Winemaking Posts

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Preparing the barrel

I tested for malic acid tonight.  We're still above 300 ml, so no rush with moving the wine from our carboy to the barrel.  You want to make sure you prepare your barrel, though, too.  Making sure there are no leaks or issues with the bungs before you put your wine into it.  So tonight I filled it with hot water, and will wait to make sure there are no leaks.  The directions say it could take up to 7 days for the joints to expand and fill all cracks that could possibly leak. 

After I have determined it has no leaks, I want to add some sulfited water in it to make sure there is no bacteria in there before the wine goes in.
BTW, a new barrel smells great!  The oak makes it smell like a good mellow whiskey.......

Here she is:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stirring the lees

It has been a little more than a week since we added the MLF bacteria to our wine. I try to stir the wine/lees about once a week. We're down to a small amount of lees now after the last racking, but it helps to stir the remaining amount as they supply nutrients for the bacteria.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Testing Alcohol by Volume: tried the "vinometer"

We're nowhere close to needing to test our 2010 Lodi Cab for alcohol content, as that normally is done before you bottle. But I wanted to test a new item I ordered recently, called the "vinometer". I figured I couldn't go wrong for $3. Well, you get what you pay for. It doesn't work so well. I tested a Missouri Norton I made last year that a lab certified at 11%. The vinometer said 6%. It's a very simple device, I guess too simple.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wine Testing

I would recommend you test your wine when it is ready to be bottled.

With that said, I would recommend a "standard profile" that many labs do. It tests for Alcohol by volume, free SO2, PH, acid profile and a couple of other things.

Most wine testing labs I know of are in California. Here are three that I know do testing for home winemakers:

-Lodi Wine Laboratories
-Scott Laboratories (same people that make the ingredients, etc.)

This final test will run you anywhere from $80- $140. I have used Lodi Wine Labs and was very happy with their responsiveness and professionalism.


Topping Off

You want your carboys to be as full as possible (with a couple of inches at the top).  In this case, we are using a 6 gal. carboy.  They come in 3, 5 and 6 as far as I know but I am sure there are others.  My 144 lbs of grapes produced just over 6 1/2 gals.   So I completely filled a 6 gal carboy and have about 1/2 gal for topping off that I store in a plastic container.

If you don't have extra wine for topping off, you can top your carboy up with a finished wine of a similar vintage, or another finished wine.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Quiet Stage

Now that you have added the MLF bacteria, there's not much to do.  Make sure your airlock has the right amount of water, monitor the room temperature, and that's about it.   I stir my wine every few weeks in this stage.  You will test in about a month for malic acid depletion.  When your malic is down somewhat, and your wine is stable, you can then sulfite it and add oak chips or add it to your barrel.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Racking the wine

Tonight we "racked" the wine off the gross lees, in preparation for adding the MLF bacteria.  It is OK to have some sediment in the bottom, but you really don't want to leave your wine on too much of it.  It can create off odors down the line and you need to rack your wine periodically, anyway.  It needs to be as clear as possible when you go to bottle it.

After racking back into my clean carboy, I added the bacteria packet, put the stopper on and added a layer of inert gas to the small headspace, then put the airlock on to seal it.  A little oxygen exposure at this stage is OK, but you want to minimize it as much as possible.  I use "private reserve".  Most winemaking shops online sell it.


The wine is now ready to undergo Malolactic fermentation.  It's not really fermentation as it is conversion.   You are converting malic acid to lactic acid.  Relieving some of the harshness and creating a smoother wine.  Hopefully you'll be adding back a little flavor and tannin, though, when you age your wine in oak.  Oak cubes, columns, chips or barrels.

Before you add your malolactic bacteria, you will want to test to see how much malic acid your wine has.  The best way I know to do this is with test strips from Accuvin (  You place a small amount of wine on the padded side, let it soak in, then 5 mins later flip over the test strip and compare it to the chart on the bottle.

My wine in this case has malic acid content of about 325 mg/L.  The reason you test is mainly to see how much you started with but an even more important test is in a few months when you feel the MLF is done.  Your malic levels will obviously be closer to 0.  At that point you can add SO2 to the wine to help preserve it, and then put it in the barrel or add the chips or whatever your method of oaking will be.

If you add SO2 now, it could inhibit your MLF process.

The pictures below show the malic test strip kit and the MLF bacteria we use.   When adding the MLF, you don't really have to hydrate first.  Just add it in.  I prefer the powder/packet to the liquid because it has a little longer shelf life (and is a little cheaper.)

Gross Lees

It has been about 48 hrs since we pressed the wine and racked it into our carboys.   Dead yeast cells and small particles of the pulp and skin have now settled to the bottom.  If you use a standard press and don't strain through a filter, the gross lees can be a couple of inches at least:

No problem, since we normally will rack this one more time before we begin the malolactic fermentation stage.  We want the wine to be as stable as possible when we add the MLF bacteria.  Racking while MLF is going on can disrupt the process and cause it to stall or not finish.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Press

After the Brix hit  0 when we tested on Friday afternoon, the cap had sunk down by Friday night, so we knew we were ready.  I would have to say of all the investments in winemaking equipment, the basket press is certainly worth the money.  You can get a decent one for $200-$250, and it is a lifetime investment if you take care of it.  Many of them get passed on from generation to generation.

