Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Winemaking 2011 begins...

This week is going to be a very busy one as far as winemaking goes!  Grapes and juice are arriving!

It has been an odd year as far as acquiring juice & grapes for winemaking this year.  The harvest has been delayed, and a lot of fruit is unavailable due to rots and other issues making the fruit of poor quality.  At first, I ordered Petit Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Amador.  However, the Petit Sirah available to us didn't survive this odd weather year in California.  So, now I am getting Grenache from Paso Robles, and Cabernet Sauvignon from Amador.  After weeks of delays, it is finally on the truck driving to North Carolina.  Last year, we actually picked up our grapes the first weekend of October. This year it is going to be November 5th.  That's one of the many quirks of winemaking, is the harvest ups and downs.

As far as whites this year, I've got some California Sauvignon Blanc juice coming in on a separate shipment, and it should be here tomorrow evening.

Now I need to get everything ready to do go in my basement winery!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Long time, no post

It has been a very long time since my last post.  I've been very busy the last few months, but I'm getting ready to start my fall winemaking, so some new posts will be coming soon.

This year I'm getting three grape varietals, first I've ordered about 10 gallons of Sauvignon Blanc juice from a provider in California.  Secondly, I'm close to closing an order for some Grenache Noir from Paso Robles, and some Cabernet Sauvignon from Amador.

This year has been a very odd year for grapes in California, a very late harvest, due to all kinds of weather related issues.   Hopefully everything will still be great quality.

More to come later...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spring in the vineyard

So far this spring the grape vines I planted this year are growing like crazy.  The Traminette has the most vigorous growth so far, already jumping out of the grow tubes.  So far this variety  is doing better than I expected, it will be a few years before I get some fruit from it, but I think these vines will be able to handle conditions here rather well.  The vigorous growth could be the result of the root stock I chose, 101-14.  Traminette is a variety that is not susceptible to black rot, and only moderately susceptible to downy or powdery mildew.  Those three diseases are the most common I have deal with in my little backyard vineyard.  The less I have to spray, the better.

The Regent grape vines I planted are also doing quite well.  They are on a less vigorous 3309 rootstock, but even still, considering they were planted a few weeks after the Traminette, are growing quite fast.  The Regent is also more disease resistant than most Vitis Vinifera, showing only a mild suseptibility to powdery mildew.  I am looking foward to seeing how this vine progresses in the coming years, as while it is a hybrid grape, it has more Vitis Vinifera in its heritage than most other hybrids, and from what I have read, makes a great wine with cherry and black currant flavors.

On the east coast, we have to spray grape vines quite a bit in order to have a decent crop of grapes to use for wine.  This can be expensive, so it will be interesting to see with hybrid vines like these two, which will win out.  Hybrid wines or heavy chemical spray usage. 

Finally, my good ol' reliable Cabernet Franc vine is still going strong.   This was the only row of Vitis Vinifera I kept in our vineyard.  It grows so well here, but is very suseptibile to fungal diseases like Black Rot and Downy Mildew.  Here is an image of a grape cluster in pre-bloom stage on my vine.  Maybe I will get enough grapes to make a little wine out of this year, if not, it does make an excellent jelly!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bottling 2009 Windsor Zinfandel

This batch of zinfandel is one of the first wines I have made from frozen grape must.  I purchased it from Brehm Vineyards.  The fruit is sourced from Dommen Vineyards, located in the Windsor, Russian River region in Sonoma County, California.  The grapes came from very old vines that were planted in 1937 and are considered "ultra-premium" fruit.  The numbers on the grapes harvested were 24.5o brix, 3.31 pH, and a TA of 0.85 g/100ml.  

I fermented this wine using D254 yeast, which is supposed to enhance the jammy characteristics.  I wouldn't say the wine is particularly jammy at this point.  Instead it is showing spicier characteristics.  There are very distinct pepper characteristics and it has a dark fruit flavor on the palate. 

This wine is the first red wine I bottled using the new filtration system.  I used a 1 micron filter in order to remove any particulates.  The wine has maintained a dark, rich color even after filtering. The wine is about 14% alcohol by volume.  Usually I am very critical of wines I make, and while I may have some from time to time, I rarely prefer my wine to wine purchased from the store.  That is not the case with this wine.  I will pick this wine over any purchased wine any day of the week. 

This batch produced 32 bottles of wine.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Planting Regent

The Regent grape vines I ordered from Raintree Nursey finally arrived!  This vine has rootstock 3309, which is different than what I am used to using (101-14).  The biggest difference I could find was that 101-14 can handle "wet feet" better than 3309.  But considering I am planting these vines on a slope, the extra drainage provided should compensate.

