"I'm growing some BdB grapes. You've mentioned them before. Any advice?" Larry Hebert, Hammond, LA
It's a French "Blahnc duw Bwah", not a Central Plains "Blank dew Boys".
I am going to admit something only a very few close friends know; when I first tasted a Blanc du Bois wine, I hated it. Since I first met it at a judging, I consulted with my fellow judge for the class. Neither of us had ever experienced it before, so we called in another judge, then another, and finally a fifth. It turned out that it was very poorly made. The next time I judged I refused White Grape Wines because both sweet and dry had BdB entered, Even though that damned grape won the Dry class, I wouldn't taste it. Finally one day at a San Antonio Regional Wine Guild meeting Luke Clark handed me a glass and said "Taste this and tell me what you think." It was a wonderfully fruity dry white with a citrus finish -- not quite grapefruit, not quite lemon, but damned nice. You guessed it -- Blanc du Bois.
A couple of months prior to that a friend had sent me 8 bare rooted, year-old, BdB vines. He assumed he was doing me a favor, but I sure didn't want them. However, no one I called wanted them either and I cannot stand by and let grape vines die, so I planted them -- 5 in a short row and three along an outer fence line. They grew like weeds and all reached the second wire about two months after planting. The second year their roots found water and I let up except on those three-digit days. The second year they also flowered. By then I had tasted excellent, good, decent, and bad wines from this grape. I knew there was a secret to the grape and Luke Clark had told it to me once when I wasn't really listening because I never intended growing this grape. I called him, ate a big slice of humble pie, and asked him to tell me again about bringing in BdB. Don't ever turn your back on a good friend. They are too hard to acquire and invaluable when in need. Luke told all. This time I listened.
The secret of this grape is several-fold. First, as with any grape, one must orchestrate a balance between maximizing Brix and beating the birds to the grapes. In six harvests, I've never managed to get my grapes to 21° Brix, but then I don't net them either. I have had to pick them once at 19.2° Brix and feared for the wine, but after chaptalizing it came through beautifully. Second, wash, destem, crush, and press all in one operation if possible and do it as fast as you can manage safely. Third, get the juice into a 34°F. refrigerator immediately after pressing. Like many whites, BdB juice will turn immediately brown. I don't know if ascorbic acid will lessen the browning, but it certainly will not prevent it. Let the juice chill for three days, then carefully remove it to a countertop or table where you will rack it. If you keep your yeast in the same refrigerator you chilled the juice in, go ahead and draw off a liter of juice to make a cold yeast starter solution. If you use a cold-hardy yeast like Lalvin EC-1118 (Prise de Mousse), it will activate in an hour or so at 39°F.
Wash, destem, crush, and press grapes all in one operation as soon after harvesting as possible. Stir potassium metabisulfite into juice and move, covered, into a 34°F. refrigerator immediately. After 24 hours add pectic enzyme. Keep in refrigerator another 48 hours. Carefully remove to countertop or table without disturbing sediment. Carefully rack into 6-gallon secondary, leaving behind and dark, precipitated pigment. Stir in yeast nutrient and chaptalize to 1.095 if desired. Draw off one liter of juice for yeast starter solution and cover carboy with paper towel secured by rubber band. If yeast was stored in same refrigerator as juice was chilled in, sprinkle yeast on starter surface and then cover with plastic wrap. Wait 12-14 hours and stir yeast nutrient into juice. Wait 48 hours and attach airlock. When vigorous fermentation subsides, stir well, transfer into sanitized 5-gallon carboy and stir in a bentonite slurry according to manufacturer's instructions. Attach airlock and ferment to dryness, but at least 45 days. Rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait 30 days and rack again, adding dissolved potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite. Sweeten if desired, top up and reattach airlock. Wait 30 days and bottle. Drinkable in 3 months, better in 6. [Author's own recipe]
My thanks to Larry Hebert of Hammond, Louisiana for requesting this recipe.