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Fermentation Has Begun

- Oct 11, 2012

Five days ago I began making a six gallon Shiraz wine kit. As I go I’m recording videos on how it’s done, here’s the first video on what comes in a winemaking kit. Shortly after recording that video I started making the kit. Videos on how to do that are in the making right now! Today I wanted to share my first update on my wine. I’m four days into the wine making process. After the first day the airlock started bubbling away signifying that the primary fermentation had begun. When fermentation first began the airlock was bubbling quite rapidly. The lid to the fermenter was pushed up in the middle from all the pressure, so much so that I was wondering if that little airlock was going to shoot out like a rocket. The fermentation has since slowed down and it doesn’t look like the airlock will be flying through the air. There is still a steady stream of carbon dioxide bubbles coming out, however, it no longer looks like it’s boiling. This tells me that the yeast is starting to run out of sugar to convert to carbon-dioxide and alcohol. Over time the smell of the fermenting wine has changed. In the beginning it smelled amazing! The smell was worth the effort of making wine by itself. However, as time has gone on it now smells like somebody sopped up spilled beer and grape juice with an old towel. This is all part of the process. Over the next few days the bubbles will continue to slow down up until it’s time to rack the wine. In another two to three days I’ll be testing the specific gravity of the must again to make sure it’s where it needs to be. If the specific gravity is 1.010 or less it’ll be time to stop the fermentation and rack the wine into my glass carboy. Please stay tuned for upcoming videos and more updates on how my Shiraz is progressing. Comments or questions? Jump right...

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What Comes in a Winemaking Kit?

- Oct 8, 2012

So you’ve decided you want to make wine but what do you need to get going? First of all you’ll need to choose a wine kit. A wine kit includes a grape juice concentrate, most importantly, but also several additional chemicals used during the winemaking process. In this video session I’ll show you what you can expect to find in your winemaking kit when you open it up. Here’s a link to the Vintner’s Reserve Shiraz shown in the video (affiliate). In the next session we’ll cover the equipment required to ferment the grape juice into wine. Questions or comments? Please let me know...

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Bottle Aging Wine

- Sep 26, 2012

Once bottled wine needs to be stored in optimal conditions to preserve its life and keep it tasting as wonderful as possible. The three factors affecting wine being aged in a bottle are temperature, light, and humidity (depending on your closure). Red vs White Wine Bottle Aging Red wines benefit the most from long term aging because of the tannins. Over time the tannins join together and form long chains. This smooths out the wine and gives it that silky smooth mouthfeel only an aged red has. Some of the tannin chains get so long they precipitate out, giving the wine a mature feel.   White wines are not usually bottle aged very long. There are exceptions to this, however, most white wines are meant to be consumed within three years or so. Champagne is a notable exception to this rule. Temperature Ideally wine should be stored at 55 deg F. This slows the micro-oxygenation process down and allows the wine to mature gradually. Warmer temperatures speed up the aging process. In theory you could simulate a 100 years of bottle aging by storing it at 80 deg F, however it doesn’t quite work out this nicely. You miss out on all the long chain tannins and the aging process is so abrupt that the wine doesn’t mature as much as it just goes bad. If you can’t store your wine at 55 deg F at least store it as cool as you can. Not all of us have underground cellars or refrigerators for bottle aging wine though. Realize that your wine may have a shorter shelf life if you can’t keep it that cold. Light Wine should be stored in a nice dark place. Ultra-violate light from the sun or florescent lights can damage wine as much as heat can. Darker bottles do help protect wine from these rays, however, if you’re planning on bottle aging a wine for years and years it needs to completely protected from UV light. Humidity Cork closures require a specific range of humidity for long term storage. When corks dry out due to a lack of humidity they shrink and can leak or be pushed out of the bottle entirely. If your storage area has too much humidity your corks can grow mold and introduce nasty flavors to your wine. Keep your cork enclosed wine between 55 and 75% humidity to avoid drying of the cork as well as growing mold. If this isn’t something you can manage you may want to consider going with a synthetic cork or screw cap to avoid the issue altogether. You probably already know this but you should be storing wine enclosed with natural corks on their side. This prevents the cork from drying out from the inside. This is not an issue with synthetic corks or screw caps. Pay attention to these three factors and you can expect great results. Let any one of these get out of hand and your wine could be ruined. Not All Wines Age Gracefully Aging wine is a science. Certain characteristics must be present in your wine for it to be able to be aged. Most kit wines are designed to be consumed immediately (i.e. within a few years). Wines with stout tannins or that are overly fruity can...

