Friday, January 25, 2008

Chilean Grape Order Placed!!!

I am rather excited this week because I placed my order for Chilean grapes from M&M Produce in Hartford, CT that will be delivered around the 2nd week of May. I ordered 270 lbs each of malbec and syrah grapes which should yield of 15 gallon of wine each. I'd like to produce a big, full-bodied red with a lot of concentrated flavor from both varietals. There's two ways to accomplish that. One involves barrel aging. The other is to remove some of the free run juice, which concentrates the tannins and flavors that are extracted from the grape skins by the remaining fermenting juice. Since I currently don't own a barrel (donations are greatly appreciated!), I can't do the first option. My current plan is to remove about 3 gal (20%) of the free run juice and ferment that separately as a rose. I haven't quite decided whether to ferment each of the varietal free runs separately, or combine them for a 50/50 malbec/syrah rose blend.

The rest of the details are still up in the air (yeast selection, cold-soak, extended maceration, etc). If anyone has suggestions for their favorite malbec or syrah fermentation practices, I'd love to hear them!

a Wine Student

Cranberry Update #2--Cran-Niagra Racked...

The tale of the dueling cranberry fermentations continue. On Jan 21, the specific gravity of the Cranberry-Niagra had stabilized at Brix = -1.7 (SG = 0.993). My Accuvin test strips indicated that there as about 750 mg/L of residual sugars, which is in the dry range. I decided to rack into a 3 gal carboy, sulfite, and let the wine clear. The racking turned out to be fairly tricky because the lees were a thick, fluffy layer--not compact. I ended up transferring over just over 3 gal of wine, but had to leave quite a bit behind. It's very curious that the lees are this fluffy. I added 100 ppm of potassium metabisulfite and 3 g of lysozymes to prevent malolactic fermentation. After racking, I moved the wine to the basement to begin to clear.

The wine actually tastes pretty good--very lightly tart with a grapey/cranberry nose and good body! Pretty heavy on the yeast, but that's to be expected at this stage.

The cranberry-banana is still fermenting. As of Jan 25, I still see gas evolution with Brix = 7.8 (Sg = 0.995). It hasn't stabilized yet, so I'm continuing to let this one go. The biggest difference besides the slower fermentation is that the lees are much more compact. Racking should be a breeze compared to the other wine.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cranberry Update #1

A brief word on the current status of the Cranberry experiment. I've been patiently monitoring the fermentation progress, and these little buggers are taking their sweet time.

As of today (January 19):
Cranberry-Niagra OB = 7.6, SG = 0.993, Actual Brix = -1.7
Cranberry-Banana OB = 8.2, SG = 0.997, Actual Brix = -0.8

I was just about the rack the Cranberry-Niagra grape wine when I measured the residual sugar with Accuvin test strips. RS = 1000 mg/L--still on the off-dry side.

Both wines are still bubbling CO2 gas through the airlocks (cranberry-banana is generating the most bubbles through the airlock.

I must be patient, even though Martin Luther King Day weekend would have been the perfect time to get everything racked, sulfited, and starting to clear. Patience, grasshopper, patience...


2006 Winter Dry Apple

I seem to be on a bit of a trip down memory lane recently! I was perusing my collection tonight and decided to open my last bottle of the second fruit wine I ever made--my 2006 Winter Dry Apple.

This wine earned the "Winter" moniker because I started it in March 2006. A couple of months earlier, my first attempt at apple wine ended in a disaster. I was reading Terry Garery's book The Joy of Home Winemaking and followed her recipe for apple wine, choosing a mixture of Granny Smith, Braeburn, and Fuji apples. The only problem was that I chopped the apples into ~1/8 inch pieces and tried to mash further with a potato masher. Didn't work that well. I went ahead with the sugar and pectic enzyme addition, and then added the yeast 24 hours later. Even after fermentation was complete, I still had big chunks of apple left--almost nothing had broken down like I had expected. It smelled pretty bad at the time, but I plunged ahead reasoning that it was just the fermentation aromas. A couple of weeks later after the first racking, it still tasted like rotten apple juice and vinegar. Needless to say, it went down the drain shortly after.

