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Who is Jack Keller?
Jack Keller lives with his wife Donna in Pleasanton, Texas, just south of San Antone. Winemaking is his passion and for years he has been making wine from just about anything both fermentable and nontoxic.

Jack has developed scores of recipes and tends to gravitate to the exotic or unusual, having once won first place with jalapeno wine, second place with sandburr wine, and third with Bermuda grass clippings wine.

Jack was twice the President of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, is a certified home wine judge, frequent contributor to WineMaker Magazine, creator and author of The Winemaking Home Page and of Jack Keller's WineBlog, the first wine blog on the internet, ever. He grows a few grapes, still works for a living, and is slowly writing a book on -- what else? -- winemaking.



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Some Other Wine Blogs

There are hundreds of wine blogs. According to Alder Yarrow (see below), none have been around as long as Jack Keller's WineBlog, but 99% of these newcomers are for wine consumers, not winemakers. They have anointed themselves the official "wine blogosphere." You can count on both hands those of us bloggers dedicated to actually making the stuff they write about, and yet our blogs are largely ignored by this elite. Still, they exist and are important. There are some who write for the buyer / consumer but still occasionally talk about the making of wine, even if they usually are talking about making it in 125,000-liter stainless steel tanks. Or they might talk about grape varieties, harvests in general, the cork-screwcap debate, stemware, or other subjects I think you might find interesting. They're worth reading even if you aren't interested in their tasting notes. Then again, that just might be your cup of tea. Here are a few of them I like, listed in a loose alphabetical order (by blogger):

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

Ben Evert's
Making Homemade Wine and Beer, about home winemaking

Ben Hardy's
Ben's Adventures in Wine Making, a very fun read from across the Atlantic

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

Chef Neil's
A Wine Making Fool's Blog, a lot of fun to read

Chris Nuber's
Texas Wine Blog, a good, unbiased read

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Erroll's
Washington Winemaker

Frugalwinemaker's
Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

Jennifer's
My Wines Direct

Jorray's
Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

Ken Payton's
Reign of Terrior, lots of good interviews

Ken W.'s
AlaWine.com

Mal's
Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

Michelle's
My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

[no name]'s
Budget Vino...for the $10 and Under Crowd

[no name]'s
Two Bees Wine, about home winemaking

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

Sondra Barrett's
Wine, Sex and Beauty in the Bottle

Steve Bachmann's
The Wine Collector: Practical Wine Collecting Advice

Thomas'
Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

Tim Vandergrift's
Tim's Blog, a humorous and enjoyable flow from Wine Expert's Tim V.

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog








WineBlog Archives

Blog entries are generally presented in reverse chronological order, with earlier entries at the bottom and recent ones at the top so the newer can be read first. An archive is more useful if the entries are presented chronologically. I have thus rearranged them as such.




January 13th, 2007

Last October a gentleman wrote to me from Toronto, concerned that I was giving away so much of my knowledge and time on my website and WineBlog and getting little or nothing back. "Does anyone ever send you his or her recipes?" he asked. The answer, I told him, is yes.

Every year for the past decade I have received anywhere from 8-15 bottles of wine from proud winemakers wanting to share a particularly good product or from concerned winemakers asking for an evaluation. All of the former types have indeed been worthy of praise, while most of the latter suffered simple forms of imbalance or, in rare cases, fatal flaws. Additionally, I receive many original or hand-me-down recipes from readers, far more than I post. Oh, and for the record, I no longer do free fault evaluations of wine anymore. That stopped several years ago when we noted how much I was spending on testing supplies to do these evaluations.

Recently, I received five bottles from a couple in Sharps Chapel, Tennessee who, over the past week, have shared a number of their recipes with me. One was a mead, four were wines. Today I began making a gallon of mead from one of their wine recipes. Okay, I didn't actually follow their wine recipe or their mead recipe - I was simply inspired by one of their ingredients and decided to make a mead with it using techniques in their recipes. Since I only began it today, I can't say much about it except that I have high expectations. Here's what I am doing.

Maraschino-Chocolate Sweet Mead

  • 4 lbs honey (it's the size jar I had; 3 ½ lbs should have been enough)
  • 2 lb 5 oz jar of Mezzetta's maraschino cherries
  • 4 oz Hershey's Cocoa Powder
  • 2 1/4 tsp acid blend
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/8 tsp yeast energizer
  • 3/16 tsp grape tannin
  • 1/16 tsp potassium metabisulfite
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 pkt Gervin Wine Yeast Varietal B (S. cerevisiae) [alternate: Lalvin 71B-1122]

I began a yeast starter the night before, using one cup of lukewarm water (98 degrees F.) into which I added 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of nutrient. I sprinkled the yeast onto the surface, covered the jar with a napkin and set it aside to culture.

