected from oxygen. And lastly, I added some Biolees, which tends to enhance fruit flavors, and round out any rough edges to the wine's acidity. Even this young, the wine has a fantastic aroma and taste!  I think this wine is going to turn out very nicely. 

A few fellow winemakers asked about my impressions of Walker's Wine Juice.  Thus far, I would definitely recommend their product.  Initially, I was a little concerned about the wine quality given the fact that they use heat pasteurization to stabilize the juice.  So far, I would say it doesn't affect it at all.

While in the cellar, I checked in on the aging wines.  First up was the Zinfandel. This Zinfandel is from Brehm Vineyards.  The grapes originated from the Dommen Vineyard in the Russian River Valley in California.  The Dommen Vineyard Zinfandel vines were planted in 1937.  Talk about old vines!  I received the frozen must in December of 2009.  The must was originally 24.5o Brix, with a pH of ~3.34.  I used D-254 yeast on this one, because I like a jammy-style Zinfandel.  This wine should turn out to be about 13.5% alcohol by volume.

I tasted the wine, and it is very fruit-forward right now, with a hint of spice in the finish. I am planning on moving this wine to the barrel next month.  The Zinfandel has already completed malolatic fermentation, but I think it needs a little more oak flavor.  To protect the wine, I added some potassium metabisulphite.

Next I checked on a Cabernet Franc (NC grapes)/Cabernet Sauvignon (CA grapes) blend I have aging.  The Cabernet Franc grapes were from 2008, harvested from Stony Knoll Vineyards in the Yadkin Valley appellation.  I crushed/destemmed these grapes myself, and they were about 21o Brix.  I fermented the must with RC-212 yeast.  The Cabernet Sauvignon came in the form of a frozen must I purchased from Midwest Supplies.  The CA grapes were harvested back in 2007, from the Rancho Sarco Vineyard in Napa Valley.  I thawed the must and started fermentation back in March, with the D-254 yeast.  The original numbers on this must was 25o Brix, and a pH of 3.95.  I added tartaric acid to decrease the pH of the Cabernet Sauvignon to about 3.65.  This blend was more of a blend of necessity with the lack of containers on hand, and not enough of either wine to fill the carboys I had in stock.  This wine also is tasting great, very fruity, with a nice acid balance. 

Finally, I checked the 2008 Syrah, currently in the Vadai barrel.  This wine definitely tastes like it has finished malolactic fermentation (MLF).  These grapes also came from the Stony Knoll Vineyard in the Yadkin Valley.  Originally, I had bottled the wine earlier this year.  But I realized after tasting it, that not all of the wine had undergone malolactic fermentation.  Back in June, I uncorked all the bottles and poured them into the barrel to allow MLF to finish.  Since I am planning on bottling this wine next month, I will run a test soon to make sure it has completed.  I learned about the paper chromatography test at the 2010 Winemaker Magazine Conference.  To test, a drop of wine is placed on a special type of paper and it soaks up a chemical reagent.  After it dries, it makes a color streak that gives reference points which indicate whether or not malic acid is still present in the wine.  I'll post pictures of what it looks like later on.

Overall, I am feeling positive about the work going on in the cellar.  And in August, a work sink will be installed in the cellar which means no more carboys up and down the basement stairs.  Just in time to be ready for fall harvest.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Going back to school

I am going to take some courses in a Viticulture/Enology program offered by Surry Community College. They have both a certificate and diploma program, and for now, I think I'm going to go for the certificate.

This fall I am taking a course called Introduction to Viticulture. It is an online course, so thankfully I don't have to drive all the way from Hickory to Dobson. This course is specific for growing grapes on the east cost of the U.S., which is exciting. A couple of years ago I took a course with U.C. Davis online, and while it was informational, it was very California-centric. Growing grapes at least, is different in North Carolina than it is in California.