The first step was to soak the vines in a bucket of water for several hours to "wake them up."  Next it was time to remove the old Chardonnay vines.  I kept one of them and transplated it to another side of the yard.  Vinefera is not known to transplant well, so we'll see if it survives.  I cut the wires from the trellis so I could more easily access and dig out the existing vines.  Next, I had to form the holes for the new vines.  Planting on a slope is a bit different from flatter areas.  It is important to make sure that water doesn't just run down the hill.  You have to provide an environment where water has a chance to sink in and reach the roots. The hole is dug straight down at an angle to the slope and is a little deeper than normal.  That way when the vine is planted, you have a sharp ledge, a flat area around the vine, and then a wall of dirt before the slope continues downhill. 

After the holes were dug, I performed a quick soil test.  The result was approximately 7.0pH.  I added some peat to the ground at each hole to increase the acidity of the soil.  Grape vines prefer pH's between 5.5 and 6.5.  Oddly enough, the row at the bottle of the slope was on the acidic side and needed lime added.  I believe the reason for this is that when they were bulldozing the ground around my house when it was built (4 1/2 years ago), they moved all the topsoil to the top of the hill.

Finally it was time to plant the vines.  Each vine was placed in a hole, spreading the roots out in all directions.  I sprinkled root maximizer around each of them.  Finally, each hole was filled with a mixture of the displaced dirt and peat.  Then each vine was watered heavily.

It will be exciting to see how this variety does in North Carolina!

Bottling Viognier

I am now the proud owner of an in-line filter for my Enolmatic vacuum bottler.  The Viognier is the first wine I bottled with it.  I used a membrane cartridge filter, which is a true sterile filter (0.2 microns).  It took a bit of time to figure out how to use it properly, but once I got it going, it worked like a champ.

The Viognier was made from a bucket of juice from California that I purchased at a local winemaking supply store.  Now it is a amazing wine that is about 13% alcohol by volume.  It has a very tropical aroma, and I can taste both pineapple and peach flavors. 

I think this wine is going to be really good in the coming months!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Planting Traminette

The traminette vines arrived from Double A Vineyards this week. The vines are grafted onto 101-14 rootstock. This rootstock is a good choice for the clay soil in this area.

This weekend I worked on getting the vines planted. The traminette vines are replacing the syrah vines we had previously planted. Half of the syrah vines didn't make it through last winter, and it just didn't seem to be the best varietal for this area. The first step was to cut all the wires in the row where the Syrah vines were, and remove the drip irrigation hose. Next I dug up all the Syrah vines, saving one for a friend who was interested in trying to transplant it. I rented a tiller and tilled up the soil in the row. It is amazing how many rocks I found. I poured some hydrated lime into the soil to raise the pH and some lava sand to help break up the clay. I then used the tiller to mix all the soil again with the additions. The tiller didn't go all the way down to the root level, but at least the soil above it will allow water and nutrients through a little better.

While I prepared the soil, the vines were placed in a bucket of water for a few hours to hydrate them. I dug holes down to the appropriate depth, with some help from my wife. We then placed the vines into the holes, spreading the roots out as much as possible, and then introduced a teaspoon of Root Maximizer Mycorrhizal fungi around the roots, before filling in the holes with a combination of the dirt from the hole and the surrounding area with the mixture of lava sand in it.

Lastly, I watered each vine with enough water to settle the earth around it. It is supposed to rain over the next few days, so they should get plenty of water to help sustain their first year of growth.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bottling Traminette

The time had finally come to bottle the Traminette. Some of my readers may remember that the Traminette juice was sourced from Walkers Wine Juice. They shipped a five gallon jug of heat-pasteurized Traminette juice from the state of New York. This is my first time working with Walkers, and so far I have been quite pleased.

I have been a little concerned because the color of the wine was a strong yellow. Oxidation is always the enemy of the winemaker. I have battled this by attempting to do regular SO2 additions, and using CO2 or Nitrogen to fill any head-space in my carboys. Something else I am considering is limiting the amount of time I bulk-age wines.

I tasted the Traminette and it tasted fine, though a little on the acidic side. Given the color, I didn't want to spend any additional time trying to undergo a cold-stabilization in order to release the tartaric acid. This might be a mistake, but I have never been one of those people who freak out at wine diamonds (tartaric acid crystals) appearing at the bottom of my bottles.

Because this is a white wine, I decided to sterile filter the wine using the Buon Vino SuperJet. While I was filtering it I could not help but think about how much the wine was getting exposed to oxygen. I finally decided that before I bottle another wine that I would order the filter housing and filters for my Enolomatic. This would allow the wine to be pulled through the filter using a vacuum, and reduces the chance of oxidation.

Overall the bottling of the Traminette took a long time. Not only from all the cleaning that had to be done, but also because there was a lot of CO2 to pull from the wine before I could cork it. After the wine is in the bottle I always use a VacuVin to pull any remaining CO2 from the wine so my corks don't pop out of the bottle. I am theorizing that there was more CO2 trapped because of how chilly the basement has been this winter. That and the fact that I had occasionally used a CO2 canister to sparge the air out of the head-space in the carboy.