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Bottling Wine

- Sep 26, 2012

Bottling is the final step in the wine making process that requires any  effort on your part. After this time takes care of the rest. The major considerations when bottling are what kind of bottle to use, type of closure, and to add gas or not. Bottles The type of bottle you use is completely up to you. A bottle’s shape does not impact the taste or life of your wine in any way. Typically red wines are bottled in dark green bottles to prevent UV exposure which can accelerate the aging process. If you keep your red wines in a dark “cellar” like environment light will not be an issue and you can use whatever color strikes you as awesome. White wines are typically contained in clear bottles as they are not aged nearly as long as red wines are for the most part. More on this in the bottle aging step. Closures A closure is a fancy term for whatever you use to seal your bottles. Most wineries us a cork, synthetic cork, or screw cap. There has been a raging debate arguing the ups and downs of each type of closure. We’ll briefly touch on them here. Natural Cork Being both natural and the historical closure of choice natural cork is a good choice. A benefit to natural cork is its ability to let in tiny amounts of oxygen. The small amount of oxygen allows for “micro-oxygenation”, an essential part of long term bottle aging. Natural corks have a few drawbacks worth mentioning however. Poorly made corks can deteriorate and leave your wine “corked” (tasting like moldy cork). Even the highest quality cork producers wind up making a few duds. Once a wine is corked there’s nothing you can do about it. Another draw back is corks that leak. Some corks have a little channel that on the side of the cork that allows wine to leak out. You can’t always see these defects in a cork prior to bottling so it’s a risk you must take to use cork. Synthetic Cork Today’s synthetic corks are getting much more sophisticated than the old petroleum based ones you used to see in the 90’s. Synthetic corks don’t deteriorate, nor do they have a tendency to leak. Many synthetic corks do not allow for micro-oxygenation. They seal very well. This is fine for a wine you intend to consume within three years or so. Any longer and you’ll want natural cork. Some synthetic corks are designed to allow for micro-oxygenation but they haven’t been in use long enough to say for sure how they compare to natural cork. Screw Caps The latest closure on the scene is the screw cap. Largely thought to be a sign of cheap wine these closures are starting to take hold even in more expensive wineries. Proponents of screw caps site the lack of spoiled wine due to bad corks among their chief benefits. Screw caps also aren’t likely to let loose if checked in airline baggage as a cork can. On the other hand screw caps don’t allow for micro-oxygenation as a natural cork will. Wine drinkers with a sensitive palate have been able to detect petroleum flavors in wines with this type of closure. As the inside of the cap is...

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Stabilizing Wine

- Sep 1, 2012

Closely related to the clarifying wine, is stabilizing it. Many of the same methods used for clarifying wine are also used to stabilize it, with a few additions. What is an unstable wine? By unstable we mean that the wine is susceptible to spoilage. The most common causes of spoilage are oxidation, unintentional second fermentations, and excess protein. Spoiled wine may taste old and weak in the case of oxidation. Otherwise spoiled wine may take on a rancid or rotting flavor profile. None of these are the least bit desireable. Except for oxidation spoilage mainly occurs due to uninvited micro-organisms. These organisms may have come in with the fruit or may have stuck around on a piece of equipment that didn’t get sanitized quite well enough. How to Stabilize Wine There are different stabilization methods for different types of spoilage. The simplest forms of stabilization being racking and filtering. Both serve to remove undesired yeasts and other micro-organisms. Additionally, there are any number of chemicals that can be used to kill off these organisms so that there’s not a party in your wine after you’ve bottled it. For example sulfur-dioxide is used to kill of yeast cells to prevent a second fermentation. Bentonite is used to remove excess protein (also known as hot stablization). Cold stabilization is when you reduce the temperature of your wine to nearly its freezing point to purposefully form tartrate crystals you can then remove through racking. These harmless crystals form when tartaric acid precipitates out of the wine. They have no effect on the flavor but they can put people off because they look like broken glass. Oxidized wine, however, is permanently ruined. There’s no reversing the effects of too much oxygen so be sure everything is tightly sealed during the aging process. What Methods Should I Use? The method of stabilization you use on your wine depends largely on what issues you’re facing. By in large the best preventative stabilization method is the addition of sulfur-dioxide(SO2). Whether introduced as a gas or in tablet form this chemical kills off yeast, malolactic bacteria, and many other micro-organisms. Adding SO2 should be part of your wine making process. Aging your wine prior to bottling will give many stability issues time to show their faces. You don’t want to find out you’ve got stability issues after you’ve bottled. Any treatments after bottling will take a lot of work and introduce far too much oxygen. If your wine is getting cloudy or tartrate crystals are forming its time to start clarifying and stabilizing. Start out by racking and, if you’re through all your fermentations, add SO2. In the case of tartrate crystals cool your wine to near its freezing point and rack it. After any clarification or stabilization treatments give it more time to see what happens. You may need to do more than one stabilization. Being able to see your wine is a key element here. Aging in oak barrels can make it hard to tell what’s going on. Careful inspection with a wine thief and your test kits is your best bet. Lastly, taste your wine before bottling. In fact you should taste your wine periodically during the entire process (except maybe during fermentation). By looking,, tasting, and testing you should be able to determine if you’ve got some...

