Overrun by fermenting grapes

Overrun by fermenting grapes

OK, this time of year I expect to find multiple vessels containing fermenting grapes at the winery and even downstairs in our home wine cellar.  But I did not expect to find this in my kitchen this morning.  It is a small sample of our Sonoma Coast, Corona Creek Vineyard, Pinot fermenting naturally with native yeast…naturally in the mixing bowl of my Kitchen Aid.  I’m afraid to check the bath tub.

Chromotagraphy test fro malo conversion

chromotography test

This weekend we performed the chromotagraphy tests on our Las Brisas Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir rose. I am happy to report that the Malo-lactic, or ‘Malo’ conversion is complete–right on schedule.  Just like in the previous five years, by the time the first week of November rolls around, the little bugs have done their job. Basically wine contains a few different kinds of acids, Tartaric is one and Malic another.  There are others but not in high enough quantities to be noticed.  During malo conversion (also referred to as Secondary Fermentation) Malolactic bacteria eat away at the Malic acid and covert it to Lactic acid and Carbon Dioxide.  Being about half as strong as Malic acid, Lactic acid is softer on the pallet. The total effect is reduction in total acidity and a rounder softer, mouth feel. For a real technical description see here.  In my opinion it has been overdone in many California Chardonnays and I do not like it in that varietal.  However, many red wines benefit and are enhanced by it, so we pursue it with our Pinot.  In addition to the reduction of acid, it stabilizes wine and should be done before bottling. If you bottle before Malo conversion is complete, it might be triggered spontaneously when the weather warms up.  This will put the bugs in motion, only this time while they are enclosed in a bottle. You will end up with ugly deposits, aromas and fizz that could potentially push out corks. 

Which gets me back to Chromatography, how do you know when ‘malo’ is done? At the winery we take a sample and send to the lab.  A day later we get an email that tells us the Malic acid content in grams per liter.  If it is under a certain number, i.e. .09 grams per liter, it is done! Easy.

At home, we get to play Mad Scientist and do our own fun, chromotography test.  Ben and I just did one this weekend and the image you see here shows the results.  

We dot a special paper with wine samples and reference acids (Tartaric and Malic in this case.)  Then we put the paper in a special ‘developer’ liquid for 8 hours and watch the liquid travel up the paper. As it travels up it carries with it the different acids to different levels.

Tartaric is at the bottom third, Malic is in the middle and Lactic is at the top. The acids from the wine sample travels up the paper as well.  The test is to observe and see if the wine sample has a spot at the same level as the Malic spot. If it does, Malic conversion did not take place; if the spot is faint, it is only part way done. If there is no spot, Malo is done!  

Chromotagraphy test fro malo conversion

ooh, pretty

Look at the image again.  There are six columns.  The spot in the far left column is the Tartaric reference; the second is the Malic reference; the third, fourth and fifth columns are the Pinot Noir samples from three different vessels; the last is our Pinot Noir rose. This means that Malo is done for the three Pinot reds–note there are no yellow spots at the same level as the Malic reference dot (mid way thru the paper hights). The Rose however, did not go thru Malo.  This is a good thing because we like Rose more acidic, that’s what makes it more refreshing served chilled on a hot afternoon.

If there are winemaker scientists out there wondering what the light dot above the Tartaric and the light dot below the Malic references are, well, my guess is that it is a bit of contamination from the reference solutions while I was preparing the tests. Unless someone else has a different explanation.  I did not see these in previous years.  In any case, whether malo conversion took place or not, it makes a nice piece of psychedelic, abstract art to hang on the cellar walls. 

Lone Oak is ready to press! Yeah.. Monday we are going to press the Lone Oak Pinot. I was hoping to have this thing go on for longer, however, as usual, the yeast and nature has the final say. We kept the must cold soaking under 50 degrees for about five days after crush. Once we brought it out of the cold room, it took off in no time and the must came up to 80 degrees in two days, then 90 degrees and before we knew it, here we are, five days later and Brix is at almost zero, ready to press. In any case, it followed almost the same trajectory of fermentation of the Sonoma Cost Gap’s Crown pinot, so it should be very interesting to see how it develops.
We are going down to the winery on Monday morning to press and will have some pictures to share from that event.

Uzi

Punching the cap on our home-crafted wine is a piece of cake.  My 9 year old daughter handles it on her own, no problem. Even at age 7 she could do the punch downs in our own cellar where everything is done on a very small scale.  In fact, I would say our cellar is essentially a nano-scaled cellar compared to most licensed wineries.

The punch downs occurring on our Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir right now, for example, are done on a larger scale.  Instead of the garbage can-sized containers we use at home, at the winery we are working with garbage dumpster-sized containers.  Hmmm…I can tell you right now that Uzi will not be happy with my non-technical (not to mention non-appetizing analogies here.)

Anyway, the cap is several inches thick and requires so much pressure to punch through it you cannot imagine.  Some people make it look easy, but it is anything but.  Uzi is working on a more instructional video of punching the cap.  In the meantime, here is a less instructional video of me working hard at it.

Kudos to all the cellar rats doing this grunt work.

