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.
But, it’s not every day that I come across a wine that tickles my interest in the way that makes me say, “wow, I want to make something like this.” That’s not to say that don’t often drink wines quite like. I just don’t get that feeling from a lot of wines that I nonetheless really enjoy. I think it’s something different than pure enjoyment that triggers my winemaking desires So, what sets it apart?
That wholeFroZin affair I wrote about? That was all in preparation for an attempt using fresh grapes from last years harvest. I thought of the frozen must as a test run for the real thing come September.
Choosing the varietal
I did want to make it a bit easier on myself though, so I decided I’d use pressed white juice bought through Brehm. Other than the frozen Zinfandel must, my experience up until this point had been with kits: a successful white and two mediocre reds. The choice of pressed white juice was playing it safe: better memories of success and no skins to deal with.
I browsed Brehm’s site for white varietals that could be picked up within driving distance of San Francisco and settled on the Chardonnay from Tolay Springs Vineyard (basically the only option that suited my criteria). I ordered 6.5 gallons of it in August and waited.
Last week, I started recounting my first non-kit winemaking attempt last summer, using frozen Zinfandel must from Brehm. Check out part 1, here.
Immediately after racking the freshly fermented must to a 3 gallon carboy, I could see a problem coming. There was a good amount of headspace at the top of the carboy. I planned to use this vessel for the aging process after fermentation as well and by that point, there wouldn’t be any protective CO2 coming off of the wine. Doing most of your winemaking education online leaves you with a distinct fear of oxygen exposure. So before the fermentation stopped, I had to get that level up.
I tried to read all I could about what folks do in this situation: marbles, bladders, vacuums, water. The easiest (lazy winemaker here!) seemed to be simply adding other, similar wine. This is a little disappointing since it’s diluting the originality of the final product, but it seemed better than diluting it with water, buying expensive equipment, or risking the marbles breaking the carboy.
I didn’t want to top up with Carlo Rossi, or the closest to cheap, bulk wine that I could find. I wanted something that would minimally mess with any further development that it still had to go through, so stuff loaded with additives wasn’t in the picture. I visited one of our local natural wine–focused spots, Terroir, and their bartenders recommended the cheapest, no-added-sulfites red blend containing Zinfandel that they were able to think of. I’m sadly forgetting the brand.