Late June Hop Garden Update

June 28, 2011

It is nearing the end of June and the hop garden is coming along nicely. This is how these second-year hop vines looked as of this evening:

From left to right are Spalt Select, East Kent Golding, Willamette, and Centennial.

For reference, here is what they looked like at the beginning of August last year – five weeks further into the growing season – during their first year:

Quite a difference, yeah? Last year I got 1/4 ounce of dried Spalt Select hops and one (yes one) Willamette cone. So far this year the Spalt Select is going nuts with dozens, if not hundreds, of cones. The next-best performer is the Centennial, with a few dozen very large cones. The Willamette vine has some hops close to the main leads, but no later growth (yet?), and the EKG vine is growing slowly and has produced no flowers (yet?).

Here’s the Spalt Select up close:

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with these noble-style hops. I’m thinking either a hoppy Pilsener, or maybe some sort of German rye beer. I kind of want the flavor of my homegrown hops to be showcased, so rye might not be a good idea.

Finally, here are the big Centennial cones up close:

The plan for these hops is obvious: use them for dry-hopping an IPA.

I’ll update again later in the year as it gets closer to harvest.


Barrel Tasting: 2010 Noiret

June 23, 2011

Today I wanted to get a few pictures of a sample of the 2010 Noiret to post on a winemaking forum where people were discussing Noiret. While I was at it, I figured, why not take some tasting notes since this wine is coming along pretty well. First, here are the pictures I took:

Much of this post is just copied from what I said on the winemaking forum.

Appearance: Purple-red. Deep concentration of color. Color doesn’t thin much towards edge. Young looking. Still a little hazy. Leaves a ring on the glass.

Nose: Pronounced black and white pepper, blackberry, vanilla, green bell pepper, very nice balance of fruit and spice

Mouthfeel: Good medium body, creamy. Still slightly carbonated. Tannins coat the gums nicely. The wine in the 6.5 gallon carboy is not as tannic as that from the 1 gallon carboy. Time should equalize them. (The 6.5 gallon carboy got 1 2/3 medium toast American oak spirals; the 1 gallon got the other 1/3 spiral.)

Flavor: An attack of green bell pepper seasoned with black & white pepper. Midpalate offers a nice blackberry jam with vanilla. A long, dry finish of strong black pepper follows. A little too tart. This may be caused by slight carbonation or it may just be the TA is too high. Consider cold-stabilizing this wine before bottling.

Before oaking, black pepper and green bell pepper were all that you got from it. I wanted to give it more dimension and create something of a finer wine, so I am oaking it liberally. I started with two medium toast french oak spirals in 8 gallons of wine. When those were spent, I felt it needed more oak, so I racked and added two more of the same spirals. It sat on them for five months before I touched it again. I felt it could use more oak (both flavor and tannin), so two weeks ago I racked and added two medium toast American oak spirals. I felt the French oak might have been a little too subtle, and American might give it the kick in the pants it needed. After just a week with the American oak the wine really began to come to life. After two weeks the tannins are strong and coat your gums nicely. There is a nice vanilla in the nose that comes entirely from the oak. However, all the nuance added by the oak has come at the cost of pepperiness. The black pepper character is not as strong as it was before oaking. But – and that’s a big but – black and white pepper are still the first thing you notice when you smell the wine. It’s just not the same punch in the face it once was. To me, that’s a good thing. It’s more balanced and refined now.

I noticed a similar result when oak was applied to noiret at Liberty Winery in Western NY. Their standard noiret is very, very peppery. Their barrel select noiret has pepper notes, but overall it’s a more balanced fine wine. I like them both ways; it just depends on what you’re in the mood for. If you’re having trouble coaxing pepper out of your noiret, then oak might work against you. But if you’re working with very peppery grapes, oak can create a very nice wine from a half-American grape.


Paper Chromatography for Testing Malolactic Fermentation

June 14, 2011

I recently picked up a paper chromatography kit for testing completion of malolactic fermentation in wine. Here is what is provided me with:

What this shows is that the Noiret has finished MLF, Syrah 1 is nearing completion, Syrah 2 is getting well underway, and the Traminette may or may not have undergone a slight bit of MLF.

I am concerned about the Traminette. All red wines undergo MLF, but for most white wines, MLF is a bad thing. White wines should be tart, crisp, and aromatic. Putting them through MLF turns them soft and buttery. Traminette should not go through MLF.

I recently discovered that white wine should be treated with Lysozyme to prevent or stop MLF. I will be picking some up before bottling the Traminette to ensure it doesn’t go any further, if in fact is has started.


Follow-Up Tasting: IPA (Beer #17)

June 2, 2011

Tonight I decided to take some tasting notes on the American IPA I brewed about four months ago. It has changed a bit since I first tasted it.

Honey-amber color with a bright, off-white foamy three finger head that stays for a while. Crystal clear.

Biscuity malt with caramel, almost toffee-like notes. Grapefuity. A hint of fruity esters. The hops are pronounced, but the malt is stronger.

Grapefruity hop flavor. Sweet malt balances the bitterness very well. Biscuity, with a hint of caramel and a lot of generic “hop” flavor. Much more balanced than when it was fresh. Still a bit of a taste bud killer.

Creamy body with a wonderful carbonation that almost feels like a nitro pour. A little warm, but not hot.

Overall Impression
This beer has gotten better with age. “Age” is relative, given that it’s only four months old, but IPAs are best drank young. It’s still more bitter than I like and the citrusey aroma and flavor are not as bright as I’d like, but overall this is a quality IPA. I think hop-heads would enjoy it more than I do. That’s not saying I don’t enjoy it, but one is enough for me on any one day.

My centennial vine is pushing buds now; maybe I’ll do a harvest IPA this fall with them.


2011 Chilean Syrah: Pressing

June 1, 2011

By Tuesday night the Syrah was ready to be pressed. I inoculated it on Saturday night with a blend of D254 and Syrah yeast. I don’t know if these yeasts could really co-exist, but I figured I’d give it a try. Maybe it’s dumb to experiment without a control to compare against, but that’s OK for now since I’m just starting out. I couldn’t choose between Syrah and D80, so I ordered both. The supplier was out of D80, so I switched to D254.

Anyway, after three days the wine was done fermenting and ready to press, at least according to my refractometer readings and the MoreWine! Refractometer Spreadsheet.

Ready to Press:


Done Pressing:

In the end I got a little over 10 gallons of wine from 13.66 gallons of must. My pH and TA had improved significantly, too, thanks to the adjustments I made prior to pitching the yeast.

pH before: 3.92
pH after: 3.48
TA before: 3.75 g/L
TA after: 7.0 g/L

When I added tartaric acid to raise the total acidity (and bring down the pH), I was aiming for 6.0 g/L, but I’m not upset about hitting 7.0. The pH is pretty good now, and the TA will drop some after putting the wine through malolactic fermentation.

The airlocks on the buckets I pressed into are still bubbling every few seconds. I don’t know if this means I pressed before fermentation was complete, or if it’s just taking that long to off-gas. If it’s the former, it means either my refractometer readings were wrong or that spreadsheet is inaccurate (which is unlikely). If it’s the latter, it just means that a whole lot of CO2 gets suspended in the wine during fermentation because it can’t escape due to the grape skin cap holding it in. I’m going with the latter. Either way, I will be racking the wine off the gross lees tomorrow night to prepare for the start of MLF. I think I need to get Jess’s Dubbel out of the fermentation chamber, where it’s been lagering at 47.5° F for the past few weeks. I need that space for this wine now!