3 Keys to a Creating a Useful Winemaking Log

3 Keys to a Creating a Useful Winemaking Log

Keeping a winemaking log is critically important of you’re to your growth as a winemaker. However, if you’re not logging useful information it won’t do you much good. Short and Long Term Benefits of Keeping a Winemaking Log In the short term a well kept winemaking log can help you keep the timing of each step straight. It also serves as a double check of how much of what additives you’ve put in and when you did it. The long term benefits, however, can be much more valuable. Think about this, the time between when you get your grapes (or wine kit) and opening the last bottle of wine those grapes made may be six months to ten years. By the time you open that last bottle there’s little chance you’ll remember what you did during it’s production. If your last bottle is terrific you won’t know what you did and therefore can’t replicate the process. On the other hand if it’s horrific you won’t know what might have gone wrong so you can avoid that mistake in the future. By not keeping a log you’re setting yourself up to make a lot of mediocre wine because you can’t learn from what you did right or wrong. Don’t fall into that trap. 3 Keys to a Useful Winemaking Log Here are three keys to creating a useful winemaking log that will benefit you for years to come in your winemaking ventures. 1. Keep it simple. Yes you could create a sexy spreadsheet that calculates the standard deviation of your specific gravity readings but that’s really not necessary nor is it helpful. What you need is a straight forward, journal style log of what you did and when you did it. I suggest using a simple notebook that you can keep with your wine. It’s easy to use and won’t short circuit if you spill a sample on it. Also, by keeping it accessible you’ll be more apt to write things down. If you want to re-type everything on your computer or blog that’s great. But also keep a paper version with your wine for easy access. 2. Write down everything. You never know what’s going to be important when you’re trying to solve a problem. If you’ve recorded your every action you’ll have a great chance of figuring out what happened if you do end up in trouble. Or let’s say three years from now you uncork the final bottle of your first Chardonnay and it’s simply amazing. Your first thought is going to be, “Wow! How did I do that?” With a detailed winemaking log you’ll know. First, always record the date and time. Follow that with as many observations as you can make. Such as: Ambient temperature Must temperature Airlock activity level Color Aroma Tasting notes (Get a sample? Take a swig!) Specific gravity Additives (be clear about the quantity too) pH Titratable Acidity Also write down how long you stirred the wine if you did, as well as anything else you notice. It may seem tedious to record each and everything you do but it will...

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How to Pick a Wine Making Yeast

How to Pick a Wine Making Yeast

Yeast is the most critical ingredient in the wine making process. When you pick a wine making yeast you are, in effect, choosing the destiny of your wine. The right yeast or yeasts can transform a good grapes into a great wine. Where do The Differences Come From? These tiny organisms are truly amazing. Not only does it make the production of wine possible it is the only micro-organism capable of producing this elixir. However, the notion that different yeasts can alter the way a wine tastes in the end is a relatively new discovery. For most of this worlds past 6,000 years of winemaking history winemakers didn’t even know what yeast was let alone understanding the different strains and what they can do. Only in recent history have we discovered that different strains will produce different characteristics in wine. Fermentation, from the yeasts perspective, is merely the digestion of food. They consume and process sugars and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide as their byproduct. Some yeast strains may use more or less enzymes or esters and it’s these small differences in digestion that account for different flavor profiles. To help you sift through all the different yeasts and how they affect different grape varietals our friends over at MoreWineMaking.com have put together an amazing guide! Click here to browse their entire collection of free manuals and pick up Yeast and Grape Pairing. Picking A Winemaking Yeast To give you an idea of how to pick a wine yeast I’ll walk you through my own decision making process. My next wine is going to be a Riesling kit and I’m going to do a little experiment. I’m going to pick my own yeast to replace whatever the kit comes with. I’ll be using two different yeast strains in a split fermentation. Half of the grape juice will be fermented with one strain of yeast and the strain will ferment the other half. This way I can directly compare how the same wine tastes when made from two very different yeasts. Here are the yeasts I’ve chosen and why. The first yeast is W15. This yeast is known to produce citrus flavors, heavy mouthfeel, and can stand up to aging. Aging is an important characteristic for a kit wine for reasons we’ll explore here in a minute. Th second yeast I’ve picked is R-HST (catchy name huh?). This yeast can produce rose and peach flavors, some mouthfeel, as well as minerality. Minerality is a quality that also lends itself to aging. The Differences Take Time to Manifest In an interesting article on the flavor contributions of yeast Cornell researchers found that most characteristics yeast impart on wine take six months to a year to show up. This is, in part, why it took so long for winemakers to figure out that different yeasts produced different flavor profiles. They were comparing wines too early. Kits generally don’t produce wine that can be aged for very long. My concern is that the wine will start to decline before the yeast characteristics show up. This is why I chose two strains known to produce wines that can be aged. Ferment Separately Because...

