21 January 2010

Bentonite additions and Pruning

Well I finished the bench trials last week for Bentonite additions in order to make the wines that failed earlier protein stable. So no slimy clouds in my wine or rather your wine from me! To start this week off I made up the additions to add to the tanks of wine. Bentonite looks a lot like plain, non-flushable, kitty litter and I am half convinced that is all that kitty litter is but have yet to do the research to confirm that supposition. Now, back to the wine business at hand. I mix the Bentonite with almost boiling water so that it turns into slurry and allow that to sit overnight. Then while mixing the wine in tank I slowly drip in the slurry, the goal is to have it evenly mixed throughout the wine. This takes about 20 minutes. Next I close the tanks back up and let the Bentonite settle for about 2 weeks. It is quite heavy and drops out pretty quickly along the way binding with the protein compounds and taking them with it. The next step will to be to rack and blend the wines and finally filter them in preparation of bottling. Racking is process of pumping clear wine off the sediment in the bottom of a tank.

Mary, Barry and I also sat down this week and did our first tasting of the whites this year. Sorry no pictures this time. Because we have the 7 blend I have a lot more flexibility in our other whites. This year for example there are 3 tanks of pinot gris, and since some of that pinot gris is destined for the 7 blend I get to try a few different blends of pinot gris to try and make the best one. We tasted 3 yesterday and decided that while it was close there might be a better one out there so next week we will taste 3 more and see if we can find one we like better. This happens with all the wines: Riesling, Muller Thurgau, Pinot gris, Gewurztraminer and of course the 7 blend. The blend probably takes the longest because not only of the 7 components but also the infinite possibilities and yes 1% or 2% can make a big difference in the final blend.
Pruning has started in the vineyard and the guys are wishing for all the sunny or at least non-rainy days they can get. It will take them several weeks to go through and prune every plant and pull the old canes off the wires. Next month they will go through again and wrap this year’s canes around the wires in preparation for this year’s growth. I always find it amazing how much the plant grows every year. Below is a picture of the same Chardonnay vine that I showed a few weeks ago so you can see the before and after.

14 January 2010

Lab Work Part 2

I also check if the wines are protein or heat stable and if they are cold stable. If the wine is not protein stable there is a chance that if the wine got warm during shipping or storage for instance that it would throw a protein based sediment. This doesn’t affect the flavor nor is it a health issue but it’s not at all attractive. When it is bad it looks like strings of slime floating in the wine, otherwise it just makes a cloudy mass at the bottom of the bottle. I check the wine by filtering it clear using a syringe filter, great for filtering small quantites, and then heating it for 6 hours in my homemade water bath. Below are two samples, one passed and one failed. If a wine fails I run lab trials treating the wine with different levels of Bentonite and retest, when the wine stays clear I know how much I need to add to the tank.
Cold stability on the other hand is an issue if the wine sits in a cold fridge for a long time or is put in the freezer and forgotten about. I’m sure that’s never happened to any of you. When the wine is not cold stable it will throw crystals in the bottle that normally form first on the cork and are about the color of the wine. Again nothing to worry about, it is just cream of tartar, like used in cooking, but in crystal form. They are not pieces of glass which it can resemble if it falls in the bottom of your wine glass. To check the stability of the wine I first centrifuge a sample of the wine to help save my lab filter, and then filter it to get it completely. Finally I freeze the wine and see what crystals form at the bottom. If too many form then I chill the tank of wine until all the crystals form in the tank and then filter the wine. I like to do this step last so that I only filter the wines once. As I could talk to several hours about my thoughts of filtering and wine I’ll save that for another day. I do think that it is a great tool and has its place in the winery.
Just for laughs: This is what happens to wine bags at our house. Meet our evening entertainment; Ferb is in the bag and about to be attacked by his brother, Phineas.

07 January 2010

White Wines and Lab Work part 1

Yesterday I started the lab work to see if the whites are ready to filter in preparation for bottling. The easy tests are for pH and titratable acidity. For the first I just calibrate the pH meter and then put the probe in the wine. TA’s are a little more work. I use both the pH meter probe and color to determine how much acid is in the wine. I do get to turn the wine a lovely pink color during the test and at least it looks like fun. Alcohols are also easy to check. I boil a small volume of wine and measure the temperature at which it boils. I look at chart and read off how much alcohol is in the wine.

Checking free SO2, which is the amount of sulfide available in the wine to protect it, is another quick and easy test, though again I have to trust my eyes. I am simply looking for color change. To the left you can see a finished sample, one in the midst of testing and the last about to be tested.

Checking residual sugar is probably the slowest test. It certainly has the most steps but does get to go through the most color changes which keeps me entertained. I won’t tell you all the details other than there are 6 chemicals, early on the solution gets boiled for one and half minutes and in the end I have to trust my eyes.

05 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New year to you all!

I hope you had a great one. I went up to Seattle with my husband and drank at least 5 types of Champagne/Sparkling wine with my brother, his wife and their friends and I think Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut out of California is still one of my favorites. The wine is balanced, has nice fruit, good acidity, some creaminess and is inexpensive. What more could I ask for?

As for this week, it’s back to the grind stone. We are starting to look at when we might bottle the whites which means enough of these lazy days, I must get working!! Yesterday I checked the rest of the BeckenRidge Pinot for ML and the barrels are mostly done and Chardonnay is even a third finished. This is exciting, though it means even more up coming work there. When the Pinot is finished with ML I will rack every barrel to a clean barrel to get the wine off the lees. I’ll tell you more about that when it happens, pictures will help. I also spent the day topping all the barrels and except for the odd barrel everything is smelling great!
I sulfured my first barrels today which means I made up a solution of SO2 and added it to every barrel of MarĂ©chal Foch; I then stirred the barrels, topped them and finally changed out the bungs. The first bungs I use are designed to let gas escape, both from the end of fermentation and also the slight amount produced during malo-lactic fermentation. Now that the processes are over I am trying to minimize oxygen exposure and so replaced them all with solid bungs that shouldn’t let in any air. Of course there is always some exchange of oxygen through the wood of the barrel which is part of the aging process and why the wine is in barrel for at least 9 months but it is much slower than what would come through a loose fitting bung. The micro-oxygenation that occurs softens the wine and makes it ready to drink sooner. It reduces some of the tannins by binding them up and allows other flavors to show through. If you are ever in the neighborhood during the week I would be glad to let you taste so you can see what I mean.