Another problem with the U.C. Davis course was the lectures that had been recorded to DVD. The person giving the lectures was amazingly able to make one of the most interesting subjects (to me anyway) seem boring. Plus, you got print outs that were supposed to update the DVDs (originally filmed quite some time ago), then online on the class website, you got updates to the updates. And occasionally, someone would E-mail out updates to the updates to the updates. It made it a little hard to keep track of everything. I seriously think they need to re-film the lectures.

I am hoping this course will be much better, but I won't know much more until the class starts. I do know I need all the help I can get with the grapes I'm growing in my backyard.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bottling Pinot Grigio

On Sunday my wife and I bottled our 2009 Columbia Gorge Pinot Grigio. This was the end of a long, and slightly stressful, winemaking process. I've had problems with making white wines in the past, and they all revolved around oxidation.  I purchased the Pinot Grigio juice from Brehm Vineyards back in December 2009.  It arrived as a bucket of frozen juice, so after thawing, it stayed cool during the initial fermentation.  It also helped that at that time of year, the house stays around 65o F.  It fermented through the Christmas holidays in a carboy to reduce oxygen exposure. The color of the juice took me by surprise, as it was more of a bronze color, not anything I had seen before with white grape juice. But, after fermentation it turned the normal clear yellowish color you'd expect. The original numbers on it were a specific gravity of 1.09, or about 23o Brix, with a pH of 3.30. This should yield a wine of about 14% alcohol by volume. I used D47 yeast for the wine, as that was the yeast recommended by Brehm Vineyards. During the aging process, I introduced some Biolees, to enhance fruit flavors and round out any harsh edges.  Throughout the aging process, I used nitrogen gas to try to sparge the oxygen from any head space in the carboy, and kept the wine sulfited.

Bottling took about an hour and a half, if you include all the cleaning before and afterwards. The first step was filtering the wine, I used "sterile" filters in my Buon Vino Super-jet, and luckily, this time, that went without incident. Then, I tried to use Nitrogen to "push" the wine into bottles, but that didn't work out as I didn't have all the necessary clamps on-hand. So, it was back to the old auto-siphon method of bottling the wine. After the wine was in the bottle, we just used a Vacu-Vin to remove the CO2 still present in the wine, and corked them. Labeling and shrink-caps will be done later in the week.

The wine looks, smells, and tastes fantastic. I get smells of melon, flowers, minerals and apple. The flavor yields more tropical fruit, with a nice crisp finish that lingers for a good while. I am quite happy with how this one turned out, so much so I may try to enter it into some wine competitions. I originally purchased a 5.25 gallon bucket of the juice, and ended up with only 21 bottles of wine.

I think the next piece of equipment I invest in will be an Enolmatic bottle filler. It uses vacuum to move the wine out of the carboy into the bottle, so I would think that will remove the CO2 from the wine (if there is any still there) as part of the process, as well as it would make the whole process a lot less work.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sunday "Wine Work" (Strawberry and Traminette)

Today I racked the Strawberry wine off the gross lees. This is to get it off the fruit pulp, which can turn and start to go bad, and make the wine taste bad at the same time. It both smells and tastes fantastic. The wine now resides in a 3 gallon carboy and a 1 gallon jug. I added a little bit of lysozyme (to prevent malolactic fermentation & prevent any bacterial growth), and some potassium metabisulfite (to prevent oxidation). It will now sit for several months before needing any further work (besides the occasional potassium metabisulpite addition).

It was time to start using the Traminette juice I ordered from Walker's Wine Juice. After enormous effort, my wife and I were able to open the cap on the container. It was really sealed air-tight. I measured the specific gravity, which came out to 1.09, which goes right along with the 21o brix (actually 21.54o brix) rating they have on the side of the container.