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How to Evaluate Your Wine

How to Evaluate Your Wine

Being able to evaluate your wine objectively is vitally important to successful winemakers. You should know how to discern whether your wine is of good quality or not. Whether you like your wine or not is much less important. It’s possible to make a high quality wine that you just don’t like personally. I for one am not a fan of Sauvignon Blanc, regardless of how well made it is. But as I wine maker you and I both should be able to tell if it’s well made. The Scoring of Wines We’re all familiar with the various wine scoring systems of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, right? Many of these systems are based on a scale of 100. With 100 being exceptional and 80 being passable. Wine competitions often use a similar system for their evaluations. The point of these systems (no pun intended) is to separate well made wines from those with defects. Judges, as you can imagine, taste all sorts of wine. Many they may not like. However, they judge quality not how well it suits their palate. Here’s another way to look at it. Let’s say you’re in the market for a house and the real estate agent takes you to a ranch style home. This home has got the best siding, aluminum roof, and top notch appliances. It’s a well built house. You, however, are in the market for a three story “cabin” in the woods. The ranch home is well built, modern, yada yada. However, it’s not what you like. It doesn’t suit you. Just because it doesn’t suit you doesn’t mean you can’t tell if it’s well made or not. The same goes for wine. A cloudy wine is not well made, there’s something wrong with it. Having a hint of sardine on the nose is not a sign of quality. You get the picture. How to Evaluate Your Wine Wine judges score wines using a point system, as I mentioned earlier. They judge different aspects of wine such as: clarity, acidity, bouquet, aroma, finish, etc. Just because one aspect is off doesn’t mean they all are. Thus each aspect is judged independently. To keep all of this straight during a competition judges use scoring cards. The American Wine Society publishes the score cards their judges use along with a guide to help you through the evaluation process. You can download a copy here. If you take a look at the first page you’ll notice that different aspects of the wine get different amounts of points. Appearance, for example is rated from 0 to 3 while aroma and bouquet are rated from 0 to 6. This means that cloudiness is or off colors is more tolerable than funky aromas. The cards come with a description of what to look for as well. For example a wine with “good” taste and texture will have good balance, be smooth, but may exhibit minor flaws. Exceptional appearance would be “brilliant with outstanding characteristic color”. Print out the form and use it to evaluate your wine point by point as a judge would. The “overall impression” and “total score” columns are of much...

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Where to Set Up Your Wine Making Operation

