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First Impressions of My Shiraz and the Mistakes I Made

- Nov 15, 2012

You’re really supposed to wait six months after bottling a red wine before you taste it…but I couldn’t resist! When I bottled my Shiraz I wound up with 29 full bottles and about a half bottle left over. Needless to say I couldn’t store the half bottle for any length of time without oxidizing it. So, the only thing left to do was drink it! I wanted to taste the wine as bottled for two reasons. First, I wanted to know what it tastes like in the beginning so that I have something to compare it to as it ages. Second, I wanted to see if I made any mistakes that I could learn from. Here’s what I found when I tasted my wine. It’s Definitely a Young Wine I had never tasted a wine quite this young before and wasn’t sure what to expect. However, after only a few sips it became evident that this was indeed a young wine. For starters the tannins are a bit gritty. They haven’t had time to string together and form longer molecules. Longer tannin molecules are much smoother than what I was experiencing. Additionally there was a distinct green taste to the wine. Almost as if I’d bitten into a grape stem. This will go away as the wine matures. Looking at it in the glass it has a color to it. Most young wines have a purple tint to them that eventually fades to red. The fact that mine is red really doesn’t tell me much being that it’s from a kit. I think the color would be more telling had I used fresh grapes. However, the fact that it’s not brown or orange tells me the wine is basically in good shape. My Mistakes Despite the lack of aging there were three mistakes that became self evident in my half bottle of wine. While it is very disappointing to find so many mistakes this is how a winemaker learns and grows. 1. I didn’t get all of the carbon dioxide out during degassing. After twenty minutes with the wine whip I thought I’d gotten all of the carbon dioxide out. However, upon tasting the final product I could clearly detect some bubbles on my tongue. Just to make sure I wasn’t mistaking high acidity for bubbles I gave a sample of wine a shake in my test jar and was greeted with a burst of carbon dioxide when I removed my hand. Proof that there is still gas suspended in there. Next time I need to be much more patient and diligent with the degassing tools. Also, had I kept the wine at the proper temperature during fermentation and clarification I wouldn’t have had so much trouble getting the carbon dioxide out. 2. There is sediment in my bottled wine. During bottling there were a couple times when I started to lose my siphon. In an act of desperation I plunged the racking cane to the bottom of the carboy so that it would stop taking in air. By doing this I wound up sucking up some of the lees. Because Shiraz is so dark you really can’t see that there is suspended sediment when it’s in something as large as a carboy. The sediment becomes clearly visible once it has been poured though. 3....

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Bottling Your Kit Wine

- Nov 12, 2012

The final step in the wine making process is to bottle your wine and insert a cork. You’re ready for this step once you wine has been stabilized and is clear. If your wine has not been properly clarified or degassed you shouldn’t move on to bottling.  Sediment and trapped carbon dioxide cannot leave the bottle and will remain suspended in the wine until you open it. So be completely sure you’re ready for this step. In this video you’ll see the steps involved to take wine from a carboy to the bottle including an extra step required for long term bottle aging. That’s it! This concludes the first series on kit winemaking! Please let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments. I’m here to...

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The Epic Rise and Tragic Fall of a Yeast Empire