~Kathryn

 

Here’s a summary of what we’ve been up to in the last couple of months with our new wine venture:

The season started out like a real roller coaster as some of you may have heard.  Following a spring frost, which reduced vineyard crop by 10 to 20 percent, we had a heat wave in the first two weeks of September which dehydrated the grapes and accelerated grape sugar concentration. This double whammy resulted in an almost 30 percent less yield in some places.  Luckily, we were still able to get our hands on some Pinot…
We started the harvest with the picking of our Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir from Gap’s Crown Vineyard on September 6th and we were off to the races!
The grapes just looked beautiful–small, tight clusters of world class Pinot Noir.  It would have been a shame to crush them 😉 so we didn’t*…

She is a beauty!

She is a beauty!

We sorted the grapes–sorting removes any green leafs, bugs or moldy grapes that might have gotten in during the picking. The term for these ‘sorts’ of things is MOG, Material Other than Grapes. We did not have much to do as the pickers did a great job in the field, picking almost flawlessly clean clusters.

Kathryn and Hannah sorting Gap's Crown Pinot

Kathryn and Hannah sorting Gap's Crown

Sorting is conducted just before de-stemming, which removes the grapes from the stems.  In most cases, crushing immediately follows de-stemming.   However, the grapes were so gorgeous, we decided not to (see above *) and instead opted to do a hundred percent whole berry fermentation and not crush the grapes.  The intention of retaining more of the fruit character in the finished wine was behind this decision.
Next, the bin full of de-stemmed grapes moved in to the cold room for a Cold Soak period of five days at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cold soak delays the start of fermentation and the skins have a longer time to release their color into the wine.  We started the three-times-a-day punch downs, pushing the cap (the grapes skins that rise to the top during fermentation) down into the must in order to get better color extraction and prevent anything bad from forming on top.
This is the fun part.  We even gave up our gym membership for a while as doing the punch downs on such a large bin at 50 degrees in a freezer room will give you an incredible work out in no time!  At this temperature and stage, there is no cap to speak of so punch downs are very hard.  Add to that covering the whole thing with dry ice to form a protective layer of C02, measuring and recording sugar level (Brix) and temp three times a day and you get the picture of how busy one can get.

Hard work in the cold room!

hard work in the cold room!

early halloween

early halloween

After five days in the cold room, we were glad to move in to normal room temperature to get the fermentation started and do our punch downs in more ‘normal’ surroundings. Our plan was to try to prolong fermentation by trying to keep a moderate fermentation temperature, but the yeasty beasties had other plans! That thing took off and shot up to 85-90 degrees in no time at all. Since we truly believe in as little intervention as possible in winemaking, we just let nature take it’s course. Seven days later, all the sugar was gone, the yeast was exhausted from all that feeding-on-sugar frenzy and it was time to press.
We first drained all the free run out of the bins and then dumped the must into the press.   We proceeded to press in phases, tasting and monitoring the tannin level of the wine coming out of the press until we felt that we had just the right balance of tannin to fruit. This is the tricky ‘artistic’ part as you need to try to guess what the final blend will taste like when the press wine will be combined with the free run wine. We ended up with about 80 percent free run and 20 percent pressed wine. That was a lot of fun!

Chris starting up the siphon

Chris starting up the siphon

 

must into the press

must into the press

Yummy tannins
Yummy tannins

With the newly minted wine put away into the barrels, French oak, (Francois Freres, Medium Plus Toast, if you must know), we can now take a little breather.
Or so we thought!
Simultaneously to making our first commercial wine, we continue making wine at home with friends. As luck would have it, our Carneros Pinot Noir grapes must have gotten together with their Sonoma Coast brethrens, decided to conspire against us and mature during the same week. We ended up shuffling back and forth from the winery to our home in Berkeley to do the second shift on our Carneros Pinot.  We were so tired by the end of each day, we slept very well during these nights.

Much smaller scale, Ben still manages to do all the fun work!

Much smaller scale, Ben still manages to do all the fun work!

Now that both wines are in barrels we are taking a little breather to write about it and pay some attention to the ‘business part’ of our venture (but that is another post all together). All this while we wait for out Lone Oak Vineyard Pinot to be picked.  We are going down to visit this vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands this weekend, so we should have some picture to post and more stories to tell shortly.

Cheers!

Uzi

Our inspiration

If they can do it...

The first year we started making wine here in our basement, crawl space, rather, was 2003.  This was also the hottest year in one of our favorite wine-producing regions, Burgundy.  It is not coincidental that I know this for it was in the warm spring of ’03 in Burgundy, standing next to such fabulously famous yet incredibly unassuming signs as La Romanee, Gevrey Chambertin and…slurp….sorry, I’m salivating just typing these names…that we said something to the effect of “Let’s do it” or “What the heck!?” Probably too loudly because then the two small children and one larger child in the back of the rental car woke up, started crying and threw a wet blanket on our romantic dreams.

Uzi, however, had grown up watching his grandmother make wine from the grapes that grew on their property.  And even though Uzi’s feet apparently were not clean enough to stomp the grapes, he has vivid memories of his sister barefoot romping and stomping in the grapes.  So we did head home from France and that fall we took the plunge and bought a few hundred pounds of grapes.  We chose Sangiovese that first year in order to cut our teeth on a less finicky grape to work with than Pinot Noir.