I put the Walker's Traminette juice in a 6 gallon carboy, added some yeast nutrient, potassium metabisulphite, and some lysozyme. Then I placed the carboy into the freezer, where I have a thermostat keeping the temperature about 65o F. I added EC-1118 yeast, and then closed the lid. I'm fermenting it in a carboy because it is white juice, and I am attempting to prevent oxidation. The juice is a little over 5 gallons, so in a 6 gallon carboy there will be plenty of room for any foaming as it ferments. As the juice ferments, it will create CO2 and push a majority of the oxygen out the airlock. I am keeping it in the freezer at 65o F because with white wine, it is better to ferment at lower temperatures. That way you keep the fruit aromas and taste more intact. The fermentation will probably go for a little over a week, since it is at a low temperature, and then I'll rack it into a 5 gallon carboy.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


After enjoying the Daveste Vineyards Traminette (see my review) a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try and make some myself.  I ordered a 5 gallon jug of Traminette juice from Walker's Wine Juice.  Walker's treats all their juice with heat pasteurization, so that there's nothing growing/living in it when they ship it out.  The Trimanette would have been grown in the New York state area, if I had to guess, near the Finger Lakes.  Walker's always releases the juice at 21o brix, so it should make the wine 11% to 12% alcohol by volume, which is perfect for this type of wine in my opinion.

My plan is to transfer the juice to a six gallon carboy (so I have room for any foaming), use the EC-1118 yeast, and have the carboy in my freezer (with the thermostat set to 60o F) during fermentation.  You have to ferment white wine juice at cooler temperatures to keep the aromas and some of the taste intact.  As a home winemaker, the freezer setup is the best I can do.  Commercial wineries have large stainless steel vats that have cooling jackets on them to keep the must cool.  I don't have that kind of money.

I also plan to use lysozyme to prevent any unwanted malolactic fermentation from occurring.  I have had "unintentional" malolactic fermentations occur before with Chardonnay, and I was introduced to lysozyme as a product to prevent it at the Winemaker Magazine conference.  I am really excited about using it and hope it works out.  I prefer my white wines to stay crisp, instead of having a buttery texture.

I'll keep everyone informed as to how well this wine progresses.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Blackberry wine continued...

The Blackberry wine has been moving right along this week. I've been battling a continuing problem of an H2S smell (rotten eggs) coming from the must. At first I thought the yeast needed more nutrients, but it kept coming back. The next possibility was the pH being too low for the yeast. So I bought some Potassium Bicarbonate to raise the pH a bit. The pH (based on a sample I boiled the CO2 out of via the microwave) is now 3.34, which is within range for the yeast. The third possibility that I am aware of for causing that smell would be the temperature not being within range. But, as it is in my house which is at 75o F, that can't be it either.

I stirred the heck out of the must, to get all of the H2S smell out of the wine. Then I added a LOT more yeast nutrient, as I'm now left with that being the only possibility. I've never made a Blackberry wine before, so maybe you just need a lot of nutrient to keep the yeast happy during fermentation. If anyone else out there has experience with Blackberry wine, I'd love some sort of confirmation.

At this point, the Blackberry wine is smelling great again. Stay tuned, it will be racked into a carboy in another 2 or 3 days.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Blackberry Wine

This past Saturday, my wife and I drove out to Vale, NC to find Mitchem Farms, a local farm that sells the biggest, juiciest blackberries you've ever seen.  We purchased about 60 pounds of blackberries from them, some to make a pie with, some to make some blackberry syrup with, and the rest were for blackberry wine.  We couldn't make the wine immediately, as I had to clean up the equipment and work area in the basement, so I put the blackberries in the chest freezer with a thermostat to prevent the temperature from getting below 40° F.  Last night, we pulled the blackberries out of the freezer to start making wine.

I didn't want to follow anyone's recipe for this wine, I wanted to do it my way.  A lot of recipes would have you smash the berries in a mesh bag and leave it in when you are fermenting.  I didn't want the wine to be too tannic from the blackberry seeds so I decided to juice the berries, which was a bit of an adventure!  I used the same press I use for grapes, which sort-of worked.  Apparently, blackberries don't mash very well, they sort of get slimy and slide around.  There were blackberries squeezing through the slats and out on top of the wooden blocks of the press.  When we got close to the bottom of the press, my wife decided that her hands might work better in getting the rest of the juice out.  After she got as much as she could that way, we poured water over the blackberry pulp mass, to mix in with the juice and flow out.  We did allow a small amount of the pulp into the juice so we could get more of the fruit goodness in the wine.