- Nov 8, 2012

The Epic Rise and Tragic Fall of a Yeast Empire

The unfermented must is a vast and plentiful breeding ground for yeast. Food in the form of dissolved oxygen and sugar abounds. For the right strain of yeast this is the perfect place to establish a thriving empire. The winemaker sets the yeast in motion. She hydrates the yeast, preparing them to conquer this new found domain. Once the yeast is awakened they are transplanted to this new land. The Lag Phase The first order of business is for the newcomers to get the lay of the land. The yeast acclimates to its new surroundings and environment. This is called the lag phase because there is not a lot of visible activity. The only evidence that anything is going on is an occasional bubble rising to the surface. After one to two days, however, our invaders have adapted to their new land and it is time to conquer it! The Rapid Growth Phase The yeast is population is still small but because there is plenty of food they begin to multiply at a feverish pace. The population explodes at a logarithmic pace during this phase. Evidence of their activity can now be seen in the form of vigorous bubbling. They’re now producing carbon dioxide at a staggering rate as a result of consuming their primary food source dissolved oxygen. Eventually the population reaches a peak. They’ve been producing carbon-dioxide is in such a huge quantity that it begins to saturate their new dominion. At the same time with the airlock in place on the fermentation tank there is no longer a source of oxygen to replenish what has been consumed. Something must give! As the population reaches a point where there is no longer enough dissolved oxygen to support new yeast they cease to multiply save to replace fallen yeast on the front line. However, with the booming population they’ve created the yeast eventually runs completely out of food. This marks the end of the rapid growth phase. The Stationary Phase Now that the yeast has asserted its dominance over the known lands inside the fermentation tank, the population is maxed out, and the food has run out the yeast must change tactics. Yeast, as it turns out, is a well adapted invader that can do what few other micro-organisms can. They switch to a different food source! At this point they shift from consuming dissolved oxygen to consuming sugar. Yeast can live in both aerobic environments (with oxygen) and anaerobic environments (without oxygen). Other micro-organisms simply perish once their food source has run out. While there is plenty of dissolved oxygen the yeast produce mostly carbon dioxide. However, when yeast switches to consuming sugar they not only produce carbon dioxide but alcohol as well! The Decline Phase While the yeast is still going strong it is starting to decline for two reasons. On the one hand food is becoming scarce but at the same time their waste product, alcohol, is starting to accumulate to levels too high for them to withstand. Whether the lack of food or the concentration of alcohol kills of the yeast depends upon the strain of yeast used to ferment the wine. More resilient strains can withstand alcohol content up to 25% and will likely run out of food. A weaker or wild strain of yeast that can only hand alcohol around 10% will likely perish...

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Degassing and Clarifying Your Wine

- Nov 5, 2012

Degassing and Clarifying Your Wine

After a seemingly eternal fourteen days since racking it’s time to degas and add a clarifying agent to the kit wine. Degassing is a brut force method of removing suspended carbon dioxide. I purchased a Fermtech Wine Whip (affiliate link) to help with this process and it saved me big time. More on that later. Check out this video on degassing and adding a stabilizing agent to the wine. This is the final step before bottling. If this step isn’t done correctly your wine won’t clear and you won’t be able to move onto bottling! During fermentation and the fourteen days after racking my Shiraz was stored below the recommended temperature range. This prolongs fermentation but also requires much more time to degas. All in all I spent nearly twenty minutes with the degassing the wine with the Wine Whip (affiliate link). Twenty minutes may not sound like much but when you’re talking about stirring your wine with a power drill on full blast for twenty minutes it’s a pretty big deal. Without this tool degassing would have taken days. There are several different style tools for this job and you don’t have to get the Wine Whip specifically, but do yourself a favor and get a degassing tool. You won’t regret it. After adding the final additives to stop fermentation and degassing you shouldn’t see any action in your airlock. At this point it’s merely acting as a seal to protect your wine. Up next, bottling your...

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Two Approaches to Making Wine

