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.