I was shooting for a alcohol level between 12% and 14%, so I dissolved about 10lbs of sugar in boiling water, and added it to to the juice.  That brought the specific gravity up to 1.10 (which makes the potential alcohol level about 13%).  After that I added potassium metabisulphite (to protect against spoilage), pectic enzyme (to dissolve the fruit pulp).

After letting the must cool down overnight, I checked the pH, it was about 2.98 (blackberries are very acidic).  Then I pitched in the yeast (EC-1118), which hopefully will start munching on the sugar and spitting out alcohol without issue.  I'll have to keep checking it as it goes along, as the pH is so low, it may cause the yeast to stall.  Plus in about a day or two I'll be adding some yeast nutrient to make the little guys happy.  Happy yeast make good wine.  :)

Stay tuned...

Friday, June 25, 2010

WineBoy Thought I Was Joking!

Oh the fun I have as the wife of a man obsessed with wine-making...

So today he E-mails me to tell me about this guy who gets a wide variety of California vinifera delivered to Durham. We’re literally talking about TONS of grapes. So Robbie and I are E-mailing back and forth, and I tell him we should get a half of ton.

He thought I was kidding. The thing is, I love the idea of making a large batch of wine from good quality grapes. I think it would be a great learning experience for us, and more selfishly, I think it would be some tasty wine. The thought of hundreds of bottles of homemade zinfandel just makes me warm and happy.

But upon further thought, a half of ton of grapes is A LOT of grapes. So much so that the amount of additional wine storage containers that we would have to purchase makes it a bit out of our budget for this year. Upon further discussion, we’re thinking maybe .25 tons. That would still be a large batch (I think about 180 bottles) and we could reasonable get everything we needed.

This whole idea led to a discussion over dinner (in which I enjoyed a nice glass of Ravenswood Zinfandel) about the remodeling we need for our wine-making space. We currently make wine in our basement. It’s a nice large unfinished space. But unfortunately it’s also the land of misfit household items and yard supplies. We have an area that is somewhat sequestered for winemaking, but it’s sadly disorganized, and is not the sterile environment that it really should be.

The most dysfunctional part of the space is that there is no sink. Additionally, we don’t have enough appropriate shelving for carboys, or for finished wine. The carboys are on nice metal shelves, but it’s also impossible to effectively rack wine because there isn’t enough space above them. We have a nice work bench, but it’s always cluttered due to the lack of storage.

We bought an additional rack for bottle storage from Wine Enthusiast not too long ago. But when we took it out of the box to put it together, it was missing a piece. Robbie has made several calls and they have not been helpful thus far. So now we have the pieces for an additional wine rack that can’t get built cluttering the space.

On the opposite end of our “cellar” we have double doors to the outside. There is a spigot right outside the door which makes it easy for cleaning large equipment like the crusher and de-stemmer, but the area outside the door is dirt and grass which means we have mud if we’re out there working for more than five minutes.

So prior to getting our ginormous shipment of grapes, we are going to try to get our space better organized. I need to go down and take some before photos, so that we can share the progress. Priority one on for “Operation Wine Space” is the sink. We may not get it all complete by August, but I’m sure we can make some great progress.

For any of you winemakers out there, if you have some solutions that have worked for you when organizing your wine space, we’d love to hear them. In the meantime, we’ll be off to the drawing board!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A lesson learned in the vineyard...

A lot of people who grow grapes use Roundup to keep the vineyard floor (ground) around the vines, clear of weeds and grass.  As long as the spray doesn't hit any green plant material on the vine, you are fine.

This year, I used the Roundup Extended Control for that purpose, I thought that I wouldn't have to keep re-spraying.  Well, apparently, the Extended Control portion of it affects grape vines as well as weeds and grass.  I've got one grape vine that is growing normally, and all the others have stunted growth, they look like chia-pet vines.  The stunted growth on the affected vines have at most, a half inch shoot from the vine and about 20 miniature leaves on it.