- Nov 1, 2012

As a winemaker there are two different approaches you can take making wine. One is over bearing and controlling while the other is a gentle guide. Which will you choose? At each step of the way the overbearing winemaker is constantly checking and adjusting everything. From sulfur dioxide levels to pH to sugar content no aspect of the wine is left untouched. The grape juice is beaten down and forced to fit the winemaker’s vision. Incidentally this is often how commercial super-wineries must function in order to produce a consistent product from year to year. How else can every vintage taste exactly the same? They must meet their customers expectations regardless of the grapes natural tendencies for that vintage. On the other end of the spectrum is the laissez faire parent who lovingly guides their child but never forces them in any given direction. They’re allowed to grow up and fulfill their own destiny. Chemistry is only meddled with if things are not going in a positive direction, otherwise the yeast and grape juice are left to their own devices. While this doesn’t lend itself to a consistent wine from year to year it often produces much more spectacular results. Different vintages will have different characteristics. The Creation of Wine is a Natural Process Everything required to make wine occurs naturally without any intervention at all from us. Yeast grows naturally on grapes and when the grapes fall from the vine and begin to break down the yeast turns the sugar into alcohol just like in your fermenter. There are many more bacterias and micro-organisms that also congregate on grapes, however, that lead to a terrible tasting rotten mush. As winemakers it is our job to create the best possible conditions for the yeast to work its magic. At the same time these other micro-organisms must be stopped. Sulfur dioxide, it turns out, is just strong enough to kill off the undesirable elements yet leaves the yeast uninhibited. Herein lies your choice. Will you control this process in every detail or let nature take its course with some guidance from a loving hand? What Great Winemakers Do Truly great winemakers intervene as little as possible during the winemaking process. Many will ferment their wine with the naturally occurring yeast that came with their grapes. Strong-arm tactics like adding sugar to produce 16% alcohol are just not the trademark of a remarkable winemaker. A great winemaker will taste the fruit and the crushed grapes and determine what its outstanding characteristics are and guide the wine such that those characteristics are emphasized in the finished product. It takes more knowledge and skill to use fewer chemicals in the winemaking process. Recently I read an article where one winemaker in particular was advocating the listing of chemicals used to make wine on the back wine label. His argument was that the best winemakers will list little more than grapes, yeast, and sulfur dioxide. It would separate the great winemakers from the overbearing ones. Consumers would be able to evaluate the quality of wine based on how it tastes relative to the ingredients used. Starting Out If you’re just getting started with winemaking and you’ve got your first kit it’s a good idea to stick to the directions. Kits come with more chemicals than what an experience winemaker may choose to use....

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Checking the Specific Gravity and Racking

- Oct 29, 2012

After the primary fermentation has slowed down (after about 7 days) it’s time to check the specific gravity. What this tells us is how the density of the wine compares to that of water. Grape juice is more dense than water. Thus before we fermented the grape juice the specific gravity was over 1.0. As the yeast converted the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide during fermentation, the density of the wine has been decreasing. A specific gravity less than 0.990 tells us that the primary fermentation has slowed down enough that we need to rack. Our main concern is leaving the wine on the dead yeast, or lees, for too long. Wine is sometimes left on the decomposing yeast to impart a nutty flavor, however, you really need to know how to time this right. Left too long and the wine will start to taste like rotting yeast. Check out this video to see all the steps involved in this part of the wine making process. The racking cane can be a bit tricky to get going so I’ve created a separate video all about how to use a racking cane. Hint, you don’t want to use your mouth to get this going! If you found this video helpful please leave your thoughts in the comments...

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The Heart of a Winemaker

- Oct 24, 2012

It takes a special kind of person to want to make wine. Loving wine itself is not enough. You must love the science behind the art. Do you have the heart of a winemaker? A winemaker is someone who is: 1. Passionate about wine. If you don’t love every aspect of wine and what goes into it then this is the wrong direction for you. Without passion winemaking is just too technical and too slow to keep your interest. Those with a passion for wine will be smitten by talk of malolactic fermentation, debating the best oak blends, and waging war in the great battle of corks versus screw-caps. Do you have the passion? Who’s side are you on? 2. A little nerdy. Let’s face it winemakers play with hydrometers, worry about titratable acid, and obsess over micro-organisms. Neglecting any detail could be the difference between creating the elixir of life and rancid grape juice. Sound like  you? 3. Patient as hell. It’s true, to put it bluntly. Waiting one to two weeks between each step of the winemaking process is hard enough. Once you’re done making the wine then comes the aging. Heaven help you if you’re making a tannic red wine or a mead, it can take years before that stuff is ready for consumption. There are many proponents of making your own wine that would have you believe this is for anyone. True, most anyone has the skills to make wine. It is simple in that respect. However, to see the transformation of grapes into a truly amazing, nay, magical wine takes something more. Do you have that something? Is there an alchemist lying dormant in your subconcious? If so, then I dare you to take the plunge, you won’t regret it! Challenge yourself and reap the...

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Pitch the Yeast and Make Some Wine!