To recover from that disaster, I decided to start with apple juice and forgo the fruit mashing. I came across some Santa Cruz Organic Apple Juice at Meijer in Ann Arbor. The bonus was that the juice came in gallon glass jugs, exactly what I needed for making smaller wine batches!

Winter Dry Apple Wine recipe:
2 gallon Santa Cruz Organic Apple Juice (mostly red & yellow delicious apples)
2 lbs 8 oz sugar
1/2 tsp grape tannin
1 tsp pectic enzyme
2 tsp yeast nutrient
2 tsp ID Carlson acid blend (TA = 0.7%)
Lalvin EC-1118 yeast

Fermentation proceeded smoothly. After it was completed, I split the batch into 2 gallon jugs and added dark toasted French oak chips to one jug (this batch become my Apple Clipper). Three months and two rackings later, I bottled each batch. I bottle aged an additional 3 months and have been very slowly consuming since then. This bottle happens to be my last bottle of the Winter Dry Apple.

The Tasting results:
Appearance: Golden yellow, perhaps a little bit hazy.
Aroma: Heavy apple aromas, but also some kiwi notes
Taste: Tastes a lot like it smells. Full mouth feel, and smooth finish with just a little tingle on the tongue.

Having made this and one other apple wine, I must admit that I'm not huge fan of apple wines--at least those made from Delicious apples. But I learned a lot of technique while making this wine, and it gave me confidence that I could make a decent wine from scratch instead of just the wine kits that I had been making.

Since I've moved to one of the cider capitals of the country and birthplace of Johnny Appleseed, I want to get some cider from late harvest apples this fall and try to make a clean, crisp apple wine and see how I like a non-Delicious Apple wine. Seems like I should figure out how to work with the local produce!

a Wine Student

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

2006 Blackberry, a beginning to the quest

To begin my quest for a full bodied fruit-based red wine, I'm first going to to a retro-assessment of my previous attempts. The entertaining tale of my 2006 Blueberry wine batch is a couple of posts below. I also made a 2006 Blackberry wine that I tried the first bottle in late Dec 2007 after aging for 12 months.

Hidden Lake Cellars 2006 Dry Blackberry
11.5% alcohol
Appearance: Clear light orange-garnet. I can see through the glass.
Aroma: Blackberries (duh!), lightly sweet on the nose, hints of vanilla.
Taste: A lot like it smells. Initial fruity burst, some tannin on the back of my tongue, but not a long finish. It comes and goes pretty fast.

15 lbs frozen blackberries (purchased from Gordon Food Service)
1.5 tsp pectic enzyme
3/4 tsp grape tannin
3 tsp yeast nutrient
2.25 gal water
Red Star Montrachet yeast

The frozen blackberries were thawed by pouring 1 gal of boiling water over the fruit and mashed. After addition of 1.25 gal water, pectic enzyme, tannin, and yeast nutrient, Brix = 5 (SG = 1.015, PA = 2%), so 6 lbs sugar was added to reach Brix = 21.5 (SG = 1.086, PA = 11.5%). The TA = 0.4%, so I added 5 tsp tartaric acid to reach TA = 0.6%. Fermentation was quick and the cap was punched down 2-3 times per day. After 5 days Sg = 1.000, so the wine was pressed (3.66 gal total yield) and transferred to a carboy where fermentation was completed after an additional 8 days. The wine was racked off the gross lees into a 3 gal carboy and a 1 gal jug, which was topped off with water. The wine was racked an additional 2 times over the next 4 months, using the 1 gal jug to top off the carboy. The carboy was treated with 1.5 oz medium toast French oak for 1 month. After aging in the carboy for another 2 months, the wine was bottled.