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Clarifying Wine

- Aug 21, 2012

At this point your wine has aged a bit and its time to start thinking about bottling. However, before we’re ready for that we need to take care of a few things. First is clarifying the wine. No one wants to drink a cloudy or chunky-style wine. It looks bad and even if it tastes great people’s first impression will be that your wine is off somehow. Why else would it look like that (they might think)? What Makes Wine Cloudy? A cloudy wine has suspended particles in it due to the chemical reactions that took place during fermentation. Like magnets the suspended particles have either a positive or negative charge. Having too many particles of a single charge (all positive for example) prevents them from settling down at the bottom as they repel each other and remain floating around. If left alone most wines will eventually clear up through racking. Also, over time the positive particles find negative particles, fall in love, and make a home for themselves on the bottom of the carboy. There are times though when a wine just won’t clarify on its own. At this point you’ll need to clarify (or fine) your wine with a fining agent of some kind. Clarifying Your Wine In order to get all those suspended particles out of your wine and on the bottom you’ll need to add a chemical that can bond with the particles making them neutral in charge so they become heavy enough to settle down. There are many methods to choose from. Over the past millenia there have been many different fining agents used to clarify a wine. To name a few of the more odd ones: bull’s blood, isinglass (from fish bladders), and clay. How nasty does that sound?!? Today there are chemicals available so you can avoid having to draw blood from your bull. Namely bentonite and gelatin. Aside from chemicals you can clarify your wine through filtration as well. It takes a special filter that is fine enough to catch stray yeast cells and other microbial organisms. The drawback to this method is that the filter can remove precious flavor nuances and that’s the last thing we want. Mondavi’s Method After a lot of research I found that most of the top quality wine makers use egg whites to fine their wine. Pros including Robert Mondavi use this method as one of the corner stones of making his white wines. If it’s good enough for Mondavi it’ll probably do for us too. The recipe is simple, using the egg whites, of course, and some salt. Once the recipe has been concocted you merely mix it well into your wine and give it some time. The egg whites bond with the tiny particles, making them heavy enough to sink to the bottom. After Clarifying As soon as your wine is clear you need to rack it off of the settled particles. I cannot stress enough how careful you need to be during this racking. The particles that were so hard to settle out are quite easily stirred back up again. Should this happen you’ll likely need to repeat the clarification step. Click here to go back to the wine making process.3 Photo by: Isabel...

