Wednesday, November 9, 2011

And we're off!

Well, today was the day - the big yeast inoculation! It was actually supposed to be last night but, alas, we ran into a few unexpected problems and had to delay until 5:00 a.m. this morning.  Yes, that's right! 5:00 a.m.  But, as Mr. Purple says, "Wine making ain't easy".

We began last night taking some initial measurements.  The first was temperature, which measured at approximately 60 degrees.  Good for taking the rest of the necessary measurements (as my instruments don't need correction at 60 degrees).  Bad for starting fermentation... which requires a must temperature of around 70 degrees.  Road block #1 for the night - need to quickly warm 150 pounds of smooshed grapes up 10 degrees.  Sadly, my microwave isn't big enough.  Moving on... Brix.  I covered Brix in an earlier post but as a quick refresher, Brix is the measurement used to express the sugar content of the juice.  There are lots of ways to measure Brix but the easiest and most cost effective way for home winemakers is by using a hydrometer.

You simply get a large plastic graduated cylinder, fill it 3/4 of the way with the liquid you are measuring and insert the hydrometer.  It will float and you read the Brix reading from where the top of the liquid falls on the stick.  Our Syrah reading was 19.5 and the Sangiovese was about 17.  Ideal is 22 - 23.  I took my readings, recorded them, washed of my hydrometer and then promptly dropped it on my tile floor.  Note: glass and tile aren't friends....road block #2. Rest in peace hydrometer.

Next, we measured the acidity level of the wine.  Acidity is an important element in wine balance as well as the preservation of wine.  Too much acidity results in a tart taste that reduces drinking pleasure.  Too little acidity and the wine will taste flat.  There are ways to adjust acid levels in the wine, hence the reason to test for it up front. You can buy kits that test for total acidity for a reasonable price.  After a quick lesson in titration and a flash back to Organic Chemistry from college, we calculated our values at 0.8% TA for both wines.  Ideal is 0.7%.  Only a little off so we opted to proceed with fermentation and watch the values over the next couple of weeks.

Finally, it was time.  I removed the liquid gold (aka yeast) from the refrigerator and read the directions just for good measure. 

And.... road block #3.  The yeast is supposed to warm up for 3-6 hours before adding it to the wine.  Back in the fridge it went until 11:00 p.m.  And that's how you get to a 5:00 a.m. yeast inoculation.

All is well though, the extra time allowed us to crank up the heat in the house and move the fermenters into the tiny powder room that gets wicked hot with the door closed.  By 5:00 a.m., the must had reached 68 degrees.  Close enough.  In addition to the yeast, we also added yeast nutrients.  Wine grapes from Washington state are generally deficient in nitrogen, a key element in the fermentation process.  Yeast nutrients ensure that the yeast has enough nutrients present to carry out a successful fermentation.

And we're off... fermentation should begin in the next 12 - 18 hours and continue for the next several days.  Purple Girl's house is about to start smelling like a winery.  Yum!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Night Update

Before I delve too far into the wine making process, I must give a shout out to the book Techniques in Home Winemaking by Daniel Pambianchi.  Winemaking on a nano scale is much different than the way the big guys do it and Daniel's book is not only a great guide but also very educational for the beginning wine maker.  If you are at all interested in making wine yourself, I highly recommend this book.  It is also important to point out that the process I'll be following is the general process for making red wine.  I haven't been brave enough to try white varietals yet... maybe a 2012 Purple Girl vintage?  At any rate, some of the steps I'll be following are only applicable to red varietals.  The first of these processes? Maceration.

Maceration is the process where the phenolic materials of the grape (that is the tannins, coloring agents and flavor compounds) are leached from the skins, seeds and stems into the must. Another wine term... must. Must is the juice of the grape before it has been fermented.  So, in simple terms - maceration is letting the  smooshed up grapes sit for a period of time. ("Smooshed up" is a Purple Girl technical term).  This process is what gives red wine its color since red wine grape juice is actually fairly grayish in color.  There are many, many different strategies on how to conduct maceration.  One strategy we are trying out this year is called cold soak maceration.  Technically, this is supposed to be carried out for several days to a week.  We are going to give it a couple of days since we aren't on our own pressing schedule.  And technically the must should be refrigerated to 46 degrees or lower.  We're just taking advantage of the bitter cold temperatures of my garage... which at the moment feels like it is a cousin to the Arctic.

