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.