Saturday, June 12, 2010

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.


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