Sunday, December 19, 2010

Almost Everything Racked for Winter

Well folks, it's been awhile since I've posted. My apologies--life just gets in the way at inconvenient times. The winemaking has kind of ground to a halt with the onset of winter. Grapes came in late this year and cold weather arrived early, so primary fermentation took awhile and now my basement is simply too cold for productive malolactic fermentation. The one wine that did strongly initiate was the zinfandel. It's been bubbling slowly the last several weeks, but really started to slow down as the basement temps kept dropping.

I'm not all that concerned about slow MLF during the winter as the basement is going to be too cold for much of anything else to grow. I've got several options--1) wait for spring and let the bacteria restart on their own (the easiest thing to do), 2) buy some heat pads to wrap around the tanks to warm them up, and 3) at least move the carboys upstairs.

In order to do any of those, I really need to get the wine off the gross lees. I've been slowly racking things off the gross lees and getting them ready for winter. The cabernet franc that was in my 150 L tank got racked to a 15 gal demijohn, a 5 gal carboy, and some assorted half-gallon jugs and bottles. The lemberger that was in carboys got racked back into the 150L tank (after cleaning of course). The zinfandel carboys got moved upstairs into the warm spare bedroom, where the bacteria really sprang back into life. I'm planning on racking that off the gross lees on Wednesday after the housekeeper has come.

Today was the day to rack the merlot into a new tank. Turned out that I really did a crappy job of cleaning the empty tank after it had held the petite sirah. Man, was that thing filthy. Fortunately, a little PBW and elbow grease took care of that. I pulled out my pump, got everything sanitized & rinsed, and started to pump the merlot into the fresh tank.

I'm not too happy with the performance of the pump.

Had a lot of cavitation in the output hose that mixed a lot of air into the wine. Got even worse as the pre-filter got clogged with solids, which happened just before I almost got completely done. Had to disassemble the filter, resanitize it, and try again. Got at least another gallon through before giving up. After tasting it, I think a little microoxidation could be a good thing as it's pretty tannic, but still I don't like that I was beating the wine up that much. I need a new & better, more gentle pump.... Santa, can you hear me?

So almost everything is ready to sit over the winter. I still need to rack the zinfandel off the gross lees and let the MLF finish. That's a job for this week or maybe Christmas Eve. I also brought the carboy of cab franc upstairs and the bacteria in that sprang into action. Perhaps I'll shuttle tank wine into carboys and bring them upstairs for MLF completion over the winter. It's a good thing that my spare bedroom is empty!

Cheers,
Noel

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

2010 Press Recap

And finally....

After about 10 days, the musts were ready to press. I had added malolactic bacteria when the brix reached about 1.5-2 to try to take advantage of the residual warmth to help the bacteria get established and growing.

Took Friday, 11/5 off of work after a rather tumoltuous week of nearly losing my job during a surprise round of layoffs. After that scare and utter depression at losing both of my direct reports, I really needed a day to dive into wine and get my mind back into shape.

I don't know about my mind, but my body apparently wasn't quite up to the challenge.

It was a bit of work to press off the wine from the grapeskins and then transfer the buckets of wine down to the basement to pour into the stainless steel tanks. I really need to get a better system for this transfer instead of getting that much oxygen exposure. Future plans...

Here's the basic story in pictures for the cab franc:



Not quite sure how much merlot wine I ended up with--probably at least 40 g. Got a good 24 gallons of cabernet franc and 27 gallons of lemberger. Similar yield (~26 gallons) for the zinfandel. But the stuff has to sit there for a couple of days so I can rack off the gross lees, so I'll lose 1-2 gallons based on how fluffy the lees layer is.

My arms and back gave out around midnight when I was lugging the last few carboys down to the basement (merlot and cab franc in SS tanks, the zin and lemberger are in carboys). Guess all that weight lifting I had been doing in the preceding weeks only went so far! I was incredibly sore for about 3 days after that!

That's where things are sitting at the moment. Will rack off the gross lees this upcoming weekend, but this is where the wine will be for the winter. It's a little too cold for malolactic fermentation to really go strongly and it's just going to get colder. Fortunately, when the cellar is about 40 °F, I don't have to worry about bad microbes infecting the wine while I don't have it treated with sulfite. Things will be pretty much good until spring.

Cheers,
Noel

2010 Fermentation Recap

It's recap time tonight, so let's continue with the fermentation. When last we left, everything was crushed and chillin' overnight. On Tuesday night, I came home and got serious about must analysis and yeast innoculation. Numbers weren't all that bad

Merlot: brix = 21.0, PA = 11.6%, pH = 3.50, total acidity = 7.5 g/L
Cabernet franc: brix = 22.2, PA = 12.2%, pH = 3.42, total acidity = 7.1 g/L
Lemberger: brix = 21.6, PA = 11.9%, pH = 3.22, total acidity = 8.6 g/L
Zinfandel: brix = 28, PA = 15.4%, PA = 3.75, total acidity = 6.4 g/L

The WA grapes (merlot, cab franc, & lemberger) are a little lower brix & a little more acidic than I would have liked. On the other hand, the zin is a sugar powerhouse! I decided to leave the cab franc and the lemberger alone. The cab franc is in decent sugar space, while the lemberge is akin to a pinot noir so should be a little lower alcohol in my opinion. The merlot definitely needed some sugar, so I added sugar to reach brix = 23.0 (PA = 12.7%). The zinfandel definitely needs some amelioration to lower the sugar levels, so i added some acidulated water to lower the brix to about 25.6 (PA = 14%). That's a fancy way of saying that I added some tartaric acid to the water to make it about 6.5 g/L in total acidity so that we don't dilute the acid levels while fixing the sugar levels.

I'm going for a Right Bank Bordeaux blend with the merlot and cab franc so I chose to use Lalvin MT yeast strain that was isolated in Bordeaux and is supposed to emphasize the typical merlot flavors and aromas. I bought a big bag and used it for the merlot, cab franc, and lemberger (mainly because I had extra). For the zinfadel, I decided to use VQ-15 Rockpile yeast--a strain that was isolated from zinfandel fermentations in the dry Rockpile AVA. Since the zinfandel was dry-farmed in similar rocky conditions in the Sierra Foothills, I thought this yeast would be a good complement and really punch up those jammy zinfandel flavors.

After innoculation, the cooler temperatures kept things fairly slow. It took about 48 hrs before the skin cap started to form on the wines and after that it was a pretty slow, but steady fermentation. I added both DAP and Fermaid K after the lag phase and at 1/3 sugar depletion. Used a little extra than normal because the ferment was a bit stinky as a lot of darker thiol aromas were blown off during punch downs. The must temperatures never got above 65 °F or so due to the cold temps in my garage.



The merlot, cab franc, and lemberger finished fermentation after about 9 days, while the zinfandel was a little extra pokey. After 9 days, the zinfandel was still at brix = 6.4. But since I was getting all the gear out and cleaned, I decided to press everything on the same day and let the zinfandel finish in the carboy.

Next post please...

Cheers,
Noel

2010 Crush Recap

Every year, I swear that I'm going to document the fermentation step by step. And every year, that goal eludes me. This year is no different, friends. The 2010 West Coast harvest was delayed for several weeks due to cold weather that prevented the grapes from ripening. The weather finally warmed up in early October only to result in 1-2 weeks of >100°F temperatures that resulted in flash ripening and grape dehydration. I lost a chance at making some Suisan Valley carignan because the abrupt heat wave rendered the crop unharvestable--turns out this is probably not a bad thing for the sanity of the winemaker at Aaronap Cellars. It also turned out that my splitting the harvest between California and Washington was probably the best darn thing that I could have done as WA was cool, but didn't experience the intense heat wave in early October.

While the grapes were riding the temperature swings on the West Coast, I was busy staying on top of my viticulture class and trying to survive the pressure pot at work. Sad to say, but there were times when I felt like the grapes were adding to the stress instead of being my salvation. But the day finally arrived when I got the notice that my WA grapes were arriving--at the same time as the Amador County Zinfandel. Woo hoo! One trip to M&M! On Friday, Oct 25, I headed south to pick up the grapes. Really enjoyed that trip because I was the only one on the dock that morning and got to meet and chat with Frank Musto, the man behind M&M Winegrape. Really nice guy--very glad I finally had a chance to meet him.

It took awhile to load 1500 lbs of grapes and frozen must. The only hiccup in the whole order was that M&M had inadvertently mixed my lemberger grapes in with the extras that were being crushed and frozen. Although I had wanted to make a white lemberger, no biggee. More red wine and less crushing work. Not a bad trade off. But back to the grapes--yeah, you read right. 1500 lbs in total.

540 lbs of Two Mountains Winery merlot, Yakima Valley, WA
324 lbs of Two Mountains Winery cabernet franc, Yakima Valley, WA
324 lbs of Amador County zinfandel
400 lbs (or so) of Two Mountains Winery lemberger, Yakima Valley, WA (7 5 gal buckets of frozen must which was a little more than the 324 lbs that I had ordered).