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Aging Wine

- Jul 20, 2012

After fermentation and racking comes probably the hardest part of making wine aging it. It’s one of those necessary evils of wine making. As a society we have trouble with delayed gratification and this will test your patience for sure. Why Age Wine Prior to Bottling? Aging prior to bottling is necessary for two reasons. The most notable reason is shaping the flavor with oak barrels or chips. Most every red wine and a few whites are aged in oak for the flavors and tannins it adds to the flavor profile. Another critical reason to age wines prior to bottling is to make sure all chemical reactions have completed. If wine is bottled while fermentation, malolactic fermentation, or any other chemical process is underway you’ll end up with a funky sparkling wine. Carbon dioxide created during these chemical reactions must go somewhere. In a fermenter it escapes through the air lock. In a bottle…it can’t escape. Because it can’t get out it will either blow out the cork or it will stay in the wine itself  as a liquid. Trapped carbon dioxide will turn to carbonation once opened. Creating sparkling wine sounds magical and all but if you didn’t intend to make this kind of wine its probably not going to taste very good. I’ve had a sparkling cabernet due to malolactic fermentation in the bottle and it was nasty stuff. Aging Vessels The most traditional and romantic aging vessel is the oak barrel. They look gorgeous all stacked up with little red stains dripping down. Despite their good looks oak barrels are a lot of work to maintain. In addition to increased maintenance barrels also have a life span of only 5-7 years. Very few wineries use a barrel beyond 7 years as it contributes nearly no oak flavor. Barrels are typically around 59 gallons and thus more suited for large scale productions (compared to an amateur wine makers needs). Half barrels of 29 gallons are available for the smaller scale maker. Another traditional vessel is the carboy. These look like those jugs on top of water coolers. Today carboys are available in both glass and food grade plastic. A word about plastic carboys…don’t. These flexible bottles are marketed as a safer alternative to glass carboys because they don’t shatter and cut you to pieces when they break. However, moving plastic carboys causes them to flex and pull air through the seals. If you can keep your plastic carboy in one spot without moving it you might have ok luck with it. However, I don’t believe in making wine in containers that come from petroleum products. You may feel differently. An older and less seen aging vessel is the concrete tank. Huge and heavy about sums it up. The newest aging container on the scene is the flex tank. Designed to micro-oxygenate wine similarly to a barrel yet have flexibility in size. Some tanks are flexible, others are rigid but have a floating top so that whatever the level of wine is it will always be covered. How Long to Age Wine Prior to Bottling This is a topic of study unto itself. For the most part aging prior to bottling is a function of grape varietal, flavor profile, and the mouth-feel you’re trying to achieve. Barrel aging...

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Racking off the Lees

- Jul 15, 2012

Racking off the Lees

Racking is the next step, after the initial more vigorous fermentation. What is racking? Simply put racking is siphoning your wine off of the dead yeast, known as lees, into a clean container. There are two reasons to rack your wine. First it helps clarify your wine but it can also prevent off flavors from the decomposing yeast. Over time yeast and other sediment will precipitate out of your wine and settle to the bottom. The cloudiness will dissipate with each successive racking until you’ve got a nearly clear wine. Nearly because you do sometimes need to fine the last bit of cloudiness out. Getting your wine off of the yeast as it decomposes can prevent off flavors. While some wines are aged on the yeast you really need to know what you’re doing to do this successfully. When to Rack Generally you want rack after the vigorous fermentation has completed. Initially fermentation produces great quantities of gas and is too much for many aging containers such as carboys or barrels. Once this phase is over and much of the yeast has died you would then rack the wine off of the lees and let fermentation continue and its more subdued rate until complete. As sediment collects at the bottom you’ll rack again. Some wine makers rack only once and others will rack four or five times depending upon the flavor profile they’re going for and how clear they want the wine. If, for instance, you’re going to be clearing your wine through fining you don’t have to rack the wine so many times to get it clear. When Not to Rack There are some wines that are aged on the lees and bottled without racking, a process known as sur lie aging. This french term simply means “on the lees”. This process is used on namely Chardonnay, Champagne, and Muscadet. The lees can add nutty, toast, or even hazelnut flavors. Chemically sur lie alters the oak flavor molecules and increases their integration with other molecules. This can tame oak flavors and make them taste like a part of the wine as opposed to an additive. As mentioned earlier you need to know what you’re doing to pull this off. For your first time you might consider splitting your wine and only performing sur lie on a portion of it. Taste your sur lie batch often and err on the side of caution when deciding to bottle. Bottle most of it when you are picking up the additional flavors you are looking for. With a small amount of wine let it sit on the lees and continue tasting to see how long it takes to pick up off flavors. This will give you a good guide line for sur lie wine making in the future. The Light Lees Protocol This “protocol” involves adding fresh yeast back into a completely fermented wine for a period of two to eight weeks. Doing this aids in the releases mannoproteins and poysaccharides into the wine, both of which alter the flavor and mouth feel of the finished product. Light lees is also added to aid in malolactic fermentation. Racking Considerations 1. Racking exposes wine to oxygen. Thus the more you rack the more oxygen you introduce into the wine. This is one reason...