I'm reasonably pleased with the wine, but it's not as full bodied and is lighter in color than I was hoping. The oak added some nice smooth vanilla flavors and structure. I wonder if adding Lallzyme to the must would give better color extraction? This batch was at the 5 lb fruit/gal ratio, and I think I could go higher to get more flavor and body since the TA was pretty low and required a lot of tartaric acid to increase to the proper level. I also wonder about the initial quality and flavor of the fruit--the frozen berries just didn't have as much blackberry flavor as I was expecting. I wonder if canned fruit puree would give more flavor and body? What about malo-lactic fermentation to give some roundness and depth?

Question, questions, question...

a Wine Student

Dry Fruit Wines, What's your favorite?

This year, I've decided that I want to focus on making a dry fruit wine that could mascarade as a dry, grape-based red wine. Some may say why bother when you can buy grapes, but this is a personal desire. Whenever I've found commercial wineries that make fruit wines, they almost always range from semi-sweet to sweet dessert wines. My assumption is that when people know they are drinking a fruit wine, they expect it to taste and smell just like the fruit from which it's made, and that invariably means a sweet wine.

My question is--if you make a dry fruit wine that mimics a dry grape wine and give it a creative label with no clue towards its origins, would people notice? Since I'm more of a red wine fan(atic), the corollary question would be can you make a full bodied fruit wine that mimics a dry red wine?

Several examples come to mind that affirmatively answer that question. Blueberry wines can be made in a full-bodied style that are reminiscent of a light merlot (see my recent Bartlett's Winery Blueberry review and tale of my own 2006 Blueberry wine). Blackberries, elderberries, and black currants are other examples of possible contenders. I made a blackberry wine in 2006, but I have no experience with elderberries or black currants. I'd like to develop a fruit blend that mimics a cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir. I'm currently gathering recipe ideas to start my experiments, but I welcome any comments from readers.

What has been your favorite dry fruit wine?

a Wine Student

Saturday, January 12, 2008

2006 Michigan Blueberry

A couple of nights ago, I decided to crack open a bottle of my 2006 Michigan Blueberry wine to taste it for the first time after bottling. This wine is rather dear to my heart because it was the last wine I made in Michigan, plus it has a rather fascinating story.

The blueberries were grown in northern Michigan and purchased from Kroger Supermarket in Ann Arbor in July 2006. They had a sale on 5 lb boxes of blueberries--the cashier's eyes got rather big when I showed up with 8 boxes! I will stress that I bought some for my wife's use in the kitchen, not just my winemaking! My aim for this wine was to try to reproduce the dry, full-bodied blueberry wine style that I had tasted from Bartlett's Winery in Maine (see my review here).

MI Blueberry Wine recipe:
20 lbs blueberries
4 L water
3 tsp pectic enzyme
3/8 tsp grape tannin
4 lb 4 oz sugar to achieve Brix = 23.5 (SG = 1.096)
White Labs Merlot liquid wine yeast

The blueberries were frozen until January 2007. After preparing the very thick must, the total acid = 0.65% and pH = 2.88, so no additional tartaric acid was added. Fermentation commenced quickly within 24 hr of adding the starter, but proceeded at a rather slow pace. The very thick cap was punched down twice a day, and 4 g of Fermaid-K was adding prior to yeast addition, after 4 days at SG = 1.050, and after 11 days at SG = 1.046. The wine was pressed off the fruit skins on day 13 at SG = 1.038 and moved to a glass carboy to complete fermentation. However, after another 2 days, I detected very little active fermentation (even after heating to must to ~70 °F). I was a little concerned that the low pH was causing the yeast to go dormant, so I diluted the wine with 2 L of Brix = 25 water with TA = 0.65 %) and added lysozyme to prevent any possible MLF (blueberries contain citric acid which ML bacteria convert to acetic acid). Fermentation recommenced (SG = 1.039).

