Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Quick Lesson in Winemaking

Earlier I described the process by which we stomped some of our wine grapes to start turning grapes into wine. Here is where I’ll describe the next step of the process. This is highly simplified, but it’s about my speed. If you want more information, Gerald is your guy.

The white varietal, Marsanne, wasn’t stomped. Instead, Gerald and Uncle Pete pressed it until all the juices ran out. We aren’t interested in saving skins or seeds because we don’t want the tannins in the wine. Also, white skins do nothing for the color. As you can see by the photo, we are left with all the skins, stems, and seeds which are pressed tightly into a “pumice cake” when we are done. It is discarded in the compost bin.

The juice from the reds is left soaking in the skins and seeds which adds color and tannins. Sometimes the fermentation is started immediately, and sometimes it is delayed for a couple of days. Regardless, the mixtures are stirred twice a day to keep the skins and seeds in contact with the juice. They tend to float and dry out in a cap floating on the surface.

Once fermentation is started, we have to test the juice for specific gravity at least daily. Gerald pointed out a slim glass pipette for me to use. I spent over an hour trying to test the different juices because the seeds and skins kept clogging the tube. Peter suggested a much larger plastic pipette the next day. It was faster, but still took a long time. Finally, I was super frustrated at the amount of time and effort this was taking me every night. I wanted to quit the whole thing! That’s when my ever-calm husband provided me with the strainer and cup that moved me from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century and saved my remaining sanity. I still think there’s a better way, but I’ll leave that to an engineer to figure out.

While we were away in the Northeast, Gerald was able to press off the juices of the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. The resulting pumice cakes likely looked a lot like a purple or brown version of the photo above. Now the wines sit in carboys as they continue to slowly age in a cold room (50 degrees?) for a long time. I’m not sure what else happens, but I’m sure Gerald tinkers with it now and then. It will probably be bottled next summer.

Here is how the winemaker defines himself. Not only is timing important (harvest early or late, ferment right away or wait), but so is temperature (warm fermentation or cold), the yeast used (many, many choices). Does he want a single varietal wine or a blend? Does he want light tannins or strong ones? Red or rosé? Carbonated or flat? What other features does he prefer in a wine? The same berry can produce very different wines depending on how it is processed after it is harvested. Gerald tests different ways of doing each of these things to help him decide on the best way to make wine using our grapes. It’s a dynamic process, and we have a lot of variability from year to year.

We have homemade wines from our vineyard on both coasts. Join us for a glass or two!

Class dismissed.

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