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Fermenting Juice into Wine

- Jul 15, 2012

Now that we’ve pressed the juice out of our grapes it’s time to turn it into something more fun. Namely, alcohol! To do this we need to employ the help of our new best friend Saccharomyces Cerevisiae (yeast). A Little Background on Yeast Yeasts are tiny little organisms that reproduce through cell division. There are over 1,500 different species of yeast but we are mainly interested in a single variety, S.C. Other yeast are capable of turning grape juice into wine, however, they often result in off or spoiled flavors. The yeast gets energy from the sugar in our grape juice. In return for feeding these little guys they produce alcohol and CO2. While we don’t have much use for the CO2 in still wine, it is a critical part of creating sparkling wine. Here’s a rough representation of what the yeast are doing. C6H12O6 → 2CH3CH2OH + 2CO2 Roughly because this equation assumes that the yeast do not multiply (they do), and that no alcohol (ethanol) is lost to evaporation. Thus this is an simplification of what’s really going on in your fermenter. While you can ferment grapes with wild yeasts that occur naturally in the vineyard, the problem is you don’t know if that yeast is hearty enough to complete the fermentation. This brings us to how fermentation stops. Starting Fermentation The best way to get a strong fermentation going is to prepare a yeast starter. This will ensure that your fermentation starts with a bang and is more likely to go to completion. Preparing a yeast starter is quite simple. You take warm water and mix the yeast in, add a little food for the yeast, and give them time to reproduce into a thriving population. The specifics can differ from strain to strain but you get the general idea of what’s going on. Once the yeast is awake and going you add this to your grape juice and let them go to work! The Completion of Fermentation Fermentation stops when the yeast have either consumed all of the sugar in the must, or the alcohol level has gotten too high for the yeast to survive. As winemakers it is our job to pick a yeast that will live long enough to completely convert all sugar into alcohol and CO2. Having left over sugar is not what we want. It results in a sickly sweet wine for the most part. Now there are times when you do want to have some left over sugar but not much. Alcohol produced in this manner can taste sweet in and of itself, without the need for sugar. Thus it is very important to measure the sugar content of your grapes or must prior to fermentation. Knowing how much sugar you have tells you what your alcohol content should be after a complete fermentation. With this knowledge you can select a strong enough strain of yeast to do the job. Things to Consider at the Fermentation Stage 1. Keep your fermentation container and all of your tool and utensils sterile at all times. As mentioned before there are many kinds of yeast, some wild, that can start fermenting your grape juice before you’ve added your own yeast. To remedy this keep everything clean. You may even want to inoculate (to...

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Pressing Grapes

- Jul 6, 2012

In the wine making process the crushing and de-stemming process releases the “free run” juice from the grape. While this is top notch quality juice there is still quite a bit of juice remaining in the grapes. This is where pressing comes in. After all, more juice means more wine! Red wines are nearly always made from both free run juice and pressed juice. White wines on the other hand are not always pressed. The very best white wines are made from only the free run juice. Historically pressing grapes was done by hand or by people stomping grapes. This is not a very sanitary way to go about making wine! Imagine drinking a Zinfandel with an athlete’s foot aftertaste. Today most wineries use a mechanical press of some sort. These come in two basic varieties, batch presses and continuous presses. Two Types of Presses A batch press can handle up to 1-5 metric tonnes per hour with an appropriate team of winemakers on the job. By in large this is the type of press used by amateur wine makers as well as small to medium sized wineries. Grapes are loaded in one “batch” at a time. Different presses can handle different quantities of grapes. Continuous presses on the other hand are generally motorized and fed a continuous stream of grapes. Because of this automation continuous presses can press up to 100 metric tons per hour. As you might have guessed a continuous press is geared more for a factory winery pressing thousands of tons of grapes at harvest. For now let’s concentrate on batch presses. Two Types of Batch Presses Basket Presses The earliest known mechanical press is the basket press. Still used today at the amateur and professional level this iconic piece of machinery is still a reliable way to go. A basket press has a ring of vertical staves with gaps between them where the pressed juice pours forth. Grapes are loaded in the top. Then a wooden plate is lowered down over the grapes and a ratchet is used to slowly apply pressure to the grapes. When using a basket press wine makers will often add rice hulls to the layers of grapes. These hulls are inert and do not impart any flavor into your wine. What they do is pierce the skins to a) release more tannins and color from the skins and b) provide a path for the pressed juice to flow. If you don’t use the rice hulls the juice will flow very slowly and you’ll leave a lot behind. Bladder Presses Also known as pneumatic presses these are quite common in small to medium sized wineries. These presses have either vertical staves as on the basket press or a cylindrical piece of sheet metal with holes in it for the pressed juice to flow through. The difference is the pressing mechanism. In the middle of the press is a rubber bladder than is filled with either water or air. As it expands from the center of the press the grape skins are pushed up against the outter ring. Because air is compressible this is a more gentle way to press. Water, being incompressible, is used to apply more pressure to the skins. Rice hulls are not used with bladder presses as they are...

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