Update: 2011 Suisun Valley Old Vine Zinfandel

February 13, 2012
StarSan spirals are fun! Except when the foam kills your malolactic bacteria…

The Suisun Valley, CA Old Vine Zinfandel that I crushed in mid-October of last year has been sitting quietly in a corner of my office all this time. By now the wine should be well into its oak regimen, sitting in the cooler basement temperatures, but unfortunately it hasn’t yet finished malolactic fermentation. Well, half of it hasn’t. Paper chromatography tests have shown that one of the carboys finished and the other only sort of started. I think I might have killed half of the bugs the day I pitched them. One of the carboys had lots of StarSan foam in the headspace. I dumped the powdered bacteria into there. MLB is notoriously weak and finicky. This might have been enough to knock it out.

In an attempt to kick start the whole process without buying more MLB (that stuff is expensive!), I decided to stir up both carboys to get the fine lees into suspension, then blend them. I racked half of the finished batch into a clean carboy. I then racked half of the other batch into that same carboy to top it up, then racked the rest of the 2nd batch into the first batches carboy. Hopefully this blending is all I’ll need to do. If the MLB were still viable, they should get back to work and finish the job.

I did all of this a week ago. I should be able to perform a chromatography test in another two weeks to see if things are progressing. Meanwhile I will continue to stir the lees into suspension every couple of days. My concern is that having the wine go this long without adding sulfites and the exposure to oxygen it got from the blending might allow acetobacter to take hold and turn it to vinegar. I’m in dangerous waters right now with this batch. If MLF finishes up without such an infection taking hold, I’ll be able to sulfite the wine and start its oak regimen and I’ll feel much more comfortable and safe at that point.


2011 Chilean Syrah – Bottled

January 25, 2012

Last May I picked up from Pittsburgh’s Strip District eight 36 pound boxes of Syrah grapes that had been harvested in the Curico Valley of Chile about three weeks prior. Weekend before last I put that wine in bottles. 144 lbs of grapes became 52 bottles of wine in the end.

Between picking up the grapes and bottling the wine, it went through crushing, pressing, malolactic fermentation, several oak additions, and several rackings. Wineries that age in barrels like to keep their wine in them for a year or two before bottling. But I don’t have barrels; I have carboys. And when the wine is in the carboy there is no benefit to bulk-aging once the oak regimen is done and the wine has fallen clear. So into the bottle it went.

The bottles are in the wine rack now where they’ll sit for another few weeks before we open the first one. I still have to put shrink-wrap caps and labels on the bottles. I’m in no rush to get to that…


Crush Day: 2011 Suisun Valley CA Old Vine Zinfandel

November 1, 2011

We picked up 144 lbs of Old Vine Zinfandel grapes from the produce wholesaler at midnight on Thursday, October 19th. I put them in the fridge to keep for a few days until I could crush them. On Sunday the 23rd I finally had a chance to crush them.

The grapes were in great shape. If you have the opportunity to work with Lanza grapes, I recommend it. The fruit had no mold, no split berries, no material other than grapes (MOG), and was perfectly ripe with a good sugar level and nice brown pips. All of this is amazing considering the abysmal growing conditions Northern California faced this year.

The white in these pictures isn’t mold; it’s bloom. The flash on the camera made it really stand out more than it did in person.

The numbers were very nice: 21.5° Brix and a pH of 3.63. I didn’t test TA because I didn’t have any distilled water and the pH number was perfect, so I figured I could let it wait until after fermentation & pressing.

I had to crush & destem in the basement because the weather outside wasn’t great that morning. It was in the 40s and drizzing, so I chose to do it in the dungeon.

Here they are crushed but not destemmed:

To destem them, I cut some of the slats out of one of the boxes the fruit came in and rubbed the grapes over the holes. The grapes fell through leaving the stems in the basket.

Here they are crushed & destemmed:

The stems:

Finally, here is the must two days later – 24 hours after pitching the yeast – at the onset of fermentation:

This was a little over a week ago, and the wine is still fermenting. It probably should have been done by now, but I let it stay a little cooler than I probably should have. Fermenatation temperatures have been in the mid-70s. Mid-80s likely would have been better to bring out the spicy quality of the wine, but we’ll see how this goes. The wine will probably be on the fruity, jammy side, which might be a good thing.

I’ll be pressing the wine this week and will have a post up about that soon.


2011 Sauvignon Blanc Is Finally Fermenting

September 28, 2011

It has been ten days since I crushed and pressed the Sauvignon Blanc, and as of tonight fermentation is finally underway! Yes, it usually takes off 36-48 hours after pressing, which is 12-24 hours after pitching the yeast. However, I made the most common beginner mistake with this wine – I added 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite per gallon of must instead of 1/4 tsp per five gallons as is called for. So instead of 45ppm of free SO2, I got 225ppm. Much of the free SO2 gets bound up in the first 24 hours as the gross lees settle. Still, it was too much for my yeast and the fermentation went nowhere.

I tested for free SO2 on Saturday and found it to be down to 72ppm, so it was getting close to where a new pitch of yeast would be able to make it. Monday I ordered some new yeast & GoFerm. Also on Monday one of the carboys started to show some signs of life.

