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.