Bad Harvest/Trip Timing Luck

Well, so much for my plans for that skin-contact white.

I’m headed out on a trip at the exact time my grape source plans to harvest, so won’t be able to get the grapes from them. Looks like my other potential sources are only going to be harvesting reds by the time I return (if I’m lucky) as well.

But, no matter. If I can get my hands on any grapes, that’ll be a victory.

Bottling the Riesling Kit; Learning to Use Titrets

It’s blue

Bottling Day Arrives

This was the weekend.

A week ago, there was still too much gas still escaping from the Riesling kit I had started this spring. When I was checking again throughout this week, the bubbles accumulating on the edge were dissipating at a healthy rate. I figured with the two more rackings I had planned (which ended up being three) the degassing would be enough.

To SO2 or Not to SO2

I also bought a Titrets kit to test the free SO2. After all my handwringing about whether to add SO2 or to take the full no-additive route (I hadn’t added any of the kit-provided powders and solutions up until this point), I decided that I would only add SO2 at bottling and only to the level that it would still be accepted on the shelves of purists like The Punchdown over in Oakland (great place btw). That meant 20 parts per million (ppm).

That also meant that I needed to get a way to test the SO2. I bought a Titrets kit that measures the free SO2 in a sample. I had read about this and apparently there are far more accurate tests out there and this isn’t ideal for red wines (as I’d discover why later). But, it was the least expensive and promised to be easy to use, so I got it.

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Yeast Trial progress; getting anxious about harvest

Fancy labels

Yeast trial #1 is 2/3 complete

Back on July 28, I kicked off a test of three different types of yeast. I inoculated some Welch’s grape juice with K1 V1116, EC1118, and D-47. The K1 and EC got off to a quick, foamy start, but were mostly done after a week, and completely done after two. The D-47 was slower to get started and is still going. I didn’t want the the first two hanging out there without active CO2 production going on for too long, so with Tressa’s help, I measured and extracted them.

I moved them up to the kitchen counter and used my deconstructed auto-siphon to old-school-siphon them out into a wine thief, where I measured the specific gravity. Both were exactly at 1.000. So, fermentation was pretty complete. The Welch’s started out at about 1.098, so I was looking at about 13% alcohol there.

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On natural wine and its influence on my winemaking

I’ve written about it on the blog before, but I wanted to write a more dedicated post on my thoughts on natural wines, why everyone is buzzing about them, and their role in my own wine world.

What is natural wine?

This is the question you’ll see most debated online it seems. Not just the question being asked, but wine-insiders debating the asking of the question in the first place. There are some who want precise, legalistic definitions; and there are those who prefer the rougher, holistic perspective of determining the boundaries.

How much sulphur added is too much? Does the colonization of cellars by commercial yeasts complicate the reliance on native yeasts? Or, ultimately, is the term “natural” simply used to define a millennialhipster culture or is it about greater questions of sustainability? If the former, is that a result of the exclusion of a new generation of wine consumers through the exponential price inflation?

If you squint past the cultural debates and try to focus on the winemaking practices that are connected to what’s considered natural wine, I think it can be boiled down to a few elements: sustainably grown and sourced grapes; no adjustments for acid, tannin, etc.; minimal (if any) sulfite addition; no added commercial yeast.

There are a lot of holes, debates, and expansions in that list above, for sure. But, when you get tired of going deep into these debates, that’s perhaps the least objectionable zone that could get closest to a definition.

Why is everyone talking about natural wine right now?

I linked to a bunch of articles and blog posts above. But, there are many more where those came from.

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Project updates

Looks like it’s 63 degrees

Minimal Additives Riesling Kit

This is the kit I had hanging under my desk for a few months and got it going at the end of April. It’s gone through some ups and downs over the past few months, but today I figured it was time to give it a racking. Possibly its last.

It had developed a thin, but notable layer of yeast down at the bottom of the carboy. The bubbles from the degassing CO2 at the top were starting to dissipate as well. I figured that it would be good to get it off the yeast residue and that the racking would speed up the degassing process. I grabbed a sip as I racked and was pleasantly surprised. It was certainly still bubbly but pleasantly acidic and not overly sweet.

The racking process left me with a bit of headspace again, but I fortunately had a bottle of Frey white hanging out in the basement. I used about half that bottle to get the level back up. (Does that count as an additive?)

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Yeast Trials: Stage 1

The contestants

One thing I’ve always seen as a blind spot for me is the selection of yeast. It’s the linchpin to the development of wine, but here I am: guessing at what to use based on what I’m reading in online charts and anecdotes. In the theme of this blog then: time to document this stuff. Let’s figure out what the differences are between the major commercial yeasts out there.

Now, yes, I did just narrow this to commercial yeast strains and cut out the wild strains that some of my favorite wines/wineries use. But that can’t really be replicated (as I have discovered!) without a great deal of trespassing in the dead of night. I could test any wild strains that are hanging out in my basement — I have heard that a former tenant a few decades ago made wine down there — but it’s hard to see that it would be replicable in the future. So if I’m going to run some tests, I’m pretty much limited to the commercial yeast strains.

The Testing Plan

So here’s the plan as it stands today: I hope to run three different trials of yeast, testing three strains each trial, in three one-gallon jugs. In an effort to keep as many variables constant as possible, I’ll be using the same juice medium and storing them in the same dark closet which typically stays in the neighborhood of 68 degrees.

I’ll run each fermentation until it stops. This may be different for the different strains, so it wouldn’t surprise me if one finished up before the others. What I hope to do is taste it once when fermentation has stopped and then again a few weeks later to see if anything has changed. As I’m writing this, I think that means that I just committed to bottling.

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