I celebrated continuously on the ride home that I own a pick-up truck with a full length bed--this is the reason why. Makes up for all those other days of 15-18 mpg commutes and finding a parking space! Here's what the load looked like when I got home:



That's my winemaking Joanne who was there to pick up her merlot grape order and help me crush. I was very thankful for her help because crushing 1200 lbs of grapes is a LOT of work. With her help, we were able to finish in about 3.5 hrs. That let me get most of the cleaning done before midnight.

Here's a couple of shots of me happy as a clam... "A crushing we shall go, a crushing we shall go!"


The grapes were really in quite nice condition. A little extra MOG (material other than grapes) that I would have liked in the WA grapes, but still very nice small berries. The zinfandel was pretty well raisined, but that's too be expected from zinfandel and what gives it the dark jammy notes. My only complaint was that the WA grape crates often had some dirt stuck in the crannies that fell into the crusher every so often as I was dumping--little extra terroir flavor, I guess.



Now the late harvest meant that it had turned a little cool in Massachusetts by the end of October. Given it was about 10:00 PM by the time I wrapped up cleaning and started to think about must analysis, I decided to just let the must sit overnight. The grapes were still cold from the cold storage facility at M&M and the garage was not going to get over 50 °F that night. Not an official cold soak, but a cool rehydration. At this point, it was almost midnight, so I headed off to the shower and a warm bed.

Cheers,
Noel

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Busy Wine Weekend and Disappointed with the Blackelder

My 2010 grape order is coming on Monday, so I've been quite fortunate in being able to spend a relatively quiet weekend at home getting caught up on a lot of wine stuff. Saturday was a day to catch up on my UC Davis viticulture class lectures and assignment. Took a a break in the evening and attended a vertical tasting of Brunello di Montalcinos from Canalicchio di Sopra and Valdicava at Gordon's Wine & Liquors in Waltham, MA. Absolutely amazing experience being able to sample wines spanning the past 16 years and culminating in 1995 and 1994 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunellos. Even though old wines such as this are not my thing (too raisiny and sweet tasting), I certainly enjoyed tasting a 16 year vertical! Excellent taste bud and aging expectation training.

Today has been catch up on wine tasks in the cellar. I racked the 2010 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc in preparation for bentonite fining tomorrow. This should protein stabilize the wine in preparation for bottling. I also did some taste tests on the Rhubarb and Blackelder wines to determine how much I wanted to sweeten this wines before bottling.

Have to admit to some math conversion problems (shades of NASA's metric-to-English conversion issues). After diligently screening for the best taste profile, I decided on 2% residual sugar for the rhubarb. Just enough to take the acidic edge off, while maintaining a crisp flavor profile. So I calculated the amount of sugar to add to the carboy, as well as the potassium sorbate for stabilization, mixed things together, and topped off the carboy. After I did the same thing with the Blackelder, I realized that I was coming up with the same quantities to add even though the Rhubarb was a 3 gal carboy and the Blackelder was a 5 gal carboy. My unconscious mind was hitting the 5 instead of the 3 button on the calculator! In the end, the rhubarb is going to be about 3.3% residual sugar with 25 g/hL potassium sorbate. A little more than I wanted, but let's see how this turns out.

The Blackelder is another story. Frankly, I'm disappointed in this wine. I used Niagra grape juice as the base behind the blackberry and elderberry concentrates. But this has ended up with a very grapey nose that requires a lot of sugar to taste decently. I ended up choosing 3% residual sugar to give something reasonably balanced, but not cloyingly sweet. I'm honestly not looking forward drinking this wine at this sweetness level--and I have 5 gallons of the stuff! UGH!

Cheers,
Noel

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Interim Profile Photo

Friends of mine have informed me that my profile photo is simply awful. Yes, it's about 3 years out of date. I no longer have that scraggly facial hair. And I usually don't go around with my arms in buckets squishing blueberries (yes, those were blueberries).

So, the old photo is gone. History...

One little problem... I don't have any better photos of me making wine to put in it's place. So you get to gaze at my medal haul from a recent wine competition earlier this summer. Apparently I need to throw more crushing/racking/bottling soirees and have people over simply to take pictures of me in the midst of winemaking.

Volunteers?
Noel

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Revised 2010 Fermentation Plan

Twas a dark day yesterday in Westford when I learned that the Old Vine Carignan that I was expecting to be harvested last week and shipped to MA had been ruined by the recent heat wave in CA. After several weeks of cool and rain, the grapes got flash sunburned and dehydrated

No carignan for Aaronap Cellars....

Oh well, that's life when dealing with agricultural products. And let's be honest, I was probably attempting to do too many varietals and too much volume anyway. Sanity might actually have a chance of prevailing this vintage.

Still would have liked to have made a carignan, though...

Cheers,
Noel

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2009 Lambert Ranch Petite Sirah in da barrel

Remember, eager readers, about the tale of the petite sirah that I started from frozen must earlier this summer? Amidst all the home improvement projects, I've been letting that sit on the lees while it underwent MLF. I was really hoping that it would finish as quickly as the carmenere MLF this spring, but it seemed to slow down and stop at about 100 mg/L. Chromatography showed just a whisker of malic acid still remaining, but the stuff had been sitting on the gross lees for about 3.5 weeks and I was getting worried about possible reductive conditions setting in.

Just about when that I was trying to carve out some time in my schedule to rack off the lees into another tank, I had an opportunity to buy a new barrel. Andrew at Salmon Falls Winery in South Berwick, ME had an extra 25 gallon Kelvin Cooperage American oak barrel that he wasn't going to use, so I made a quick road trip to investigate his microwinery operation (very informative) and pick up the barrel. I figured that racking into the barrel could only help the MLF to finish as wood barrels often contain resident populations of malo-lactic bacteria. After making sure the barrel was hydrated, I was ready to go.

Ended up doing a gravity fill instead of pumping the wine into the barrel. Took awhile, but less stuff to sanitize and clean! I was quite pleased that I only needed about 200 mL of additional wine to completely top off the barrel (used some of the 2008 syrah).



So the petite sirah has been laid to rest while it finishes MLF. I'll check in a week or so. Isn't that color just absolutely amazing? Still very young, but full bodied aromas of dark cherries. This should be good!

Cheers,
Noel

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hiccup in bottling the sparkling concord

This fall has been a series of procrastinations in the winery due to needing to focus on some of life's little chores. I swore to myself that I was going to charge and bottle the concord base wine this weekend and start the secondary fermentation to make this a sparkling wine. I intend to use the "methode champenoise" to produce the sparkler--basically that means doing the secondary fermentation in the bottle.

After a slow start on Saturday (due to a Friday night social hour at work), I finished practicing the pipe organ and getting ready for the service on Sunday and headed for my favorite local home brew store (Beer-Wine Hobby in Woburn, MA) to pick up a crown capper, caps, yeast, and some champagne bottles. Filled my arms and got to the counter, only to discover that they only had 2 cases of champagne bottles and I needed 3.

Well, shucks... Not going to get that done after all.

Bought the 2 cases and headed home. Later that night, I realized that actually 2 cases would be perfect. I've got 6.5 gallons of base wine. 2 cases would allow me to bottle 5 gallons of wine. That would let me finish 1 gallon as a sweet still wine, and a couple of bottles as a dry wine just to see what happens. This stuff is tarter than crazy, but would be interesting to see how it ages and mellows.

Of course, by the time I thought of this, it's too late to bottle and I must wait until next weekend. I really, really, truely, double-dog swear that I'm going to get this stuff charged and bottled this weekend so that the secondary fermentation can get going before the basement gets cold. We'll see (even I have my doubts)...

Cheers,
Noel

2010 Harvest & Fermentation Plan

Oh faithful readers, you've been patient. Took a little break from winemaking this fall to focus on completing my new entry sidewalk project. Doesn't it look fantastic?


Back to the wine...

While that was going on, I was planning my Fall 2010 Fermentation plan. As usual it started out reasonable, but has mushroomed with the passing weeks. Harvest on the West Coast has been delayed for 2-3 weeks this year due to the cooler summer. That's given me time to plan and get ready, but also time to think (bad combination).

The initial plan was a focus on a Right Bank Bourdeaux blend of merlot and cabernet franc using grapes from Two Mountain Vineyards in the Yakima Valley of Washington. Something akin to a fine claret from Pomerol. Don't I sound like the snooty wino... Seriously, I was really impressed with the wines and vineyards at Two Mountain after I visited and meet the very nice Rawn brothers this spring, so wanted to try making wine from their grapes.