Here is a pic of the pomace cake when we finished the first batch:

 Brix now .5

We're almost there.  Once the Brix reaches 0, we normally want to press.  Another sign that it is time to press is that the skins and pulp will sink to the bottom and you will have more liquid at the top.  So tomorrow morning we will get the press out!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Milestone: Brix is at 15

We measured the brix today and it is around 15.  So it's time to add some yeast nutrient to ensure no H2S issues and to make sure the fermentation finishes well.  So usually a couple of teaspoons for 5 gal must should do.  Just mix it with warm water and then add to your must.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Punching down

This is the fun part...the yeast has started to work, and as it consumes the sugar and nutrients, CO2 is produced.  This pushes the skins and solids to the top.  You will need to punch this down to keep oxygen in the must throughout the process until our brix reaches 0.

Quick video:


Yeast nutrient....very important post!

Personally this part of the winemaking process can be a little confusing.  But it is a very important one, because if you don't feed your yeast, you could end up with H2S issues (rotten egg smell), and if bad enough could cause you to lose that year's wine.  You've never seen a grown man cry as you will when he pours out 5 gals of wine because it's past the point of saving.  So use yeast nutrient.  I use GoFerm to rehydrate the yeast, and then Fermaid K along the way.  Since everyone has an opinion on this subject, I'll give you the instructions straight from the mfg's website (compliments Lallemand):

For optimal results, 2.5 grams of the Fermaid K should be suspended in the 20 liters of must just after adding your yeast culture to the must, then add the balance of 2.5 grams of Fermaid K anytime between 1/3 and 1/2 way through the fermentation.

There you have it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pitching the yeast

It has been 24 hours since we sulfited the must.  It is time to add the yeast.  Bring a small bowl of tap water to 104 degrees.  Then add the GoFerm (or similiar yeast rehydrate nutrient) into the bowl, along with the yeast.  Stir lightly in the bowl and it should bubble and rise just a bit.  After 20 minutes add the yeast mixture to your must and stir in. 


It is now time to add Fermaid K.  This is an additional nutrient that feeds the yeast.  This is done now at innoculation, and then when your brix reaches 1/3 or 1/2 depletion.

Test for YAN?

You will notice that some yeast ingredients base their dosages on YAN. YAN is yeast assimilable nitrogen, or basically how much nitrogen is naturally available for yeast to feed on.

The lower the YAN, the more nutrient and DAP you will need to add. The only problem with YAN is that it is not really something a home winemaker can test for. It's normally done only in a lab.

If you're really serious, you can test your YAN (yeast assimilable nitrogen), before you pitch your yeast(as soon as you receive your grapes). Most of the labs in California that test for it will provide you results by email the same day they receive the sample. So, if you get your grapes, get a juice sample, and do a normal 24 hour sulfite to kill wild yeast, you can get the results back in time to make a more informed decision about nutrient and DAP additions.

I have personally never done this, but if you're really serious about this you can do it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Testing PH and Brix

PH will show the acid content in your wine/must and Brix is the percentage of sugar in the solution.  Both are important to test.  You can test the PH using titrets and paper samples, or by using a PH meter.  You want your PH to be somewhere between 3.1 and 3.7.  Anything outside that range and you will need to do adjustments.  If your PH is over 3.7, add tartaric acid to bring it back into line.  A wine that has a high acid content has a low PH, and vice versa.  So adding acid actually lowers your PH. 

Brix is tested using a hydrometer.  Fill the cylinder at least 1/2 full or a little more with clean must (no skins or pulp), and read the brix or "balling scale".  That is your Brix.  Wine is basically converting sugar to alcohol.  When your brix gets to 0, your wine is what is considered "dry".  Sweet wines like rose's and dessert wines stop in the single digits and don't go all the way to 0.

Here is a quick video for illustration:


Friday, October 8, 2010

Adding SO2 and Pectic Enzyme

Immediately following the crushing and destemming, you will want to add some Sulfur Dioxide.  The easiest form of this is Campden Tablets.  They are actually K-metabisulfite but after dissolved in water they function as your SO2.  And you add 1 tablet per gallon of must, so easy measuring.

As described in the video, add your SO2 mixture to the must, then pectic enzyme powder (1/2 tsp per gallon).  Make sure you add everything to your must or wine in liquid form.  Usually mixing a little warm water (not too much) with your powder will suffice. 

Here is the video:


It may sound a little counter-intuitive to be adding SO2 to your must, before your yeast, but it serves to kill any wild yeasts that may be on the grapes.  And wine yeast is strong enough to usually override any SO2.  But give it at least 24 hours after you added your SO2 before you pitch your yeast.

The Crush

The first step in our winemaking is to crush and destem the grapes.  Wherever you source your grapes from, try to set up or rent a destemmer if they do not have one.  The shop we bought our grapes from provided one (St. Louis Wine and Beermaking).  If you have ever destemmed grapes by hand you'll certainly rent one the next time.  Just something to remember!

Here is a quick video of us crushing and destemming our first box.


The Grapes Have Arrived!

Anyone who has ever made their own wine knows that it's not just about drinking a great wine you have made when it's finally done, it's the experience along the way.  And making your own wine from fresh grapes is exhausting work.  If you happen to be lucky enough to live near sources of great wine grapes the work may be a little easier on the front end, sourcing your grapes, but the rest is still a lot of work!

We live in the middle of the country where decent wine grapes are grown, but this year we really wanted something special.  Our source was Elkhorn Fruit in Lodi, CA.  Lodi is known for it's Old Vine Zinfandel, but they also grow a lot of Cab there.  It is somewhat reasonably priced, and so that is what we went with this year.

We picked up the fruit today.  It looked great!  No raisining, almost no damaged grapes, and they look to be perfectly ripened.

About This Blog

Come follow our home winemaking journey starting with fresh grapes from California in fall 2010.
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