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!


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