Pressing and Waiting

One casualty of the pressing

Last weekend was a little too busy with winemaking to do much blogging. So, a lot went down!

Last Friday (10/4), after a week and a half of fermentation, the bin running with the D21 yeast had reached 1.000 specific gravity, so I figured it was time to press. Immediately after taking the measurement, though, I had my doubts. I had taken the sample from the top of the bin, and since alcohol rises in water, I figured I may be biasing my sample a bit. The must was still foaming when I punched it down, telling me that it was still going, so that lined up.

Despite my reasonable doubts, I was still going to press the next day though. The RP-15 was starting to taste a bit tannic, so I figured it would be good to get it off the skins and stems. I bet that the downside would simply be that the wine would be lighter than a typical Petite Sirah, which was a risk I’d take over having it sit unprotected, not-fermenting.

When things were still clean

The Pressing

I’ve written about it before, but I picked up a small press back when I did the Zinfandel last year. When I say small, I mean real small. It’s 1.6 gallons. So what I was looking at was pressing 200 pounds of grapes, 1 gallon at a time. I got going fairly early, but probably not as early as I should have.

Getting set up took a little time, but after seeing that 1.000sg the night before, I had sanitized the equipment the night before. What was tricky was setting up the press to be high enough to drain into the bucket while also stretching over the mouth of the bucket enough to fall into it (as opposed to falling just outside of it. Eventually, I rigged up a situation that would work, but it was far from sturdy, so it required adjustment pretty frequently.

Three Layers

I began scooping from the 22 gallon bin into the 1.6 gallon press. I found there were distinct layers to the fermenting bin. At the top was the crushed grape skins and the stems mixed with the juice. This was what Tressa had managed to crush with her feet. It crushed fairly easily in the press.

Below that top layer, there was a larger layer of uncrushed or partially crushed clusters. I had thought that these would easily burst in the press, but that wasn’t quite right. I don’t know if it was the low-quality press I have, a lack of strength, or just presses in general, but often, a number of clusters would remain largely uncrushed. When that happened, I had to put them back in the press with the next load from the bin. Usually after twice through, they’d be all set. Naturally, getting through this layer took a lot longer.

The third, bottom layer of the bins consisted of thick juice, a few uncrushed clusters and a heck of a lot of seeds. This went fairly quickly since it was mostly just scooping out the juice and pouring it through the press to filter out the large solids.

All in all, each of the two bins took 3 hours. Add to that the prep and clean up, and I was down there for at least 7 hours. And, it should have been longer, as my clean up job should have been a lot more thorough. We had some unwelcome guests in the basement that evening and a very thorough cleaning the next day as a result.

Mid-press

Racking

I let each yeast batch sit in their own 6.5 gallon carboys to settle, then racked them the following evening (after that thorough basement cleaning) to get them off the gross lees. Back when I was pressing, I had pressed into a bucket, then racked from the bucket into the 6.5 gallon carboys. With the RP-15, I poured some of what the racking left behind into the carboy as well. It was mostly sludge consisting of skin/seed particles. With the D21 I didn’t do this — partially having learned a lesson and partially because I was getting tired by that point. The result of that decision was that the RP-15 had a much thicker layer of lees after the ~30 hour settling.

I tested the specific gravity again at this point, and the batches were at 1.03 and 1.02 respectively. As suspected, they weren’t dry yet after all. I racked them into 5 gallon carboys, with the excess partially filling 1 gallon jugs. (I’ll use the excess to top up the carboys after the next racking.) I then let them sit and settle for another week. I kept an eye on them and noticed that fermentation got going again, which was reassuring.

Fermentation (Probably) Complete

I measured the specific gravity once again this weekend. Through the week, I’d noticed a decline in activity, so I was curious as to what was going on. Not surprisingly, the sg had gone down to 1.000, so I’d call the fermentation relatively complete.

This is the point where many folks would add SO2. I’m going to hold off for now, at least until a couple more rackings. I want to make sure that the last little bits of fermentation are doing what they need to do. While there’s any activity, I’m keeping the headspace quite small, so even slight CO2 production will create a protective layer. As long as that layer is there, the SO2 protection from oxidation might not be needed and its hindrance of microbial activity is what I’m trying to avoid.

So, we’ll revisit the SO2 in a few weeks!

Prior to the gross lees racking

What Next?

This week, I plan on racking each batch. After that, I’ll let them sit at least another month or two before another racking. I’ll keep an eye on the CO2 production, because if it drops, it may be time for that SO2 addition.

Largely, what’s left is monitoring and patience. When I top up from the jugs with the excess this week, I figure I’ll give each batch a try now that they’ve settled down a bit. It’ll be interesting to see what the differences are (if any) between the RP-15 and D21. At some point, I’ll need to make the blend/not-blend decision, but I think I’ve got a few months before I need to make that call.

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