This is where the fun began! The day after moving into a carboy, a massive ice storm swept through Michigan and knocked out our power for 4 days. Needless to say, it got rather cold in the house. In fact, I moved the wine to the basement just to keep the temperature above freezing. My wife, our guinea pigs, and I lasted 1 night and day in the house. The first night was spent huddled in front of the fireplace, while I threw a log on the fire every 45 minutes. I took the pigs to work with me the next day (rather amusing considering I worked at a pharmaceutical research facility--thank goodness for back doors and cardboard boxes). We ended up fleeing to a friend's house who had power so that the pigs would stay warm. Once the power was restored and the house reheated, I brought the wine back up stairs and heated back up to ~70 °F with an electric heat pad. Fortunately, fermentation recommenced, but still proceeded very slowly. After two months, the SG = 1.006 with 1.5 g/L residual sugar.

Having been informed at the end of January that research site where I worked was being shut down, and a out-of-state move was highly probable, I really did not have the luxury to let the fermentation abide by its own terms. The taste at this point was pretty good--medium body, good fruit burst, and nicely balanced. I decided to halt the fermentation by chilling the wine in the garage (it was a cold spring in Michigan). After 24 hrs at 42 °F, the wine was racked off the lees and treated with 100 ppm SO2.

I will admit that the wine didn't receive the attention I would have liked during the next 3 months while I was looking for work. It spent about 3 weeks over a 1:1 mixture of American & French oak cubes (heavy toast) before being bottled. I also would have liked to come up with a more inventive label (Ice Storm Blues, or something similar), but I was in a pinch to bottle and get my wine collection ready to move. Since then, the wine spent 4 months in our friend Shelly's basement before making the trek to Massachusetts. Needless to say, I was rather excited to see how the final product turned out. Drum roll please....

Appearance: Medium garnet color. Tannin granules in bottom of glass.
Nose: Fruity and citrus. Hints of cherries, strawberries and vanilla.
Taste: Delightfully fruity palatte, medium bodied, with a good lingering finish. Slight sweet taste, but nicely balanced. "This is good stuff!"

Admittedly, with a little residual sugar I probably shouldn't have labelled it as "Dry". However, 1.5 g/L falls in the dry to off-dry range, so I think I'm safe. To all those that managed to secure a bottle before I moved, it is very enjoyable and drinkable now. You might consider cellaring for anther 3-4 months, but that's your call!

a Wine Student

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Cranberry (Out-of) Body Experiment

For my first fermentation in Massachusetts, I decided to conduct a little experiment on the state's native fruit--the cranberry. One deficit that many people encounter with fruit wines is a lack of body. The wines just don't have a very long finish. In my winemaking studies, I've come across several suggestions for ameloriating the problem by adding chopped (1) raisins, (2) grape juice concentrate, or (3) bananas to the must. In 2006, I made a cranberry wine with a recipe that called for golden raisins. The final product was OK. I had to sweeten it to a residual sugar level of 2.5% to balance the tartness and to cover up a metallic tang that came from letting the wine sit on the gross lees too long. The biggest issue I faced with that wine was simply getting the fermentation to occur in the first place. I didn't quite appreciate how much sulfites are in golden raisins, and added additional meta bisulfite to the must to sanitize the must prior to adding the wine yeast. Needless to say, it took 3 packets of wine yeast (1 is usually plenty) and a lot of aeration effort to kick off the party.

For my second attempt, I wanted to avoid my previous mishaps and conduct a little experiment to see how grape juice and bananas affect the body in comparison to each other and raisins. First, I lowered the amount of cranberries per gallon from 4 lbs/gal in the 2006 vintage to 3 lbs/gal. Second, I carefully controlled the acid levels in the must to target a final total acid of ~6.0 mg/mL. Third, I added only half the recommended dosage of potassium metabisulfite to the must prior to the yeast to sanitize the must. Fourth, I decided to make 2 side-by-side 3 gal batches of a cranberry/banana and cranberry/grape juice wines. To aim for a fruity dry wine, I elected to use Red Star Cote Des Blanc wine yeast for both batches.

