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!


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.


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.


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.


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.