This afternoon after we got the grapes home, we added 1.5 teaspoons of pectic enzyme to each 75 pounds of grapes. Pectic enzyme breaks down the pectins that occur naturally in the fruit.  That same pectin is often responsible for cloudiness in wine... not a desirable trait in even the cheapest wines.  The other side benefit to adding pectin is that we should get a higher volume of free-run juice at press.  (I'll go into free-run juice more in a later post but more free-run juice is a good thing).

After letting the pectic enzyme do its thing for four hours, we then added Potassium Metabisulfite (or KMS).  There are many reasons to add KMS. The first is to take care of the very unwelcome wild yeast that occurs naturally on most wine grapes.  Left to their own devices, these wild yeasts will take over and can result in some very unpleasant tasting wine.  Trust me... I did not know about adding KMS the first year I made wine and it is not something I'd like to taste again.  KMS effectively kills these wild yeast organisms resulting in a "clean slate" for our carefully chosen wine yeast we'll inoculate with later.  Second, KMS reacts during fermentation to become sulfur dioxide and is in both free and bound form.  Don't cringe... not taking you back to chemistry class entirely.  Free SO2 is important because it basically acts as a preservative. Without it, the wine is more susceptible to oxidation and formation of acetaldehyde.  To remind yourself of the unpleasant properties of acetaldehye, leave a glass of wine on the counter overnight and take a big wiff the next day.  You'll learn to appreciate sulfur dioxide's role in protecting wine during the winemaking process.

That's all for tonight... stay tuned for the big yeast inoculation.  Where the magic begins!

Grape Crush 2011

After a brief break from blogging, I'm back! And just in time for a very special day... Grape Crush.  Thanks to those of you who voted for the varietal you'd like to see made this year.  The winner was Syrah! Mr. Purple is also giving wine making a go this year and his grape of choice was Sangiovese.  Over the next several months, I'll walk you through the process of home winemaking with details that hopefully inspire you to give winemaking a try yourself.

First order of business was to order the grapes themselves.  I'm sure there are plenty of options out there, but I have had great luck ordering grapes from Mountain Homebrew and Wine Supply in Kirkland.  They offer a one stop shop for wine making ingredients and equipment.  They also purchase grapes from a grower in Eastern Washington and resell them in 25 pound increments.  Sure, the prices per pound are higher than if you were to buy them direct.  But, for amateur wine makers like Purple Girl, there aren't many places out there that sell grapes in such small lots.  And, for 10 cents more per pound, you have access to their Crusher/Destemmer and Press, which are spendy pieces of equipment for hobby winemakers like myself.  About 6 weeks ago, we purchased 75 pounds of Sangiovese grapes and 75 pounds of Syrah grapes and have been waiting patiently for the grapes to ripen enough for harvest.  Halloween Night - we got the call.  Grapes were ready and being harvested on Thursday, 11/3.  This is a fairly late harvest (typically early to mid October) and unfortunately, the sugar levels in the grapes were still not completely ideal.  But, winter is approaching quickly and frost is not a friend to wine grapes so it was time for them to come off the vine.

Some basics... glucose and fructose are the main fermentable sugars in grapes.  Yeast feeds on these sugars to produce ethanol (or alcohol) and carbon dioxide.  This process is called fermentation. So, the amount of sugar present at the time of fermentation is critical... not enough and the wine doesn't get to ideal alcohol levels, too much and fermentation might be hard to start as too much sugar can shock the yeast. The most common way to measure sugar in grape must is by using a hydrometer to calculate the Brix.  Ideal Brix for red wines at harvest is 22 - 23.  About one week before harvest, our grapes measured 18.9 for the Sangiovese and 20.5 for the Syrah.  Again... not ideal but easier to add sugar to the process later than to deal with rotten, frozen grapes.

Day of Crush - we brought two 12 gallon food grade containers to the crushing location, each one sufficient to hold 75 pounds of crushed grapes.  The containers were cleaned thoroughly prior to crush and then rinsed with a sanitzing solution provided by Mountain Homebrew. (You can also make this solution with potassium metabisulfite).  First step - grapes are added to the Crusher/Destemmer.  While a few stems present during fermentation aren't damaging, stems are high in tannin and too many can increase pH and thereby reducing color intensity and fruitiness in the finished wine.  Here are the grapes before going through the Crusher/Destemmer

And here they are on their way out

The process is pretty simple, especially for such a small quantity.  Total crushing time took us about 10 minutes and that was including clean up.  Grapes were loaded in the car and off to their next step in the journey to become wine.  The next 10 days are critical for these grapes... stay tuned for tonight's activities.