Of course, I have to make a zinfandel ('cause that's just my favorite grape ever) and something completely different. After my trip to Washington this spring, I really wanted to try a unique varietal called Lemberger. It's a red grape that comes from Central Europe and also goes by such names as Blaufränkisch, modra frankinja, and blauer lemberger. For one special person who might read this blog, it's the dominate grape in Hungary's famous Bull's Blood wine! Tannic and typically spicy, I think it makes wines akin to a good Chianti. I ran into several folks on my trip that talked about crushing and pressing off the skins to make a white Lemberger. Another intriguing idea...

So here was the initial plan:

540 lbs of Two Mountains merlot
324 lbs of Two Mountains cabernet franc
288 lbs of Two Mountains lemberger
270 lbs of CA Amador County zinfandel

Looks pretty impressive, eh? I reserved my grapes with M&M Wine Grape in Hartford, CT and sat back to wait. In the meantime, I started to work on the business plan for Aaronap Cellars as a commercial operation and started thinking. I'll post more about that, but to make a long story short, I decided that if I wanted to focus on a particular mission, I needed to make wine from the grapes that define that mission.

You see where this is headed, don't ya...

Last week, I called M&M to see if they would have any extra Lanza Vineyards carignane when it came in. They did, so I ordered some.. another 324 lbs.

The schedule:

Lanza Vineyards Old Vine Carignane ETA 10/08
Amador County Zinfandel ETA 10/14
Two Mountains merlot, cab franc, & lemberger ETA 10/20

Going to be a little bit busy the rest of the month!

Ooh boy,
Noel

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sparkling Concord base wine racked

Real quick note tonight. Just got done racking the sparkling Concord base wine after primary alcoholic fermentation. I'm liking this a lot and maybe I'm on to something here. Granted, it's a very young wine, but it tastes like a spritzy bubbler with extremely little foxy flavor. Lovely dark pink color. Nose smells like a sparkling wine. It's definitely very tart and needs some sugar to balance the acid, but so far so good.

Is this what Concord wine was meant to be? For the non-wine historians, sparkling Catawba was the wine that first put America on the winemaking map back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Catawba is a cousin of Concord, so I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that they behave similarly enologically. Still got to get some Champagne bottles and start the secondary fermentation, but I'm actually liking this now.

Still have to do some more experimentation, but perhaps I've stumbled across a good use for Concord grapes!

Cheers,
Noel

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sparkling Concord Begun

This fall, I got a special opportunity courtesy of my friends Matt and Catherine. They're in the process of moving and didn't have time to make jelly from the Concord grapes that grow in their backyard, so they asked if I would turn them into wine.

FRANK DISCLAIMER ALERT!

I really don't like Concord wine. To my nose, something that smells like grape jelly shouldn't give me a buzz. That foxy flavor and smell literally demands a sweet wine, especially with the usually incredibly high acid levels (and you all know my prejudice against sweet wines). So I've never bothered trying to make wine from Concord grapes even though they were developed just down the road from Westford in Concord, MA by Ephraim Wale Bull in 1849. Quick trivia factoid--did ya know that the original Concord grape vine is still growing?. You'd think that local history would be enough to make me investigate their wine potential, but I just haven't been able to bring myself to do it.

So there's time for a little soul searching and thought. Free grapes, it'd mean something to my friends... Maybe treat it like a rose, or crush & press immediately for a white Concord...

Then it hit me--Sparkling Concord! Something like a Spumanti or other demi-sec/sec sparkling white. Lots of fruity flavors with a clean, crisp bubbly finish. I think that'd work, and what better way to celebrate moving to a new house that creating a sparkling wine from the fruits of the old house. Plus, I've never made sparkling wine before. OK, that's the plan!

The weekend before Labor Da
y, I got up early, went for a run, and then headed over to pick grapes. Matt & Catherine have an interesting trellising technique for these grapes--something I'll call the rhododendren method. The vines are growing up over a big rhododendren bush. Odd, but rather effective (disclaimer--M&C didn't plant the vines, but found them growing there when they moved in). Matt & I picked the grapes and ended up with 2 large Rubbermaid bins full of the little purple things.

After helping move some furniture over to the new house (and sweating like a pig in the 90+ degree heat). I headed for home with my grapes. This is where the fun begins. I'm tired, my back is sore from moving furniture, it's late afternoon, and the last thing I want to do is pull out the big crusher/destemmer to process what looks like a pretty small amount of grape
s. My big idea? I'll just pull a chair up in front of the basement TV and hand destem and crush these little babies. Looks like only 50 lbs or so, so shouldn't take that long.

6 hours later...

The grapes are destemmed and crushed, I've watched 3 movies on TV, it's midnight, my butt is killing me, and I can barely stand up straight, let alone squeeze my hand. Yeah, that was a great idea, Noel!

I added some pectinase and 50 ppm SO2 (based on the expected 3 gallon yield) and let it sit until Monday night. I decided to add a gallon of Niagra grape juice since I was only expecting 3 gallons and this should help dilute the dark red color I was expecting. As expected, sugar levels were pretty low and acid was pretty high with Brix = 10.8 and pH = 2.88. I added 45 g K2CO3 to lower the acidity and 2.9 lbs sugar. Hmm, that only raised the sugar to Brix = 14.6, but pH = 3.28 was pretty good. I added another 2 lbs sugar to get Brix = 17. For a sparkling wine base, that's pretty good as the potential alcohol should be about 10.8% and more sugar is added to make the bubbles, so the final alcohol levels should be around 11.5-12%. Let's ferment.

I hydrated a packet of Cotes de Blanc yeast (been sitting in my fridge for awhile, so let's get rid of it) with some Go-Ferm and added it to the must. The next day, there wasn't much s
ign of fermentation (maybe I really should have paid attention to the yeast packet expiration date of 2008). Following day, I think I smell fermentation, so I added some Fermaid K nutrient and crossed my fingers. Thursday morning--definite fermentation!

On Saturday, I decided that I had extracted enough color and pressed the fermenting wine off the skins. This should also limit the over-cloying foxy taste extraction and give a softer wine. Was a little surprised when my 5 gal bucket under the press filled to the brim. Thought I was only going to get about 3-4 gallons? What the.... Ended up with almost 8.5-9 gallons of pressed juice. That's a little more that I expected, although it does explain why I needed to add almost 5 lbs of sugar. At the moment, the wine is sitting under airlock in a couple of carboys while it finishes fermentation. I'm quite pleased with the light salmon-pink color that I obtained--should look great as a sparkling "rose".

I'll keep you informed, but for now, it's up to the yeast to finish the job. Once the base wine has been racked off the gross lees, it will be time to bottle in Champagne bottles and start the secondary fermentation.

Cheers,
Noel

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2009 Lambert Ranch Petite Sirah

It's becoming a common theme, but things have been a little hectic lately and just haven't had time to tell the world about the petite sirah that I started from frozen must last month. Faithful readers will remember the whole discussion about making the trip to CT for the Brehm frozen chardonnay juice and my decision to make the trip a little more worthwhile by stopping at M&M Wine Grape in Hartford on my way home to pick up some frozen red must. Well, it was WELL worth the stop.

I had purchased 6 5 gal buckets of frozen crushed grapes that had been grown by the Lanza family at their Lambert Ranch Vineyard Block 29 in the Suisan Valley of California. That's just to the southeast of Napa Valley and is becoming known as a very Napa-like climatic region, but much less expensive. I stored the buckets in my basement while they warmed up, which only took about 48 hours. Processing went like a breeze--since everything was already crushed, I just poured the thawed buckets into a couple of fermenters (3 buckets each).

Harvest stats:
Brix = 25.4 (PA = 14%), pH = 3.69, and total acid = 5.1 g/L

Since the acid and pH are a little low and high, respectively, I added 30 g of tartaric acid (1 g/L dose) to each fermenter to nudge those numbers up and down a little. Each fermenter also got a dose of Scottzyme Color Pro to help stabilize the wonderful dark color of the must and break down the grape solids during fermentation. Fermenter 1 was innoculated with 8 g of L2056 yeast while Fermenter 2 received 8g of D254 yeast. My intent is for the D254 yeast to help enhance the fruity aromas while the L2056 emphasizes the spicy notes.

Fermentation was visible within 24 hours and it proceeded rapidly. I was fermenting in my basement, so I was pretty pleased that I got a nice temperature spike up to 78 °F to help set the color. Interestingly, the ferment finished at about observed Brix = 9 in both fermenters, which indicates some residual sugar, but my Accuvin tests say that there is <100 mg/L and it tastes dry, so I believe that fermentation was complete. Both fermenters got a little extended maceration under Saran wrap because I had to wait until the weekend to press. After one messy press job (see picture below), I combined all of the press fractions into my new 39 gal variable capacity tank and innoculated with CH35 malolactic bacteria. It's been kind of hard to determine if the MLF has commenced since the wine is encased in stainless steel. However, when I press my ear against the tank, I hear the faint sound of popcorn rustling and a metallic clank ever once in awhile that I believe is the marble in the airlock letting CO2 gas escape. So, I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that MLF is in progress. I'll take a chromatography reading this weekend to confirm, but so far looks good!

