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.


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.


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