Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chilean Malbec is here!

Memorial Day weekend has turned out to be far more exciting that I would have thought! My Chilean grape order from M&M Produce finally arrived--or at least the malbec part of it! Silly me wanted to make a syrah (because I love a big, rich syrah). However, due to weather conditions in the Curico Valley this year, the syrah harvest was delayed past the 2nd week in May ETA. The very nice folks at M&M try to combine a person's order into one shipment so you wouldn't have to make multiple trips. Last week, I got the notification that the malbec grapes would be here on Tuesday, May 20, but the syrah was still delayed until May 27. I decided to screw the gas prices and go get the malbec and at least get that fermentation going.

I took Friday, May 23 off from work and drove down the Hartford, CT and finally located M&M Produce. Having never been there, I didn't know what to expect, so I was a little surprised to find that M&M is located in the Regional Produce Market alongside several other produce wholesalers (wonder if they'd help me obtain some Montmorency cherries?). Very nice folks--they quickly loaded me up with 270 lbs of malbec grapes and sent me on my way. The trip back was uneventful besides some brief rain showers a few miles from home that made me glad I had bundled my 15 cases of grapes under a tarp.

I had brought everything I needed up into the garage the night before so all I had to do was to give Vinia (my crusher/destemmer) a good cleaning and sanitize my other equipment before I started crushing grapes. The grapes were actually picked on April 2, but they looked to be in pristine condition with very few leaves. Tasted like plum jam, with greenish-brown seeds. They had been packed with a pad of sodium metabisulfite packets on top of the grapes. You can see my crusher/destemmer setup in the picture. The grapes fall into the Tupperware bins underneath, while the stems fall out into the bin at the rear. I quickly found that lifting a bin of 36 lbs of crushed grape must was about all I could handle without making a mess as I poured into my Brute trashcans that I use as fermenters. I also found that I couldn't simply lift the crate and dump in the grapes because the tissue paper that they were wrapped in would fall into the auger in the receiving bin and go through the crusher! I ended up scooping up handfuls of grapes and tossing them in. One other discovery--I had to elevate the must receiving bins to right underneath the crusher. Otherwise, the must would get sprayed all over place!

Took me about 2.5 hours to get everything crushed. I ended up splitting the must between two Brute fermenters (8 cases in one, 7 cases in the other) to allow for expansion of the must during fermentation. Sugar levels of the must was decent (Brix = 22- 22.5, PA = 12-12.5%). I treated each fermenter with Lallzyme EX, Opti-Red, and pectic enzyme to aid in color & juice extraction. I opted not to add sulfites to suppress wild yeast growth at this point and instead added 4 gallon jugs of ice to do a 12 hr cold-soak. The biggest pain of the whole operation was the clean-up!

The next morning on Saturday I removed the ice jugs and did my pH and acid tests. The pH was a little high (3.56) and total acid was a little low (4.5 mg/mL) so I added tartaric acid to raise the pH = 3.30-3.49 and TA = 5.9-6.6 mg/mL (the range is for the two Brutes and will be averaged out when everything is blended together). I made some yeast starters with RC-212 yeast and added to the Brutes after a couple hours of vigorous starter growth.

Sunday update--beginning to see some signs of yeast activity. The must was a little cool when I added the yeast and the garage didn't get much over 60 °F on Saturday. It's much warmer out today and I left the garage door open to get things warmed up a bit.

Looking good so far...
a Wine Student

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