I've been pretty pleased with this experiment in frozen grape must. The color of the pressed wine is out of this world, and the taste is full of big cherry notes with a firm tannic backbone.

Here's what my hands looked like when I was done pressing.

Now I just need another barrel for aging...

Salute,
Noel

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Maple "Icewine" Racked

I'm sitting here tonight immediately after racking the Maple "Icewine" that I started a couple of months ago. I haven't seen any activity in the airlock for at least a week or so, the foam at the top of the carboy has dispersed, and the lees are collecting in a nice thick layer at the bottom of the carboy while the wine is beginning to clear, so I'm thinking the yeast has given up the ghost. My hydrometer says that in the past 3 weeks, the specific gravity has only dropped by 0.5 Brix. After considerable thought over a glass of David Coffaro 2007 Carignan, I decided to rack and sulfite.

I ended up with a 3 gal carboy, a 1/2 gal jug, a 750 mL wine bottle, and a 375 mL wine bottle full of these thick, golden yellow liquid. Before I finished cleaning the carboy, I sat down with a small little tipple to examine the product in motion. The aroma is enticing--maple syrup, pineapple, and raisins. The golden yellow color is fetching. All in all, looks & smells pretty darn good. Big, round, lucious mouthfeel with a zing of a finish. I personally think this is calling for a big bowl of ice cream to drizzle over.

Wow, I think this is pretty good stuff. Alcohol is still a little low, but pretty nice balance of sweet, alcohol, and taste. Perhaps a little tart, but I think that will age out. Perhaps next time, I'll aim for a slightly lower acid level.

The wine is in the carboy. After it sits for a few days, I'll start the filtering process to remove the residual yeast cells. In the meantime....

Salute,
Noel

Sunday, August 22, 2010

2006 White Salmon Chardonnay

No, I haven't discovered the secret to time travel--just the next best thing in winemaking. A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I was heading for New Haven, CT to pick up some frozen grape juice from Brehm Vineyards east coast freezer. Between the fermentations, running, and attacking my front sidewalk replacement project, I just haven't found much time for blogging. Since it's sprinkling in Boston this morning, I'm going to sneak onto the computer for awhile before I head into the city for the American Chemical Society National Meeting this afternoon.

After I got home, the chardonnay was still pretty frozen, so I left it in the basement to finish thawing. A couple of days later, I had 3 buckets of juice with pretty decent numbers

Brix = 22.8, pH = 3.59, total acid = 5.8 g/L

Brehm recommended adding 1 g/L tartaric acid prior to fermentation to bring the acid levels down a little. Since I'm planning on aiming for a full-bodied, Burgundian style chard with full malolactic fermentation, I agreed with him and added 20 g of tartaric acid to each 5 gal bucket along with Opti-White to improve the mouthfeel. For added complexity, I decided to use 3 different yeasts and blend before bottling.

ICVD254 to emphasize fruit aromas and nutty flavors.
CY3079 for mouthfeel and buttery goodness
T306 for exotic fruit and pineapple flavors (new yeast from Australia that I decided to try)

I started the fermentations in the buckets. After the bugs started working, I cooled the buckets in a water bath to keep the temperature at 68 °C or below (my current basement temperature). The ICVD254 was a strong fermenter and dropped below 1/3 sugar depletion within 3 days, so I transferred that to a carboy and airlock and continued cooling it in the water bath. The other 2 were a little slower, but were transferred a day or two later.

A week later, I checked the Brix levels and things were almost done. Still have 1-2% sugar left, so I took the carboys out of the water baths for a couple of days to help encourage the yeast to finish. I racked off the major gross lees and innocculated with CH35 malolactic bacteria. I love that bacteria strain because you just add the freeze-dried bacteria directly to the wine instead of rehydrating (one less thing to do). As far as I can tell, MLF took off very quickly because I've got a steady production of tiny gas bubbles in all three carboys at the moment.

So it's a waiting game now until the MLF is complete. I'm pretty pleased so far. Lots of nutty, pineapple, and peach aromas. Color looks good.

Salute,
Noel

Saturday, August 7, 2010

2010 Indy International Wine Competition Results!

Guess what?

The results of the 2010 Indy International Wine Competition have been posted. Indy is tagged as the world's largest scientific wine competition (for whatever that's worth).

Aaronap Cellars received 3 medals for 3 entries!!! I entered the 2009 Chilean Chablis Chardonnay, the 2008 Chilean Malbec, and the 2008 Northern CA Zinfandel. All three wines received bronze medals!!!

Haven't got the judges comments yet, but I'm pretty darn pleased with myself!

Cheers,
Noel

Road Trip for Frozen Grapes

Last month I got a notice that Brehm Vineyards was having an inventory reduction sale. I've been intrigued by the frozen juice & must products that Brehm sells because he sources grapes from some of the most premium vineyards on the West Coast, including his own White Salmon Vineyard in the Columbia River Gorge in Washington. However, because the grapes are premium and he's got some pretty high overhead costs (with the freezing and storage and all), he charges a pretty premium price. So when the sale notice came out, I took notice and got a little excited when I saw that he had frozen White Salmon chardonnay juice at his New Haven, CT distribution center on sale for $50/5.25 gal bucket (almost a 1/2 price reduction). Granted, it was from the 2006 vintage, but it's been in deep freeze ever since and should still be good.

So I bought 3 buckets.

Now, faithful readers will recognize that I can't do anything without making it as complicated as possible, so you have an idea where this is going. I started thinking...

If I have to drive to New Haven to pick up the chardonnay, I drive right past M&M Wine Grape in Hartford and they've got a wide selection of frozen juices/musts as well. If I were to stop and get a red wine, I could get it fermented before the 2010 grapes come in October. That would make the fall harvest time a little easier for me.

See, it's really all about making things easier... :)

After a little research, I decided to try the 2009 Lanza Vineyards Suisun Valley Petite Sirah. Folks on Winepress raved about it, and the price was reasonable, so I bought 6 buckets.

I took Monday, August 2 off of work, hopped in my truck, and headed south. Trip was just peachy until I hit the I-91/I-95 intersection and ran into a 2 mile backup at 12 noon. Arrgh. I'm flipping through my Garmin turn instructions and realize that I don't have to get onto I-95 like it's telling me to, so I swerved into the exit ramp and bypassed the whole mess. Get to the freezer facility just shortly after noon, only to find that the shipping & receiving office is closed from 12:00-12:30 for lunch. Would have been nice if they had mentioned that on the phone when I asked when I could stop in! Fortunately, an IKEA store was just next door, so I walked over and got myself a frozen yogurt cone. Pretty "cool" way to kill half an hour. 12:31 on the dot, I'm back at the freezer and the shipping clerk pauses his lunch to go grab my 3 buckets. He couldn't have done that 30 minutes ago before he started eating?

Back on the road heading north, I make a pitstop at M&M to grab the petite sirah. Had a nice conversation with Tom who convinced me to try a different yeast. And then it was homeward bound. Got home about 4:00 and moved the buckets into the basement to finish thawing. Here's some pictures of the bounty.


Cheers,
Noel

Monday, July 26, 2010

Maple "Icewine" Started

Earlier this spring, I've been contemplating niche market wines. These are wines generally made on small scale because, while they have a following, they serve a smaller market base. Dessert wines are a good example. How many folks have a wine cellar full of sweet dessert wines? I have a few, but it's definitely not my first choice to sit down and drink. But there is a definite market for them--Sauternes, sherries, ports, and ice wines. I started thinking of what kind of niche market dessert wine could be made from New England fruits. Blueberry, cranberry, and apples come to mind, but there are already wines on the market made from those fruits (for a great apple ice wine, see Still River Winery in Harvard, MA).

Hmmm, what's another quintessential New England food product containing sugar...

What about maple syrup? Classic New England flavor that's loaded with sugar and can already be found in flavored liquors. I found tons of examples of maple mead recipes on the internet, but I'm not a fan of mead. I also found a few examples of maple syrup wine, but generally that's made by greatly diluting the maple syrup and finishing it slightly sweet. I'm thinking of a big rich, indulgently sweet dessert wine made from maple syrup. Something made like an icewine starting with high Brix must so that even at 12-14% alcohol, it's sinfully rich and sweet.

First things first, get some maple syrup. I got on the trusty internet and found a Vermont family maple house that had syrup still available. Pretty soon, 4 gallons of syrup from Branon Family Maple Orchards of Bakersfield, VT arrived at my doorstep. I ordered 2 gallons each of Grade A Dark Amber and Grade B syrup to see how different the flavors are.

Second, start the wine. I started with the Grade A Dark Amber syrup so I didn't have 2 batches of wine to struggle with initially. I won't divulge all the details, but will just share some generalities:
1) Maple syrup is some high Brix stuff! I was measuring almost 75% sugar in the pure syrup
2) I diluted with H2O to get into more of a usable range
3) Maple syrup has literally no acid. The diluted must had a pH = ~7.
4) Maple syrup flavor changes dramatically when acidified with tartaric acid. Takes on some brighter citrusy flavors.
5) Fermenting with a yeast recommended for late harvest or ice wines.