- Oct 21, 2012

Let’s make wine! Now that we’ve covered wine kits and what equipment required to make wine it’s time to hydrate the grape juice and pitch the yeast. In this video I’ll show you everything it takes to get your wine kit happily fermenting.   This part of the process is probably the most labor intensive step until it comes to bottling. The most time consuming part was cleaning all the equipment and reading the directions over and over again. One word of caution, watch your water temperature. My must was a little too warm. When I hydrated the grape juice concentrate I should have measured the temperature of the water I was adding. Because I didn’t I wound up with a must around 90 degrees (F)! That’s really not all that bad except that for the yeast to get going the must needed to be between 72 and 75 degrees (F). It took nearly six hours for the must to cool off after re-hydration. Lesson: montor the temperature of the water you’re adding to the must as well as the ambient room temperature. My Shiraz began fermenting within 24 hours of pitching the yeast and it smelled like heaven! For about two days… After a couple days it began to smell like old beer and grape juice; kind of rowdy. Up next, racking off the lees and into the...

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Which Wine Kit Should I Start With?

- Oct 18, 2012

Which Wine Kit Should I Start With?

When you first get started with making your own wine it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of decisions you have to make. I recommend you start simply with a wine kit. Starting with a kit reduces the amount of equipment you need to purchase or rent at the outset. The process is also limited to that of making wine and does not include tasks such as finding grapes, pressing them, or any else besides the actual chemistry of making wines. Choosing which wine kit to make is also an important decision which is influenced by several factors. Here are just a few things to think about. What Do You Like to Drink? Choose a varietal that you enjoy! This is first and foremost because you’re about to make 30 bottles of wine. No one wants 30 bottles of wine they don’t like. Wine kits have been designed such that they all follow just about the same process. There is some variability but by in large kits are all relatively the same once you get going. Fortified wines do have a bit of extra work that must go into them, however, the kit manufacturers have made the process as simple as possible. Quality Just like anything else you spend your money on, you usually get what you pay for. An inexpensive kit will be of good quality while a more expensive kit will be of the highest quality. Many of the grapes that go into these kits come from the same vineyards that produce grapes for commercial wineries. This is why you might see on your Zinfandel kit that this particular vintage won this medal or that one at some point. Pros are using the same raw materials to make their wines. Depending on your budget you may have to start with the inexpensive kits given that you’ll be purchasing equipment as well. No worries, start where you can. These days a wine kit can produce good results provided you follow the directions. How Much Patience do You Have? Time is both the best ingredient for a great wine and the hardest to give. After you’ve spent the time and effort researching kits and equipment, then fermenting the wine, you’ll then have to let it age. Some wine kits take longer than others to mature. Many are designed for early consumption (four to six weeks from starting fermentation) while the more sophisticated ones take longer to reach their peak flavor. White wines can be made and consumed fairly quickly while reds need more time. Don’t pick up a kit that needs a year or more of aging for your first winemaking experience. The return on investment is just too long unless you have unparalleled patience. Start with something you can make and consume fairly quickly. That way you’ll get a sense of how much you enjoy making wine. Another idea is to pick up a kit that is ready to drink quickly and right afterward start another kit that takes a bit of time to age. This way you’ll get the experience and 30 bottles of wine to consume while your next batch is aging. Lastly, ration the number of bottles you consume. This is difficult, I know, but set aside 15 or 20 bottles to drink the first...

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Equipment Required for Making Wine from a Kit

- Oct 15, 2012

Once you’ve decided on what wine kit you’d like to make we now move onto what equipment you’ll need to get started. In this video I outline the minimum amount of equipment required to get going. You can always add more gadgets but this is an affordable place to start. In summary, you’ll need: a primary fermenter a carboy a hydrometer test jar racking cane with tubing wine thief corks a corker wine bottles bottle filler carboy brush bottle brush sanitizer Here are links* to most of the equipment shown in the video: Winemaking Equipment Kit Carboy Brush Wine Thief Test Jar (very similar to mine) The testing equipment I showed is not necessary with a kit, however, it doesn’t hurt to get an early start to understanding the chemistry of wine. *These are affiliate links. By clicking on these links you will be helping support Winemaker’s...

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