Saturday, April 25, 2009

2009 Chilean Chardonnay--Spring Fermentation Season Is Here!

I have three ways that I know spring has finally shoved aside Old Man Winter here in balmy Massachusetts. One: I haven't pulled the snow blower out of the garage in at least 3 weeks. Two: the azaellas along my driveway start to bloom. And three: I get a call from M&M Wine Grape that my Chilean grape order has started to arrive!

I ordered two grape varietals from Chile this year, Chardonnay and Syrah. The chardonnay grapes were the first to arrive, so I took a couple of days off of work (a man must have his priorities straight) and drove down to Hartford to pick them up. I was fortunate to arrive at a fairly non-busy time, so I got a tour of the cold storage facility and the revamped winemaking store. In addition to the grapes, 4 boxes of bottles and a stainless-steel must plunger followed me home!

These grapes came from the Curico Valley in central Chile and were picked on March 18, 2009. Given that these little beauties have been on a boat for almost 1 month, they arrived in fantastic condition. Each 18 lb crate wrapped in tissue paper with a grape-keeper sheet (filled with K-meta) on top. Very little MOG (material other than grapes), no bruising, no mold, and a mix of green/browned bunches

I spent Thursday afternoon crushing and destemming, which went like a breeze thanks to Vinia! The must received a treatment of pectic enzyme and Scottzyme Cinn-Free Enzyme (to enhance varietal fruit flavors) and soaked on the skins for 2 hrs. Then the juice was pressed off the skins in three fractions. I obtained 6 gal of essentially free-run juice that was very light in color. Then 6 gals of moderate pressing juice, and then 4 gal of moderate-to-heavy pressing juice that was darker in color. Each fraction received 50 ppm SO2 per gallon and was cooled in my basement overnight at 45-50 °F (I use water baths and ice jugs to keep things cool).

On Friday, I racked the clarified juice in each bucket off of the settled solids and measured the Brix (sugar level) = 24.8-25, total acid = 3.2-3.3 mg/mL, and pH = 3.70! At those levels, I'd be making bland rocket fuel since that Brix level would give a potential alcohol = 15%! I added water and tartaric acid to reach Brix = 22 (PA = 12.5-13%), total acid = 5.4 mg/mL, and pH = 3.21. The acid levels are still a little low, but I'm going to complete fermentation and then make final adjustments while it is aging. Each bucket received a dose of OptiWhite® for color preservation & freshness, and to help round out the mouthfeel and enhance the aromatic complexity.

This is where things get a little complicated. I'm going to ferment each pressing fraction separately with a different style goal. Once the wines are complete and cleared, I'll bottle some separately, but will also look at blending to try for a more complex wine. My fermentation plans are listed below.

Fraction 1: Free-run juice
Goal: Crisp, light, & fruity style that emphasizes varietal flavors with little to no oak. No MLF.
Actions: Treated with lysozymes to prevent MLF and used ICV-D47 yeast for emphasis on the tropical & citrus flavors and polysaccharide production.

Fraction 2: Moderate pressing juice
Goal: Big, full-bodied, buttery chardonnay
Actions: Fermented with CY3079 yeast for bigger mouthfeel and buttery citrus flavors. Added oak shavings to simulate a barrel fermentation. Will do a MLF and sur lies aging after alcohol fermentation.

Fraction 3: Last pressing juice
Goal: Middle of the road no MLF chardonnay useful for blending
Actions: Added lysozymes to prevent MLF and fermented with Cote des Blancs yeast.

Once fermentation is in full force, I will cool each bucket in a water bath and maintain a temperature of <65 °F. It's still early, but I did observe evidence of fermentation in each bucket as of this morning. The 80 °F temperatures for the next couple of days should really jumpstart things as the juice warms up. The basement is a little too chilly this early in the spring, so I may have to keep my water baths in the kitchen for at least a couple of days.