Where to Set Up Your Wine Making Operation

Making wine takes not only time but also space. The right kind of space. Finding The Best Wine Making Area With all the sanitizing, racking, and testing you’ll be doing it’s easy to see how wine making can get messy. Without the proper area you’ll definitely be leaving your mark. Let’s look at what sort of area will work best for your wine making operation. The most important factors are: A sturdy work surface. Temperature control. Exposure to sunlight. Being near a water source and drain. Having a washable floor. Having a well ventilated area. Have a Sturdy Work Surface Don’t trust wobbly tables or shelves to hold your carboys. A full 6 gallon glass carboy weighs around 50 lb when it’s topped up. If you’ve got two or three carboys make sure your table or shelves can take that kind of load. Most store bought tables will have some sort of indication as to what sort of weight you can apply before getting into trouble. Stay away from tables made from particle board if you can. Temperature Control Being able to control the temperature of your wine during fermentation is very important. If your winemaking area is too hot during fermentation your wine can take on a cooked taste. Too cold and fermentation will stop. Fermenting wine generates its own heat. So even if your wine making area is at a reasonable temperature your wine can still overheat. Prior to starting your wine making efforts take the time to log day and night time temperatures of your prospective areas. You might be surprised to find out that a certain area has wild temperature swings. The best area will have a more or less constant temperature day and night. Minimal Exposure to Sunlight Sunlight causes wine to age prematurely. Even if you bottled in dark green or brown bottles the light will still change your wine. At the very minimum you need to avoid direct sunlight. Ideally, though, you should block all forms of light especially once you’re aging the wine. During the wine making process cover your carboy to block the light if the room isn’t totally dark. I put an old jacket over my carboy to insulate and block the light. They do make insulating carboy covers that serve the same purpose. After I bottled my wine I moved it under the stairs in the basement. Even with all the lights on you can’t see a thing back there. Find a spot where you can produce your wine protected from sunlight but more importantly figure out where you’re going to store your wine for aging. Be Near a Water Source and Drain Having a water source and a drain of some kind close at hand is really helpful. Throughout every winemaking step, regardless of whether you are making wine from a kit, frozen must, or grapes, you’re going to need to sanitize and rinse equipment. I made my Shiraz in a basement that met every one of the requirements listed here except this one. While I was successful it would have been much easier had I had a...

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The Anatomy of a Grape

The Anatomy of a Grape

Knowing and understanding grapes is absolutely essential to making good wine. After all these little berries are what it all starts with right? By their very nature grapes are the perfect winemaking fruit. No other fruit contains the perfect amounts of sugar, acidity, and phenolic compounds to create such an amazing beverage. Any other fruit requires additional sugar or other ingredients to even produce alcohol. Let’s get to know our little friend a little bit better. Shall we? Physical Components of the Grape The Skin At only six to ten cells thick you wouldn’t think there’s much to the skin of a grape. However, this membrane contains many key elements for red wines. Less so for white wines as the juice spends little time in contact with the skins. The outer surface of the skin is the cuticle, a wax like covering that waterproofs the berry. Protecting it from outside influences. Within the thin skin are a ton of components including aromatic substances, potassium, and phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds refer to a group of compounds, however, there are two very important ones that need to be explored. The first are anthocyanins. These are pigment compounds that give the grape its color and in turn gives red wine its color. As wine ages these anthocyanins combine with other phenolic compounds which serves to stabilize the color of the wine. The second phenolic compound of interest are tannins. Also present in the seeds tannins give wine an astringent and bitter taste. Tannins also combine over time and alter the taste and mouth feel of a wine. Red wines in particular get most of their flavor and spunk from the skins. Merely pressing red grapes and fermenting the juice results in what the French call “Blanc de Noir” meaning white wine from red grapes, or literally white from black. The Pulp The bulk of the grape is made up of the pulp beneath the skin. This is where the grape juice comes from. Vacuoles contain the juice and when broken release the “free run” juice. As you can see in the diagram the pulp contains many compounds of its own including: sugar water aromas potassium tartaric acid malic acid In white wine making the pulp provides the bulk of the flavor and acidity. Red wines get their flavor first from the skins but also from the pulp. Seeds Moving inward we come to the seeds. These are large caches of tannins. So much so that as winemakers we must be careful not to crush the seeds during the pressing of the grapes. By crushing the seeds, and stray stems, the tannins are overdone. If this happens your wine will need much more time in the bottle to become palatable. Chemicals Within The Grape The chemical makeup of a grape is quite diverse and complex. We’ll just hit the major components here. Sugars The sugars within the grape are what the yeast consume to produce the alcohol in wine, as you already know. What we refer to as “sugar” in a grape is actually a combination of several different kinds of sugar. Primarily there is...

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