Another issue arose while I was trying to cork the wine. With whites and some fruit wines, I normally use NomaCorc synthetic corks. This time when I was inserting the corks, they were pulled deep into the bottle, no matter how much I adjusted the corker. The only way I could find to solve it was to try and put them in very slowly. Maybe it had something to do with how cold the corks were from being in the basement. Has anyone else experienced this?

I bottled a total of 23 bottles of Traminette - the perfect wine to drink during the Spring and Summer months.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Vineyard renovation

I'm getting ready to change out two rows of vines in my backyard vineyard.  The vines are set to arrive the week of March 21st.  I will be planting twelve each of Traminette (hybrid white) and Regent (hybrid red).  Both varietals are supposed to have a much higher disease resistance than typical vinifera.

This time I am going to make some soil amendments.  When I originally planted the existing vineyard, I didn't really know what I was doing.  I had a soil test done, but missed one important piece of information on the results.  The results had suggested to add lime to the soil to increase the pH level.  This go-around I'm going to add in some hydrated lime.  Additionally, I'm going to mix in some lava soil which is supposed to improve drainage in heavy clay soils.  I also plan on introducing some compost (probably mushroom compost) and plan on mixing it all into the existing soil before planting.  Lastly, I have some Root Maximizer Mycorrhizal fungi that I am going to sprinkle on/around the roots of the vines as I plant them.  The fungi is supposed to help the roots process nutrients in the soil around them more efficiently.  Cool stuff!

To make the soil preparation a lot easier, I'm going to rent a tiller/cultivator.  I was originally planning on purchasing one, but I can rent one that is more powerful than I could afford to purchase.  Considering the hard, rocky clay soil we have, the more power the better!
With my past plantings, I've used the Blue-X grow tubes.  This time, I'm moving to a different type of grow tube.  The problem with the Blue-X grow tubes is that you have to cut the outer sleeve to remove it.  If you want to use the inside piece again in the future, you have to buy a new sleeve.  The new type of grow tube I'm getting is called Snap-n-Grow.  They snap together, and come back apart in two pieces for easy removal and re-use.

Hopefully this time, with the disease resistant vines, the soil amendments, and other things I've learned over the past few years, the vineyard will be more vigorous.  And I'm very excited about the two hybrids I have selected.  I love Traminette, and I have read a lot about Regent as discussed in previous posts.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Pre-season work in the vineyard

The job of pruning the vines this year was a long and hard one.  Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a little considering I only had a couple of grape vines that had any decent growth last year.  In fact, there were only two vines to prune - a Cabernet Franc and a Mars vine.

I did it earlier this year because last year after I pruned I had a significant amount of sap bleed-out.  From what I've read this occurs if you prune too late because dormant vine has started "waking up."  This year I think I mitigated the issue.

I spent a little time this weekend planning out what I'm going to do this year in the vineyard.  I have decided that I'm going to replace the Syrah and Chardonnay vines.  The Chardonnay hasn't done well at all, and half of the Syrah got killed off by the harsh winter we had in 2009-2010.  I'm replacing them with Regent and Traminette, pending availability.  I have to wait a couple of weeks before I can order vines because we're closing on the house we're purchasing for my Mother-in-Law and all funds are allocated towards the purchase.  Regardless, most places won't even ship the vines until March.

One of the many things I have learned since the initial planning of the vineyard is that whites need to be sheltered more from the late afternoon sun.  As a result, I am going to plant the Regent at the top of the hill where the Chardonnay currently is and where it will get the most afternoon sun. The Traminette will replace the Syrah at the bottom of the hill.

The next maintenance to occur in the vineyard will be spraying the lime-sulpher spray.  I guarantee that you will not want to be hanging around in the backyard while this is happening!  The spray does wonders for disease prevention, but it smells horrible.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Maintenance in the Winery

It has been a long time since I was down in the winery to do any wine-related work. I’ve been busy with the holidays, keeping the house clean while Kelly is going through chemo, and other house-related projects. Today Kelly practically ordered me to spend some time down the in our home winery, so I did.

I topped off the barrel containing the 2010 NC Syrah with some bottles of 2008 NC Syrah. This works out great as the 2010 needed more acidity and the 2008 had too much. It required three bottles of the 2008 to top off the 30-gallon barrel. I shouldn’t have let it go for so long. I need to do a better job staying on top of these things.

The 2009 Zinfandel in the 8-gallon barrel also required topping off. For that one I used a half of a gallon jug of a 50/50 blend of the 2009 Zinfandel and 2008 Syrah. The other half gallon I put into two wine bottles and corked them.

Another project I finally finished was the bottling the Howling Good Red we blending a while back. It is so much easier to bottle things with the Enolmatic we purchased last fall. The batch yielded about 25 bottles. I still need to label them.

Finally, I spent time organizing things and labeling carboys that I hadn’t labeled yet.

I will probably bottle the Traminette wine next, maybe sometime mid-to-late January. After that I’ll probably be bottling the 2010 California Viognier. After all, I have to get the whites bottled in time for spring!