MA Winemaker

Sunday, April 19, 2009

2008 Chilean Malbec Update

I've alluded to the 2008 Chilean Malbec in a few older posts, but I need to give a full update on the progress of that wine. Until today, I was not all that pleased with it. Every time that I've been tasting it over the winter, I was getting a big mouthful of a rather unpleasent harsh sour & bitter taste. A little hard to explain, but definitely not the bitterness of a high acid wine, or wine stilled filled with residual CO2, but almost a chemical harshness that overwhelmed the subtle fruit flavors. The samples from the barrel have been getting a little better with time, but I've been worried that it would get overoaked by the time the taste faded away. Still not really sure what this taste is, but it appeared after fermentation was complete and I had press the wine off the pomace. Conversations with my fellow winemakers at indicated that it might have stemmed from the fact the grapes were a little underripe when picked. This was identified by a very sharp-eyed reader of this blog who noted the greenish grape innards in my malbec fermentation post. If you look closely at the picture of the crushed/destemmed must in the fermenter, you'll see bits of green. Kudos to the sharp eyes of the winemakers because I was looking at it in person and didn't think much of it! The general consensus was that I had extracted some undesirable phenolics or vegetative flavors from the underripe grapes/seeds during the fermentation.

With that suggestion in mind, I decided to try an experiment with the 3 gal carboy and added a high dose of Biolees. Sur lies aging of red wines is known to help reduce the perception of bitterness. Scientists at Laffort have isolated the peptide that is released into a wine during lees aging and sell it as Biolees. The wine has been sitting on the Biolees for about 3.5 weeks at this point, so I tried a sample today. Very nice! Fuller body and a better mouthfeel, and the bitter taste has almost completely disappeared.

I'm also pleased to report that a sample of the barrelled wine also forecasts some good results! Once again, that bitter taste is almost gone, and the color and body are definitely deeper and fuller, respectively. The tannins released from an oak barrel help to bind up and precipitate polyphenolics (which are often associated with bitter or underripe, vegatative flavors, and they have done their thing! I wish I could have left the wine in the barrel for another 6 months, but the oak flavors were beginning to be too pronounced, so I pulled the wine out of the barrel on Sunday, 4/19.

At the moment, everything is sitting in carboys for some additional aging. I'm contemplating bottling the barrel sample and letting it age for another 6-9 months in the bottle. That leaves a 6 gal carboy of wine that was barrel aged for about 3 months and the 3 gal of Biolees-treated wine. I think I'm going to do another experiment and bottle everything separately. I'd like to see how each one progresses as it ages and compare the results in 6-9 months. That means next weekend will likely be a bottling weekend while making sure the chardonnay starts to ferment. A winemaker's work is never done...

MA Winemaker

A weekend of winemaking and tree hacking...

I've been procrastinating in the cellar and things have begun to pile up. Imagine my sense of urgency when I got a call earlier this week that my order of Chilean Chardonnay grapes is due to arrive on April 20. Which means the Chilean Syrah grapes will arrive in another few weeks, which means I'm screwed unless I get some work done in the cellar to free up space. To top everything off, I've also been procrastinating about cleaning up the tree damage from the big ice storm back in early January. Folks, procrastinating is bad--don't do it!

However, I found a solution to my procrastination. Friday was forecast to be an absolutely gorgeous day in Boston, so I decided late Thursday afternoon to take a vacation day and spend the weekend and winin' and a whackin'. I won't bore you with the details about the brush hauling and tree surgery--needless to say my biceps are measurably larger (at least in my imagination). However, I did get some wine work done as well.

Saturday found me filling the Hungarian oak barrel with the 2008 Chilean Syrah. Contrary to advertised statements, it turned out to actually hold just shy of 14 gallons, or almost 3 of the 4 5 gal carboys. Which meant, I had enough syrah left fill 6 bottles (I'll use those for topping off the barrel) and have a good taste. Folks, I'm pretty pleased with this wine. Big burst of black cherries and vanilla in the nose and on the tongue with maybe a little rhubarb in the finish. It's of medium body and light tannins, so it will definitely benefit from a little concentrating during the barrel aging. Keeping those fingers crossed...

The carboy of Syrah left over needed racking off the precipitated tartrate crystals and fine lees, so I did that on Sunday. I also decided to try an experiment and added 1.5 g of Laffort TanCor tannins to see if I could add a little body and bite. We'll see in a few months.

Also on Sunday, I pulled the 2008 Malbec out of the barrel and filled it with the 2008 Zinfandel. At that point, I had a lot of carboy scrubbing to do and it was late in the afternoon, so I quite. A little tired tonight. I'll write an update on the Malbec tomorrow.

MA Winemaker