It's been very slowly bubbling away in my basement for the past 4 months. I'm down to about 10% abv so it's still got a ways to go although it looks like the yeast is slowly shutting down. I have to admit that I'm really liking the result so far. Dark, lots of maple flavor, but strong hints of vanilla and citrus. Could fool me for a sweet sherry.

Stay tuned because this will be interesting.
Noel

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Homemade Wine Tasting Blow-out!

I spent an amazing afternoon yesterday sharing my wines and sampling the wines of Jason & Joanne, two home winemakers that I met at the 2010 Winemaker Magazine Conference in Stevensen, WA back in May. Jason invited us up to his and his wife Margot's house for a wine tasting extravaganza. I was really impressed with all of their wines--even Joanne's mystery red! Lot of people were in attendance--friends & other wine lovers.

I took up a broad sampling of wines. All of the current stock of 2008 grape wines (malbec, syrah, zinfandel), and both styles of 2009 chardonnay. I also pulled out the cranberry-banana and Craniagranoles just for fun. And at the last moment, I stuck in a bottle of the 2006 Seyval Blanc that has been aging in the basement. Really glad I did, because that wine was a hit! It was pretty tart when I bottled it back in 2007, so I've just let the last 3-4 bottles sit down in the basement. 3 years later, it's mellowed into a nice, crisp wine. Hard to believe that it's a 4 year old white wine.

And the best part of the day was meeting a wide variety of folks, including Chris & Nancy Obert, the authors of The Next Harvest... Vineyards & Wineries of New England. Very nice folks who had some great stories of tasting wines around New England. Also met Geno, the unofficial grape buyer of a home winemaking coop down along the South Shore that I've been toying with joining.

All in all, a very good way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Cheers,
Noel

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2009 Dry Blueberry Bottled

Continuing my theme of indoor projects during this New England heat wave, I decided to bottle the 2009 Blueberry last night. The wine has been crystal clear ever since I racked it off the oak cubes back in December and with a pH = 3.13 and free SO2 = 54 ppm back in March, it should have plenty of antimicrobial/oxidation protection. I really should have measured the free SO2 again, but I only need about 18 ppm at that pH and I highly doubt that the levels have dropped that much in 3 months. Plus, I figure there will be a little SO2 bump from the residual sanitizer solution in the bottles.

So I broke out my Enolmatic bottler, sanitized some bottles, and got to work. I'm still having issues with the vacuum level on the Enolmatic. It's either too low and has trouble sucking the wine out of the carboy, or it's too high and wine gets sucked into the reservoir while the bottle is filling. I finally found a relatively happy medium and got all 4 gallons bottled. I used Amalgo Deluxe corks for the closure. Chose those for a couple of reasons: 1) they just need a quick dip in sanitizer instead of extending soaking, and 2) I want a slow amount of O2 ingress to help the wine age a little faster. Not a lot, just a little to add some aged characteristics and aromas since I wasn't able to barrel age this wine.

I'm pretty pleased with the end result. After I cleaned up I was able to relax and watch my favorite "Pirates of the Carribean" movie while enjoying the couple of glasses-worth of wine that got sucked into the reservoir.

Color: Dark, deep garnet (awesome color extraction)
Aroma: Fresh blueberries, vanilla, citrus finish
Flavor: Good body, fruit forward with slight cocoa notes, and a lingering after taste. Good tannin strength on the tongue with a silky smooth finish. Dark fruits & vanilla.

I do think this is my best dry blueberry wine yet and the closest approximation to a red grape wine that I've come up with. The American Wine Society competition is coming up this fall, and I do think this will be a worthy entry!

Cheers,
Noel

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hopefully stabilized the sauvignon blanc

It's a scorcher of a day in MA, so I decided not to sweat to death while ripping out some sod for my sidewalk project and spend the day dealing with wine because it's cooler in the basement. The sauvignon blanc has been chilling in an ice bath since Saturday morning, so it really needed to be racked anyway. At least that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

It looks like the MLB activity has subsided upon cooling, so I racked off the lees into newly sanitized carboys. With a pH = 3.2 and free SO2 levels around 35-40 ppm, I'm frankly a little flummoxed why the bacteria was active. Those free SO2 levels should give >1 ppm molecular SO2 at that pH and that's way more that the 0.8 ppm that's generally recommended to suppress microbial activity. Generous SO2, low pH, and lysozymes should be more than enough to keep the MLB in check. I added another 25 ppm SO2 for good measure and now I'm going to let the wine warm up. I need to bentonite fine this wine in a few weeks, so I don't want to add more lysozymes now as the bentonite will strip the lysozymes out of the wine along with any other proteins. Going to give the SO2 a chance to work while I'm getting ready to fine. Let's keep those fingers crossed.

Cheers,
Noel

Sunday, July 4, 2010

More Wine Medal Photos

I've been wanting to post a shot of the medals that I've won this spring, but time just kept slipping away. Finally, today was a gorgeously sunny summer day, so after mowing the yard and wrapping up a home repair project, I gathered up my trove and headed for the deck with my camera. Gotta take time to pat yourself on the back every once in awhile, ya know!

The first two are the medals from the 2010 Winemaker Magazine International Wine Competition. Silver for 2009 Chilean Chardonnay--Chablis Style and Bronze for 2008 Chilean Malbec.


The next bunch are from the 2010 Amateur Winemakers of Central Illinois competition. Silver medals for 2008 Chilean Syrah and 2008 Chilean Malbec and bronze medals for 2008 Northern CA Zinfandel (Revenge of the Zin!), 2009 Chilean Chardonnay--Chablis Style, and 2009 Chilean Chardonnay--Burgundian Style.


Do have to say that I think those are awfully pretty pictures. I'm going to be shipping 3 of the wines to the Indy International Wine Competition later this week. Will definitely go with the 2009 Chilean Chardonnay--Chablis Style and the 2008 Chilean Malbec, but I'm having difficulties selecting between the syrah and the zinfandel. Neither one got extremely flattering comments at the Winemaker competition, and I think that competition's a pretty good example of what to expect from the Indy competition. Maybe I'll only send 2 wines...

Stay tuned--I'll make a decision yet.

Cheers,
Noel

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sauvignon blanc & MLF--a no no

Well, finally had a chance to do a chromatography test on the '10 Chilean Sauvignon blanc that's been every so slowly bubbling away after racking off the gross lees. Yep, there's a bit of lactic acid present which means that my sulfite & lysozyme regime did not prevent a malo-lactic fermentation from starting. Guess the grapes had more mold/bacteria on them than I suspected.

A question for the ages--why does an advantageous MLF occur so readily in spite of your best efforts to prevent it and why is it so darn hard to get one to occur when you want it to happen?

Darn bugs...

Back to the wine--I decided to chill the carboys as best I could to encourage the bacteria to go dormant and then rack into new carboys with a hefty dose of lysozymes to prevent the MLF from restarting. Dashed off to the grocery store this morning for ice and the carboys are currently sitting in an ice/water bath. I don't see any more bubble production, so I think it's working, but want to get these things as cold as possible. My basement has warmed up to a whopping 70 °F this summer so I'm having a little challenge in getting this babies below 60 °F.

Need more ice...

Cheers,
Noel

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wines are at rest (almost)

One of these winemaking seasons, I'm going to meet my goal of blogging through the production steps in real time. Until then, you'll just have to live with my summary blogs. :)

I'm happy to report that the Chilean Carmenere and Sauvignon Blanc wines are finally racked into carboys and sulfited. Both of them have been giving me some anxiety...

The Carmenere has been sitting on the gross lees in my stainless steel tank for several weeks. I would like to say that this has been a stylistic decision to let the wine undergo malolactic fermentation on the lees to provide nutrients for the bacteria and give the wine more complexity as the yeast cells undergo autolysis and spill their cellular proteins & contents into the wine.

I could say that...but it would be a lie.

The truth is that I just haven't had the time to rack the wine while I was finishing up my winemaking class and dealing with personal life & work stuff. So, the carmenere been sitting there while the bacteria do their thing. I've been most worried about it taking on a rotten egg smell since the Chilean grapes are rumored to do that if left sitting on the gross lees for too long, so I've been giving it a stir about twice week to keep the gross lees from compacting and diligently sniffing.

Fortunately, MLF completed by last weekend and I finally had a couple of nights free this past week. I hadn't boughten a pump yet, so I ended up draining the tank into a bucket and pouring the wine into carboys. Not the best procedure, but I figured it would give the wine a nice splash rack to let any objectionable volatile aromas to escape and be a nice little microoxidation to speed up the aging process. I do believe it worked, because the aroma & taste of the carmenere is AWESOME! Very fruit, tannic, and some interesting chocolate flavors already. I got about 21.8 gallons out of the 270 lbs of grapes, which is actually a really generous yield (was expecting closer to 15-17 gallons. I ended up topping off the last carboy with 1.5 bottles of 2008 malbec to make a full 22 gallons.