Following the advice in Ken Schramm's The Compleat Meadmaker, I mixed the honey with a quart of water in a large pot and brought it to 140 degrees F. for about 25 minutes to kill any compromising organisms that might have come with it. I then set it aside to cool.

After about two hours, I opened the large jar of Mezzetta's maraschino cherries and strained out the packing juice (syrup, if you wish). I added the juice to the honey and chopped the cherries by hand. A blender would have been faster, but that would have required adding back some of the juice (or water) and I wanted the cherries dry and separate.

I measured the cocoa powder in dry ounces and added it to one pint of warm water in a blender. I blended it until it was thoroughly mixed, added the tannin and other dry ingredients (less the yeast) to ensure they were all well mixed, and then added this to the honey. After stirring to integrate, I poured this through a funnel into a gallon jug to measure the amount of liquid, topping up with cold water to bring the total to a gallon. I stirred it with a sanitized wooden dowel and then drew off a cup of the liquid into a hydrometer test jar. A thermometer told me the liquid was a 78 degrees F., 10 degrees warmer than my hydrometer is calibrated for. So I stood it in my refrigerator with the thermometer floating in it.

Meanwhile, I transferred the chopped cherries into a nylon straining bag and tied it off. I placed the bag in a 3-gallon glass primary (with glass lid) and poured the liquid must over the cherries. I then checked the liquid I had placed in the refrigerator. It was 65 degrees when I removed it, so I let it stand on the kitchen counter for 10 minutes and when it was at 68 degrees I removed the thermometer and inserted the hydrometer with a spin. The starting s.g. was too high to measure with this particular hydrometer, so I measured 100 mL of must and added to it 100 mL of water. In the test jar, the hydrometer floated at 1.075, making the effective starting s.g. 1.152. This was actually 10 points below what I expected.

Satisfied the must was where I wanted it to be, I placed a large spoon on the surface of the must and slowly dribbled the yeast starter solution, which was now 15 hours old and very cloudy, onto the spoon. By moving the spoon around the surface of the must, the starter overflows onto the surface and sort of stays there. Since yeast need oxygen for healthy propagation, this puts them where they need to be. Tomorrow, if the must is not cloudy from yeast integration, I will shallowly stir the must. Since the starter solution (after 15 hours) contains approximately 130+ times the number of viable yeast cells as it did when I initiated it, I am confident fermentation will be evident tomorrow morning and go well.

There is a reason I added the acid blend and tannin to the must. My wife cares less for mead than I do because, according to her, they lack a little "something" that wines have. That something, I long ago decided, was both sufficient acid and tannin. When I began adding these ingredients to my meads, she liked them. I may well decide, after this batch is finished, to add a bit more acid blend to it. I'll judge that by taste when the time comes (after aging).

My plans are to punch down the bag of chopped cherries several times a day, checking their condition after several days. When they start looking ravaged by the yeast, I'll remove the bag and gently squeeze it to extract what liquid I can. I will keep the must in primary until the fermentation seems to die down, regardless of s.g., and then transfer it to secondary and cap it with an airlock. I'll rack it at least twice, probably more.

I expect this mead to finish sweet (between 1.025 and 1.045, with alcohol at 14-15%), since I used more honey than required for a normal mead. However, if it goes drier than I want, I'll stabilize it, age it six months, and sweeten it to taste. I'll then age it at least another six months, as the folks in Tennessee warned me that their mead (and their wines) took nine months to a year to "get yummy." And they were that!

There is a line in the movie, High Road to China (1983, Tom Selleck, Bes Armstrong, Jack Weston, Wilford Brimley, Robert Morley -- one of my 50 favorite movies of all time), in which Selleck is being told by a Buddhist holy man named Zura (played by Robert Lee) about Armstrong's father's passage through the area some time earlier. When he is done, Selleck asks, "Is there anything else you can tell us?" The holy man relies, "The oxen are slow but the earth is patient." I love that line. When making mead, you must be like the earth. [Author's own recipe]




January 17th, 2007

My Sweet Maraschino-Chocolate Mead, began only four days ago, is fermenting away. The Gervin yeast has turned the must cloudy pink and created a yeasty foam on top. The foam is cream in color, telling me it is mostly yeast. I was just getting ready to stir it into the must when I decided to utilize it to transfer the culture to another must. Because I had all the ingredients on hand, it only took me 20 minutes to prepare the new must. The recipe is another I received from the folks in Sharps Chapel, Tennessee, and this time I only varied it slightly.