Cranberry/Banana Wine Recipe:
9 lbs Ocean Spray cranberries (frozen)
12 ripe bananas
3 gal water
0.16 oz pectic enzyme
3/8 tsp grape tannin
0.2 oz Fermaid-K (0.1 oz at beginning and 0.1 oz at 1/3 sugar depletion)
7 lbs 6 oz cane sugar to reach Brix = 22
TA = 6.1 mg/mL, pH = 3.13

Cranberry/Niagara Grape Wine Recipe:
9 lbs Ocean Spray cranberries (frozen)
2 64 oz Welch's White Grape Juice
2 gal water
0.16 oz pectic enzyme
3/8 tsp grape tannin
0.2 oz Fermaid-K (0.1 oz at beginning and 0.1 oz at 1/3 sugar depletion)
6 lbs 2 oz cane sugar to reach Brix = 22
TA = 6.1 mg/mL, pH = 2.89

Both batches were cold-soaked for 24 hours prior to addition of the yeast starter, stirred 2-3 times per day to keep the fermentation cap moist, and pressed at Brix = ~6. They are currently finishing fermentation in carboys in my bathroom (the warmest place in the house).

Update (1/12/08): After 2 weeks, both wines are at Brix = 0.5 to 0.9. Almost done!

The banana and Niagara grape juice lent their distinct aromas to the respective musts. The banana aromas seemed to have dissapated during the fermentation more than the grape juice. The Cranberry/Niagara grape must seemed to be a brighter red, perhaps due to the lower pH. The Cranberry/banana must was red, but it seemed muted by the bananas. The Cranberry/banana was more difficult to press with a greater volume of residual solids that retained more liquid. However, after pressing, it has a smaller volume of lees on the bottom of the carboy. Interestingly, the Cranberry/grape wine has fermented at a slightly faster rate. I started it 24 hours later, but the rate of decrease in the Brix level caught up and passed the Cranberry/banana on day 4.

I won't have a final answer until later this spring. At the present fermentation rate, I'm expecting secondary fermentation to last for another 1-2 weeks. I'll draw final conclusions on the respective bodies after clearing and aging for at least 6 months. Stay tuned for the results!

a Wine Student

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A New Wine Cellah

Now that we've moved into our new house, gotten unpacked, and slowly getting settled, I got around to installing my wine racks in the basement (or "cellah" as they're known in New England) over the holiday weekend. I had a good laugh, because like all of my projects, this one also required a trip to the hardware store. My former basement had cinder block concrete walls that yielded relatively easily to my regular power drill and a masonry bit. My new basement has poured concrete walls that were pretty resistant to my drilling attempts. After whirring away for several minutes without getting anywhere, I gave up and made the trek to Home Depot and bought a hammer drill. What a difference the proper tool makes. Once I got the hang of it, that drill cut through the concrete like buttah, although I still broke two masonry bits when I hit a rock that I couldn't break through. Once all the holes were drilled, it was a simple matter to install the racks that I had moved from Michigan. The final product is shown in the top right photo.

The racks are made of redwood and were purchased from International Wine Accessories as a pre-made kit. The vertical supports were already assembled, I simply had to fasten the horizontal supports and attach the base units. While not the most inexpensive wine racks, these were a quick and easy way to get some professional looking wine racks. The IKEA dowel and stick rack beside the redwood racks has been around since my graduate school days! A cheap alternative, I keep it around out of shear inertia and because I have more wine than fits in the main racks! The second photo tells the rest of the story. I started unloading some of the boxes yesterday (the wine on the floor), but I've still got all the other boxes to unload and rack. The pile in the center of the floor is the commercial wine, while the boxes along the wall are my homemade wine. Methinks that I'm going to need to expand my racking system to fit everything!