2018 Chardonnay: Using fresh juice

Sporting one of the fancy new labels

That whole FroZin 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.

Equipment/Additions

I fortunately did not need to buy anything new for this one. I already had my 8 gallon fermenter from the Zinfandel (even though it probably was overkill for that), a growing number of carboys (6.5gal, 6gal, 2x5gal, 3gal), racking cane and hose, and airlocks.

I was going to treat this much the same way as the Zinfandel: adding nothing but SO2, but with this one, I wouldn’t age it in the carboy as long, so I would only add SO2 once. I wasn’t going to be needing much other than the juice itself it seemed.

Getting started

I finally got a notification that the juice would be ready for pickup on October 1st. Turns out 2018 was one of those really late picking seasons. So, I took the day off of work and headed up to Petaluma with my fermenter bucket in the front passenger seat.

Label #2

It was a beautiful day up at the vineyard and there were a couple other home winemakers there when I arrived. One was getting a similar amount as I was and the other was getting something like 50 gallons. Much more ambitious than I’ll be for a while. The crew was super efficient and before long, I was on my way back to the city with Chardonnay juice sloshing around next to me in the duct tape sealed bucket (only about a pint escaped from what I could tell).

The starting specific gravity was 1.10 and I had decided on Lalvin D-47 yeast and this time, simply sprinkling it on top of the juice in the fermenter and left the top on loosely. After a week, I sealed the top and affixed the airlock. I then let it go for about another week and racked it into a carboy.

[Side note: Once again, I’m wishing I took better notes. All I’ve got is the SG and dates at the beginning, when fermentation stopped, and when I bottled it. A reminder about why I started this blog.]

When the fermentation seemed good and finished judging by the airlock’s silence, I added a dose of SO2 using the same rough formula as I’d used before: taking 1/4 teaspoon per 5 gallons as a starting ratio and edging more conservative. So, here I used 1/4 teaspoon for the ~6.25 gallon batch. I was also only going to hit it once, though, since I wasn’t going to age it in the carboy as long as the Zinfandel.

Degassing, bottling, and a lesson

It was November 11 by this point and I roughly planned to let it sit 2–3 months to let it degas. But, I grew impatient. It looked fine, it tasted good, and in early January I was going in to bottle the Zinfandel anyway. May as well get both bottling jobs done at once, right? Surely all the CO2 had left by then.

I bottled and waited another few months. In April, when I opened up the first bottle, it was noticeably effervescent. Kind of like a vinho verde. (And I suppose it was “verde” in the sense of that word.) Not bad, but not what I was going for.

The corks are staying in and nothing has exploded, so I’ll count my blessing there.

Good amount of sediment in there

How it tastes

After a few more months in the bottle, I opened one up last night. At the very least, there’s a good amount of sediment in the bottles now. If I were to do this again, I’d rack another time or two after the SO2 addition just to make sure that everything had settled out.

But, it tasted pretty good. Bright acidity, lighthearted, not too sweet, and (still) effervescent. I actually think the effervescence works will for the easy-going nature of this wine. I’d call this a success.

So next time, I’ll at least rack it a couple more times before bottling and give it more time in the carboy to degas. Think I made the right call in not using additives though. I do appreciate the straightforwardness of that approach.

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