The sauvignon blanc has also been giving me a headache. Fermentation was pretty seamless, but I also ended up letting it sit on the leese for a couple of weeks until I had time to deal with it. The free press and first press fraction carboys kept bubbling frequently. Hydrometer & refractometer indicated the wine was completely dry, so what gives? I finally got the wine racked and sulfited about 1.5 weeks ago, only to watch the bubbling continue unabated. I'd like to believe that the wine was giving up dissolved CO2 as the basement has warmed up. However, I think it's more likely that the wine is undergoing an undesired malolactic fermentation. A lactic acid analysis test will confirm that this week, but I think that's the most likely explanation.

If that's the case, I'm a little confused because I added a nice large dose of lysozymes to the must prior to fermentation to prevent MLF, but perhaps I didn't add enough. If MLF is going on then I'm probably going to have to adjust the acid to get a crisp finish again, and perhaps add some oak to make a "Fume blanc" style. Stay tuned!

Cheers,
Noel

Sunday, June 13, 2010

2010 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc

The carmenere got its own post, so I think the sauvignon blanc deserves the same! We left the juice chilling in an ice bath in the basement while it clarified. That sounds fancy but it really means that I was cooling the juice to keep a wild fermentation or bacterial growth from starting while the solid gunk settled out. 24 hrs later, and it is amazing how clear the juice became. I would really like to improve my cold-settling capabilities because I can only chill to about 45 °F and that's not long enough to really get a good compact layer of solids. When I rack into a new vessel, I lose quite a bit of wine because the solid layer is still pretty fluffy. But in the end I ended up with about 12 gallons of clarified juice.

The juice ended up with a Brix = 20.1 (11% potential alcohol) and pH = 3.25. I was actually a little surprised at the Brix & pH levels because the bunches had quite brown stems & seeds and looked like they had hung on the vine a little longer than normal so I was expecting a higher sugar and pH. But those numbers are out of the desired range, so I forged ahead (if anything the low pH will help prevent bacterial growth.

I let the juice warm up to about 55 °F and inoculated with R-2 yeast strain. This is a strain that was isolated in the Sauternes region of Bourdeaux. That area grows a LOT of sauvignon blanc and this strain is tolerant to cold fermentation temps and is supposed to produce very fruity sauvignon blanc wines. It also can produce a bit of volatile acidity without proper nutrients, so I made sure that the rehydration medium had plenty of Go-Ferm and that I followed the normal Fermaid K addition program during fermentation. Fermentation took a couple of days to commence, but it slowly started after about 36 hr. I had the buckets simply sitting on the basement floor, so fermentation temps stayed below 65°F to retain aromatics.

I had 2 6 gal carboys (one with free run juice & the other with a mix of free run and press fraction) and a 3 gal carboy with just press fraction. The wine in the 3 gal carboy took off like a shot and finished fermentation in about 10 days. I racked that into a 1 gal carboy and then topped off the free run/press carboy with about half a gallon. I was going to rack both of the remaining carboys yesterday, but they are still producing significant gas bubbles. My refractometer says that they are dry as a bone, but there must be some sugar left in the bottom. So both carboys are patiently sitting in the basement while the fermentation completes.

Cheers,
Noel

Saturday, June 12, 2010

2010 Chilean Carmenere

My previous post talked about both the Carmenere & Sauvignon blanc wines that I'm making from Chilean grapes this spring, but I thought I would split them apart since they are two totally different wines.

When last we left, the carmenere was macerating prior to yeast inoculation. I neglected to mention that in addition to the 50 ppm SO2 treatment, I had added Scottzyme Color Pro pectinase & VR Supra tannin. The Color Pro is to help break down the cell walls of the grape solids & release tannins, anthocyanins (color molecules), and sugars. The tannin addition is a little counter intuitive, but a pre-fermentation addition of tannins helps to fix the color.

The next evening, Brix = 22.2 (12.4% potential alcohol) & pH = 3.58 so I'm reasonably happy with those numbers and didn't make any adjustments. I re-hydrated a yeast called Bourdeaux Red and inoculated the must. I selected this yeast because it was isolated from the Bourdeaux region of France (where carmenere originated). Plus, it's a low producer of H2S and volatile acidity and requires moderate levels of Nitrogen. I've read several on-line reviews of this yeast that extolled it's virtues, especially for Bourdeaux varietals, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

It's a little after the fact, but the fermentation took off within 24 hrs of inoculation and went fairly quickly. We had a week of warm weather during the fermentation, so I was able to get a heat spike in the fermenters to at least 85 °F to help set the color. While normally I'm worried about being able to achieve that temperature, this year I was actually worrying whether I needed to cool the fermentation! Fortunately, a cold front came through at just the right time and the garage cooled back down to normal New England spring temperatures.

Fermentation actually completed by Memorial Day, but I was really trying to get some yardwork done and I wanted to wait on the pressing. I inoculated with VP-41 malolactic bacteria and covered the must with a double layer of Saran wrap. The skin cap stayed very buoyant and I did one punchdown a day until Saturday when I pressed the wine off the skins. I pulled out my old press for this big job!

I transferred all press fractions to Bertha (one of my 80 gal variable capacity stainless steel tanks) and sealed the cover while the MLF completed. I was intending to rack off the gross lees after one week, but couldn't get the job done today due to the weather & other commitments. I'm trying to alleviate the risk of the gross less compacting and releasing off-flavors by stirring the lees every 2-3 days until MLF is complete. My analysis indicates that should only be another 1-2 weeks as long as the weather stays seasonably warm.

And that's where the wine is at--sitting in my stainless steel tank under an airlock while the bacteria do their thing. So far, I'm very impressed with the taste. Bright cherry and raspberry flavors with a peppery, long lasting finish. It needs some aging, probably in my Hungarian oak barrel, but this may be my best red wine to date if I don't screw it up.

Cheers,
Noel

2010 Chilean Wine Season is here!

Trying to get caught up on posts on this rainy afternoon. After I got home from the WineMaker Conference, I hopped in the truck and took off to Hartford, CT to pick up my 2010 Chilean grape order. You'll remember that I was a little concerned about whether we'd be able to access Chilean grapes this year due to their devasting earthquake earlier this spring. But, the ports seem to be working and grapes got to get picked, so although they were delayed a week or two, the grapes did finally arrive.

This year, I purchased Sauvignon blanc and carmenere grapes. After the fiasco with the protein stability of the 2008 Sauvignon blanc, I'm on a mission to produce a wine that doesn't get cloudy during the summer months. And you can't get a varietal more associated with Chile than carmenere, which used to be a French Bourdeaux varietal largely used for blending. The French trans-planted it in South America in the early 1800s where it became confused with merlot since they have similar looking grape bunches. Poor carmenere has fallen out of favor in France and plantings have dropped tremendously such that now Chile & Argentina are the last remaining carmenere producers.

As before, the grapes are coming from the Curico Valley and were in really good condition considering their >4 week boat ride and CT storage for 7 days while I was in WA. After I got home and got the equipment cleaned, I crushed the 216 lbs of sauvignon blanc, treated it with 50 ppm of SO2 and pectic enzyme, and set it aside in the shade to macerate briefly while I dealt with the carmenere. The 270 lbs of carmenere got a little extra grapeskins from the SB that was sticking to the press, but that's all good! After crushing, the carmenere got a 50 ppm SO2 treatment and set aside overnight before yeast inoculation.

I had to quickly clean up and get over to my friend Rich's house to pick up my guinea pig from my excellent pet sitters. It was rather late when I got home, but I had to press the sauvignon blanc off the skins and get it chilled down to clarify the juice. For this little task, I brought out another new toy--a bladder press! The wood slats on my regular press are pretty stained from previous red wines and I was worrying about unintentionally making a rose from my white grapes. Plus, I was wanting something easier to clean and somewhat sanitize when making white wines. And I had a little money from Uncle Sam burning a hole in my pocket, so I purchased an all aluminum bladder press. Instead of pressing the pomace from the top with a couple of wood blocks, the bladder press has a central rubber balloon in the middle of the press that is inflated with water pressure to press the pomace against the metal exterior. This is supposed to result in a gentler pressing and not release harsh tannins due to over bruising or crushing of the skins & seeds. So I pulled it out and gave it a whirl for the first time.

I'm in love with this press. Relatively lightweight & portable, very gentle pressing, and it's essentially automatic! Once you've got it loaded and turn the water on, the bladder fills by itself and presses until it reaches >3 atmospheres of pressure and then the cut-off valve switches on. Here's a picture of Lil' Kim in action.