Today the new yeast (D47) arrived. I tested for free SO2 and found the one that had started fermenting had 0ppm and the one that hadn’t started was at 56ppm. 56 is low enough to pitch yeast, so I did. I also pitched fresh yeast into the one that took off because there likely isn’t much of a colony left alive in there after the battle it went through. Those that survived are probably very stressed. So reinforcements will be welcome.

The one that had started fermenting was down to 23° Brix from it’s starting point of 24.9. In other words, it hadn’t made it too far.

I thought this wine might have been ruined. I thought I wasted 180lbs of grapes. But as of tonight, I’m leaning to the side of “it’s gonna be alright.” The juice that hadn’t started yet smelled the same as when I pressed. The juice that had started smelled great. Still very sweet, but more wine-like. They both tasted very good. Neither was giving off any sulfur smell or taste. Onward!


Barrel Tasting: 2011 Chilean Syrah

September 25, 2011
The 2011 Chilean Syrah was crushed about four months ago. About six weeks later it had finished alcoholic fermentation, been pressed and racked to carboys, finished malolactic fermentation, and was racked again into other carboys with two American oak spirals in each carboy. It has now been bulk-aging on the oak for about two and a half months, and I felt it was time for a first barrel tasting. (Of course I’ve tasted it before now, but this is the first time I took notes.)

The wine is very deep purple-red in color. It does not thin much towards the edge when tipped.

The nose offers lots of earthy coffee up front. If you’ve had Indian monsooned coffee, that’s what I’m talking about. There is also a ton of blueberry, blackberry, dried cherry, and a hint of anise. After swirling the glass, it opens up with lots of vanilla and oak, more anise, and a touch of alcoholic heat, all in addition to the aromas you get before aerating. As it sits in the glass for a while, I start to pick up a toasty, caramel quality.

The taste mirrors the aroma. The attack comes big with coffee, red fruit, and blueberry. There’s more blueberry on the midpalate, accompanied by vanilla and a hint of spice.

The finish is long, warm, and lingering, with coffee and vanilla coming through.

The mouthfeel is medium bodied with good tannin levels. Tannins coat the gums but it’s not overly-drying. I might add one more french oak spiral per carboy.


2011 California Sauvignon Blanc – Crush Day

September 18, 2011

The weather was cool and cloudy this morning. It was a perfect day for crushing some grapes. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes I ordered were harvested last Friday and they arrived at the produce warehouse last night.

The fruit was in very good condition – beautiful actually. It came in at 24.9° Brix, 7.5 g/L of TA, and a pH of 3.04. No adjustment is necessary.

That’s 180 lbs of fruit – a puny amount for most amateur winemakers, but for a complete beginner like me it’s plenty. If I’m going to screw the wine up, I don’t want it to be a thousands-of-dollars mistake. After pressing I got a little over 10 gallons of juice. That’s a somewhat low yield, but the berries were very small, which reduces juice yield in favor of flavor concentration.

These beautiful grapes came from the Lanza Family Vineyards in California’s Suisun Valley.

The trusty crusher did its job admirably. The nice thing about white wine is you don’t have to destem the grapes. Crushing the clusters is enough. After crushing, the whole mess goes into the press to squeeze the juice from the fruit.

We took our time sorting the fruit. We pulled all the raisins we found. It seemed like there were a lot of them, but at the end of the crush this was it:

That’s probably about four ounces of raisins out of 180 lbs. of fruit. The fruit had no mold and very little material-other-than-grapes. There were maybe five leaves in the whole lot, and just as many spiders.

All done pressing:

With that, the fun part was over. Time to sulfite the juice then clean up. Cleaning up this mess sucks.

The juice doesn’t look very tasty now, but it will make a very nice, clear, crisp wine that I plan to have bottled for next summer. As of now the juice is in buckets in the fermentation chamber at 55°F, where it will settle for a day. Tomorrow after work I’ll rack it into carboys – leaving the gross lees behind – then I’ll pitch some D47 yeast and set it to ferment at 54F. A low, slow fermentation should preserve all the aromatic qualities of these grapes.

Last year I fermented the Traminette horribly. Instead of fermenting in carboys and keeping the temperature low, I fermented the juice in a brute container and plopped ice bombs in a couple of times a day. The temperature went up and down like a roller coaster and much of the aromatic qualities of the wine were blown off with the rapid CO2 release. This year’s white wine should be much better…


Degassing the 2010 Traminette

July 5, 2011

The 2010 Traminette still had lots of CO2 in suspension. This bit of fizziness makes the wine taste more tart than it should. I’d read that the gas should come out of suspension naturally after enough time, but it didn’t seem to be happening for the Traminette. So I took to a method commonly used by kit winemakers – mechanical degassing. I picked up a brake bleeder and vacuumed the CO2 out of it.

Here’s a video I took of the degassing in action. I recommend turning the sound way up and seeing who you attract from other parts of the house.

The foam on top is a combination of wine fizz and (mostly) star-san. I had just racked the wine into this carboy and was degassing before fully topping it up.


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.


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!