I can only hope that the vines will recover in late July or August (when the Extended Control portion is supposed to wear off), if not, maybe next spring.  The situation is completely my fault, I should have read the warnings on the container more, or at the very least researched the product more before using it.  Some people might wonder why I would write a blog about such a big mistake, but I hope that by doing so, it will prevent someone else from doing the same thing.

In the picture below, the vine on the left is growing normally, the vine on the right is the stunted growth I am getting. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Big Business and Our Government

There is currently legislation pending (House Resolution 5034) which, on the surface doesn't appear as anything menacing.  But after being educated of the potential implications, you may disagree.  The bottom line is this: Wine wholesalers are trying to limit how you can obtain wine.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bottling Yellow

This past weekend I bottled a wine I made that I would like to call...Yellow.  It's named after a Coldplay song, get it?

Yellow is a lemonade wine, based on a recipe posted by a fellow winemaker, Lon DePoppe, which he calls Skeeter Pee.  While I think the name he chose was funny, I didn't think that many people would drink something called Skeeter Pee, so I named our version Yellow.  I also modified the recipe, adding less sugar at the end, only sweetening it to my taste.

I am happy with how the wine came out.  It's an off-dry wine, with nice acid and lemonade-like feel.  Don't confuse this with the hard lemonades you buy in the store.  Those are malt carbonated beverages with only 5% alcohol.  Yellow has no malt, isn't carbonated, and is 10% alcohol.  It is very easy to drink, as it just tastes like lemonade.

I did learn one valuable lesson making this wine.  If you are going to filter a wine, always use a coarse or medium filter first, never move straight to the fine filter (or what they call sterile, it isn't sterile really, but it is close).  Just before filtering the wine, I thought it looked cleared clear, so I decided to jump right to the end, to save time and filters.  Even though the wine looked clear, it wasn't, cause the filters kept clogging up, and drove the PSI so high that wine was shooting everywhere.  I lost about a gallon of it that way, very.  Luckily this wine is cheap to make.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Daveste Vineyards 2009 Traminette

Yesterday we stopped in at Daveste Vineyards for one of their many summer music events, and to try a newly released Traminette wine.

If you are unfamiliar with Traminette, it is a hybrid grape, a cross between Gewürztraminer, and a French-American hybrid called Joannes Seyve.  The hybrid is more resistant to fungal diseases in the North Carolina/Virginia area, and has all the flavor characteristics of Gewürztraminer.

The Daveste 2009 Traminette is very good. It is made in an off-dry fashion, so it doesn't really taste sweet, but has all the nice spice characteristics that I enjoy in Gewürztraminer.  I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a nice summer white wine.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The battle of the Japanese beetles begins

Yesterday I wandered through my small vineyard and discovered a lot of Japanese beetle damage. After trying the traps, and a couple of sprays, I think the best way to attack them now is using a bowl of soapy water, and knocking the little pests into it. Works pretty good, cause they are the dumbest insects to infest the planet. You just place your bowl underneath them, and tap the vine they are on. They just drop straight down instead of trying to fly away, and then they die in the soapy water. Yesterday I must have killed something like 30 of them.

I sprayed the vines with a mixture of potassium bicarbonate and Stylet Oil. The oil is to help the potassium bicarbonate stick the the leaves of the vine. The potassium bicarbonate destroys the cell walls of just about any fungus growing there. From what I have read, it is a highly effective way of getting rid of any fungal diseases, but the nature of how it works makes it only viable to small vineyards (especially backyard vineyards like mine). The big vineyards have to use more cost effective methods which aren't organic in nature.

I had read that some oils are good to protect plants from the Japanese beetles, but it looks like Stylet Oil isn't one of them. Cause this morning when I walked the vineyard there were more of the little buggers. So, once again with the soapy water bowl I managed to rid the earth of another 10 or so.