I learned that as the pressure rises, juice starts squirting through the cylinder mesh with quite a bit of force & distance! Fortunately, the press manufacturer supplies a plastic bag to put over the outside and direct the squirts down to the collection vessel (blue thing in the next picture). I ended up with ~15 gallons of juice (~10 gallons of free run and ~5 gallons of press fraction).


It's a little disconcerting to be able to turn on the water and go do something else, but the automation is highly appreciated in this one-man winery. All of that made for a very long night (got to bed around 2:30 AM), but the carmenere was macerating, and the sauvignon blanc was in the basement in an ice bath to while the juice clarified.

Cheers,
Noel

Sunday, June 6, 2010

WineMaker Magazine 2010 Conference Recap

It has been over a month since my last post--wow! Life has snuck up and kicked me in the knickers this past month and between work-related crud, traveling, my UC Davis winemaking class, & personal winemaking (more on that later), I just haven't found time to write much. But enough about me--let's get back to the wine.

Faithful (and patient) readers will recall that I was gearing up to go to the WineMaker Magazine 2010 Conference in Stevenson WA to see if my wines were received (and learn some other stuff too). At the end of May, I hopped on a plane for the West Coast. I thought I was lucky to get a direct flight from Boston Logan to Portland, OR, but I got a seat about 2 rows in front of a very small child who proceeded to scream her head off for the ENTIRE 5.5 hr flight. That was officially the longest flight I have ever been on in my life & I may have bulled over some folks making a dash for the exit door. I was wearing soft shoes, but I still apologize to anyone who has my footprints on their backs!

Fortunately, the drive up the Columbia River gorge on my way to the WA wine areas put me back in a better move. Unbelievable scenery! And such a dramatic change from the wet west side of the Cascade Mts to the dry eastern side. I had gone out a couple of days before the conference to spend some time in the WA wine growing areas which I haven't had a chance to visit until now (more on that later, too). Let's just paraphrase and say that I thoroughly enjoyed my wine tasting (my wallet didn't) and eventually ended up back in Stevenson for the conference, which was held at the Skamania Lodge overlooking the Columbia River. Gorgeous scenery--here's a picture of the view from the lodge. Nice, huh?

Of course, this was a serious conference so I spent the next 2 days inside at seminars on various winemaking topics like sanitation, proper yeast nutrient regimes, crafting award-winning wines, yeast biochemistry, growing grapes in the Pacific NW, etc. It was a good thing that the weather was cool and rainy because otherwise it would have been difficult staying inside during the packed schedule. Also had the opportunity to meet a lot of fellow winemakers from across the USA & Canada, including some fellow New Englanders (Jason Phelps of Ancient Fire Wines in Londonderry, NH & Joanne Crawford of Crawford Estate Winery in Georgetown, MA). Who'd have thought I had to travel across the country to meet folks who live just a few miles from my house?

The kicker of the conference was the Awards Dinner on Saturday night. I had submitted a few wines and was nervously awaiting the results of how they fared. The awards were announced by varietal class, so I had to wait awhile to get to a category that I had entered. Chardonnay finally came along, and the words "Silver Medal to Noel Powell of Westford, MA" was music to my ears! I was a little dazed as I walked up to get my medal amongst thunderous applause (remember, it's my blog and I'll tell it like I recall it). A little while later in the Misc Red Vinifera category, I heard "Bronze Medal to Noel Powell of Westford MA for 2009 Chilean Malbec"! A second trip down the red carpet (OK, it was more of a orangey-brown color)!!!

Our table did quite well. Jason Phelps took home 9 (yes, count 'em-9) medals and Robbie Rogers also got a medal). We was happy campers!







I think the final picture says it all--talk about a kid in a candy store! Pretty darn pleased with how the wines were received (more on that later, too). Next year's conference is in Santa Barbara, CA, but I honestly haven't decided whether to attend or not. Going to have to weigh the cost, travel expenses, and what new info I'll get out of the seminars.

Salute,
Noel

Monday, May 3, 2010

2010 AWCI Wine Competition Results Posted!

Had a little shot in the arm tonight when I got home and opened my email inbox to find that I had a message that the results of the Amateur Winemakers of Central Illinois 2010 Wine Competition had been posted. I was a little nervous as I opened the link to the results and scrolled down the list to find my name.

And there it was..... drumroll...... Jackpot!

Silver Medal -- 2008 Chilean Malbec
Silver Medal -- 2008 Chilean Syrah
Bronze Medal -- 2008 Northern CA Zinfandel
Bronze Medal -- 2009 Chilean Chardonnay v1 (my Chablis style chard)
Bronze Medal -- 2009 Chilean Chardonnay v2 (my Burgundian style chard)

I received medals on 5/6 wines that I entered! Interestingly the only wine that did not receive a medal was the 2008 Apple Wine that won a Gold Medal & Best of Show White at the 2009 Winepress.US competition. :) I think that just goes to show that not all judges taste the same so there is variability between competitions with the same wine.

Needless to say, I'm pleased as punch tonight! All 6 of these wines were also sent to the 2010 Winemaker Magazine Competition where the results will be released in 2 weeks at the upcoming Winemaker Conference that I will be attending. Gives me pretty high hopes that they will be received equally well.

In the meantime, I'm going to relax with a nice Italian white on this warm, humid evening and get caught up on some household chores that have been piling up. So goes the life of a home winemaker--always cleaning up after myself.

Cheers,
Noel

p.s. I'm well aware that this post probably serves as self-advertising and bragging. But hey--it's my blog & I'll brag if I wanna!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Aaronap Cellars Grand Release Party

While I'm waiting for the competition results to be announced and for my 2010 Chilean grape order to arrive, I decided to try to empty a little wine out of the cellar and throw my first Aaronap Cellars Grand Release Party this weekend. Spent yesterday grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning before the guests arrived but I do believe a fun time was had by all!

Initially, I had 5 wines open for tasting:

2009 Chilean Chardonnay V1 -- A snappy French Chablis style with a fruity nose and crisp finish (no oak or malolactic fermentation.

2009 Chilean Chardonnay V2 -- My version of a Burgundian chardonnay. Fruit forward with notes of French oak and a big buttery finish.

2008 Chilean Malbec -- Restrained dark fruit flavors aged in a new American oak barrel.

2008 Chilean Syrah -- Big cherry and vanilla flavors with a slightly herbaceous finish. Aged in a new French oak barrel.

2008 Northern CA Zinfandel -- Big fruit bomb with tons of jammy fruit. Aged in an American oak barrel.

If that wasn't enough, I also popped open one of my last 2008 Dry Blueberry bottles & the award winning 2008 Apple.

Based on the feedback from attendees, I do have to pat myself on the back and say that most wines were very well received. The Zinfandel was the biggest hit of the evening (managed to unload about a case of that!). We even ventured down to the cellar for some barrel tasting of the 2009 Chilean Syrah and another batch of the 2008 zinfandel. People are really looking forward to those wines, too!

So it was a very happy weekend at Aaronap Cellars. Now to go for a run and work off the junk food calories!

Salute,
Noel

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Another competition--2010 AWCI Wine Competition

I was browsing through the Winepress.US winemaker discussion forum last night and came across a new notice that entries for the 2010 AWCI Wine Competition were due by April 15. I was intrigued so I did a little more digging. AWCI is the Amateur Winemakers of Central Illinois, a group of amateur winemakers that got together in 2004 for collective buying power to purchase premium grapes. They've started a wine competition limited strictly to the amateur winemaker that is the 2nd largest wine competition in the state of Illinois.

Since the wines were due soon, I made a snap decision to send in some of my recent vintages and see how they score. At $10/wine, that's a bargain entry fee! Boxed them and shipped them off this morning, so everyone keep those fingers crossed!

Wines entered:
2008 Chilean Malbec
2008 Chilean Syrah
2008 Northern CA Zinfadel
2009 Chilean Chardonnay, no-oak style
2009 Chilean Chardonnay, Burgundian style
2009 Apple Wine

Salute,
Noel

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Say Hello to My Little Friends...

For those of you who think I'm completely obsessed with winemaking, well, you're right! And to prove it, I'd like to introduce you to my latest winemaking toys. I call them Bertha and Greta, and they are two of the loveliest 80-gallon (290-liter) stainless steel variable capacity tanks. Bertha is on the right and Greta is on the left in the picture.

I ran into a fellow winemaker & wine distributor a couple of weeks ago while he was pouring wine one Saturday afternoon at a local wine store. He's in the process of starting a licensed/bonded winery in his basement and was needing to increase his capacity. So he was looking to unload his used 80-gallons tanks and buy some larger ones before the Chilean grapes arrive next month. I had some tax refund money burning a hole in my pocket and had been thinking about upgrading from carboys to tanks, so I went out and took a look at them. I wasn't originally thinking of 80-gal tanks (more like 30-40 gal), but decided that this would be a relatively cheap investment for the future. These tanks would give me the option to ferment enough wine to fill a full-size oak barrel and the ability to do an extended maceration without much fear of oxidation. Plus, they are large enough to be of use for fermenting smaller batches when I make the jump to commercial production. I may not want to make several hundred gallons of a particular varietal if I intend to use it as a blending wine. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

As you can see, Bertha and Greta are lovingly ensconced in a cubbyhole nook in my basement, awaiting their first vintage at Aaronap Cellars!

Salute,
Noel

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

BlackElder/Elderblack Quick Update

As of 11:00 PM this evening, the Elderblack is safely in a carboy and in the basement to starting clearing. This wine fermented in crazy style. Not sure I've ever seen such a vigorous fermentation! Which is kind of good because it had to take care of itself. My schedule got crazy busy and I was forced to leave it sit by self for days at a time. Fortunately, the little yeastie buggers found enough food to keep themselves busy and now I have 5 gallons of a gorgeous reddish-black wine!

Salute,
Noel

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blackberry/Elderberry or BlackElder/Elderblack?

As many of you are well aware, MA had a bit of rain this weekend. If you call 10 inches of rain a "bit" of rain! While I was in the basement anxiously checking to see if I still had a dry basement, I noticed for the billionth time that I had some cans of blackberry & elderberry puree that I had purchased over two years ago. Well, it's raining cats & dogs, what's a winemaker to do? You guessed it, he makes wine! Decided to finally go after the bold, dry fruit red wine that I've been contemplating for a couple of years. I had to go play for church on Sunday morning, so I stopped by the grocery store on the way home to get a few more ingredients and then started mixing things together while doing laundry & cooking my annual St. Patty's Day dinner of corned beef & cabbage.

Now, I'm a little perplexed of what to call this wine. It's about 50/50 elderberry & blackberry based, so could call it Blackberry/Elderberry or Edlerberry/Blackberry.... Or how about just plain simple BlackElder or Elderblack? The BlackElder could lead to interesting label designs with take-offs from the cult classic TV series "Black Adder". Maybe I can get Rowan Atkinson to do celibrity endorsements. Hmmm.... Going to have to think about this one for awhile, so let's move on to the wine.

BlackElder/Elderblack Recipe
2 49 oz cans of Oregon Fruit Products Blackberry Puree
1 96 oz can of Vintner's Harvest Elderberry wine base
4 gallons 100% Niagra grape juice
1 tsp Scottzyme Color Pro Enzyme
6.5 g Laffort Tannin VR Supra

I mixed all of the above ingredients together to make about 5.5 gallons of must. OB = 14.2
Added 5.4 lbs sugar to reach OB = 22.0 (PA = 12.5%)
At this point, I took a pH reading. pH = 3.27. That's pretty much in the optimal range (perhaps a little low for a red wine) so I chose to make no further acid adjustments.

Have to say that the must tastes yummy. Lots of blackberry flavor with a husky undertone from the elderberry! I let the must sit overnight to allow for the SO2 in the grape juice to dissipate. The next evening I hydrated a packet of Llavin BM45 yeast (8g) in ~175 mL of distilled H2O with 10.5 g of Go-Ferm nutrient. After about 4 hrs, there was a good amount of bubbling and burbing in the starter so I added it to the must. Within 24 hrs, I'm observing visible signs of fermentation.

At this point, all systems are go! BM45 is a nitrogen hog, so I'll need to add a couple of good doses of FermAid K as the fermentation progresses. Will keep you updated!

Salute,
Noel

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chilian Earthquake Aftershocks Reach Massachusetts

It's not often that you're personally affected by a massive earthquake in another hemisphere, but today's magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile has resonated as far north as Massachusetts. I was amazed by the initial news of the earthquake, but was even more startled when I learned that the epicenter was near the town of Talca. For those of you not intimately familiar with the geography of Chile, Talca lies in the Curico Valley in central Chile south of the capitol city of Santiago. You should be able to manipulate the map to zoom in and out for more detail.


View Larger Map

How does this affect me way up in Northern Hemisphere? Well, the Chilian grapes that I order each spring come from near the town of Sagrada Familia, a mere 70 km north of Talca. Those grapevines were definitely swinging in the air earlier today. Harvest is still a couple of months away, but who knows how this event will affect the harvest & shipping of the crop. Ironically, I had just placed my order for some carmenere & sauvignon blanc grapes on Thursday.

Of course, here I am worrying up my upcoming grape shipment... My heart goes out to everyone in central Chile. Reports are still spotty, but there has to have been massive damage to the infrastructure and residents in the region. Aid organizations like the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders are already responding to the Haiti earthquake, so they will undoubtedly need new donations to respond to another tragedy. Please, folks, if you are able, consider a donation to help our southern friends in their time of need.

Salute,
Noel

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An Old Zin vs a New Zin

Quick post before I head to bed tonight. I've had a case of the zinfandel wine that I made as my very first wine from grapes way back in 2006. The grapes came from the CA Central Valley and I've never been happy with this wine (quite a blow to my winemaking ego that the first wine I make from grapes stunk). Very light in color, not all that flavorful, and there was this harsh phenolic taste in the finish. In a word--blech!

I ended up bottling this stuff in 2007 before I was forced to move to MA and I've had a case of the bottles sitting in the basement ever since. Frankly, I've been wanting to free up some storage space, so I decided to open a bottle of the 2006 tonight.

Pause...

In it's defense, the fruitiness is finally beginning to emerge. The phenolic taste is greatly diminished. But, it's still a very light color, light tasting wine with a fairly disagreeable finish. I forced myself to finish the glass and then poured the rest down the drain. I've made a decision--I'm dumping the remaining wine and reclaiming the bottles. The storage space & bottles are worth more to me than the wine.

To please my palate after that experience, I popped open a bottle of the 2008 Zinfandel. This was made from supposedly premium northern CA grapes. I do have to admit to liking this wine--a LOT! Aged in an American oak barrel for 9 months, this wine is dark, heavy, fruity, rich, pure heaven!

Probably not a fair comparison. I've had some practice making wine from grapes since 2006 and used some additional techniques to extract both color & tannins, so shouldn't be a surprise that a later vintage is better. The grape source for the 2008 Zin was much higher in quality. And I barrel aged vs adding oak flavors with oak cubes or spirals. But, darn it! I like the 2008 Zinfandel!

A picture is better than words, so here's a couple to illustrate the difference in color between the 2006 & 2008. In both pictures the 2006 is on the left and the 2008 is on the right. Isn't the difference in color between the two wines amazing?



I've come a long way, baby!

Salute,
Noel

Bottling, bottling, bottling, and more bottling...

I realize that I've been kind of lax in posting recently. Lots of reasons for the absence, but one big one is that I have been on a bottling frenzy. Followed closely by the capsuling frenzy. And then followed by the labeling frenzy. Seems like my dining room has been cluttered with cases of bottles for

The recent bottling run-down has been:

11 Gallons of 2008 Zinfandel
14 Gallons of 2008 Syrah
15 Gallons of 2009 Chardonnay

Whew! I'm exhausted just typing all of that. One good thing about all this bottling activity is that I finally figured out how to control the speed and ullage levels of my Enolmatic bottling system. Faithful readers will recall that I was complaining about this during my debute bottling with the Enolmatic. Well, turns out that there's this little knob on the side that controls the vacuum level. What I thought was the low setting was actually the high setting. If you keep cranking the knob to the left, you actually lower the vacuum level and bottles fill slower. Man, what a difference that makes! Now my ullage levels are more consistent, less wine gets sucked into the overflow containor, and I can cork the previous bottle and still have time to swig a drink of wine before the new bottle is full. Much better!

Salute,
Noel (yeah I'm giving up the pseudonym)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Another day of filtering & bottling

I had President's Day off today, so I decided to filter and bottle the last of the chardonnay that had been sitting on oak since early January. Taste tests indicated that the oak level was just about perfect so it was time for action. The filtering actually went quite easily. I used 0.5 micron filter pads in my Buon vino minijet to remove as much sludge as possible and the wine came out crystal clear. I bottled within a couple of hours and got 25 bottles from 5 gallons of wine. The bottles were sealed with 1.5 inch natural corks.

I think I'm pretty much done with filtering & bottling for awhile and should be all set to send off a load of wine for judging in the 2010 Winemaker Magazine Amateur Wine Competition. At the moment, I'm planning on sending at least 8 bottles, possibly 9 if tomorrow night's taste test works out.

Salute,
a MA Winemaker.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Rhubarb Progress


Very brief post here to catch up on the rhubarb wine progress. After a couple of days in the bucket, I poured into carboy to allow the fermentation to finish under an airlock. I added a strong dose of FermaidK to try to overcome the very strong smell of H2S that this wine is kicking off. Here's the result in living color.

Interestingly, this wine is a strong pink color. Will be interesting to see how long this color persists or if it gets bleached out after fermentation is over.

Stay tuned!
a MA Winemaker