While preparing the must for the recipe below, I realized I made a mistake in the Maraschino-Chocolate Mead recipe posted on January 12th. I had typed "8 oz Hershey's Cocoa Powder", which is what the Tennessee folks used for two gallons. In fact I only used 4 ounces, so I corrected that immediately. I hope no one started a mead using the 8-ounce figure. If they did, I sincerely apologize -- their mead will be very chocolatey, but might even be better than mine. I have no way of knowing because I haven't made it that way.

Mandarin-Chocolate Wine

  • 2 59-fl oz jugs of not-from-concentrate orange juice (Simply Orange, from Wal-Mart)
  • 2 11-oz cans of Mandarin orange segments in syrup
  • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 4 dry oz (1/2 cup) Hershey's Cocoa Powder
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/16 tsp potassium metabisulfite
  • 3/16 tsp grape tannin
  • Gervin Wine Yeast Varietal B (S. cerevisiae) from active fermentation [alternate: Lalvin 71B-1122]

I have several 1.75 gallon plastic fermenters obtained free from Shipley's Donuts in San Antonio that I use for 1-gallon primaries. They had previously contained a donut filling material of some sort and are perfect primaries. I sanitized one and into it poured the sugar, tannin, nutrient, and sulfite. Over this I poured the orange juice, stirred for about two minutes, and then prepared the cocoa powder.

I placed a cup of the must in a blender and turned it on to its lowest setting while slowly pouring the powder into it. After a minute I added this to the must.

I then sanitized a nylon straining bag for the Mandarin orange segments. I held the bag open over the primary and dumped the contents of the two cans into the bag. I tied the bag and set it in the primary.

Normally, I would wait 8-12 hours for the potassium metabisulfite to sanitize the must and dissipate somewhat, but I knew the yeast in the Maraschino-Chocolate Mead was already acclimated to sulfite so I spooned six teaspoons of the yeasty foam from the mead primary and placed it on top of the new must. I then covered the new primary.

The only thing in the Tennessee recipe I didn't add was pectic enzyme. In a few months, if the wine doesn't clarify on its own, I'll add it. The one thing I did add that wasn't in the Tennessee recipe was grape tannin.

I plan to age this wine a year, as the folks in Tennessee did theirs. I expect it to taste better than the Mandarin orange wines I have made in the past, both because of the addition of the cocoa powder and because it was made using pure orange juice instead of juice and water. It should finish around 14% alcohol and be sweet. Its starting s.g. was 1.120.

Wines Received

Yesterday I received six more sample bottles from Tennessee - one mead and five wines. I opened one last night and was very impressed. Thank you, Sharps Chapel.

I also received another wine yesterday - a wild grape wine from Wisconsin. I will open this one tonight with held breath because it is a Vitis riparia wine. This is a grape not known to make great wines by itself, but a grape that has been used extensively in the breeding of hybrid grapes. However, the note that came with the wine promises me I will be amazed. It's a two-year old wine and I look forward to it.

Wild grape wines are always a challenge. If you can make good wines using wild grapes, you can make good wines using any grapes. By the way, despite the fact that WineMaker Magazine's International Amateur Wine Competition and many other competitions allow Concord, Catawba, Niagara, and many of the other "American" grapes known to have Vitis vinifera in their ancestry to be entered as "native American" grape wines, I do not consider them to be true "natives." We no longer allow them to be entered as such in the competitions of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, and I wish other competitions would police their rules a little more closely. "Native grapes" should refer to the native species, not to derived varietal cultivars with vinifera in their genes. This is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.




January 29th, 2007

Using the yeasty foam from the Sweet Maraschino Chocolate Mead as an inoculate for the Mandarin Chocolate Wine, it wasn't until the fourth day that the fermentation really took off. I would have been better using a fresh yeast starter, but what is done is done. The new must is now foaming away and I am collapsing the nylon straining bag three times a day to expel the trapped CO2 and keep the Mandarin segments down in the must.

The couple from Sharps Chapel, Tennessee recommended I not try to sweeten the Sweet Maraschino Chocolate Mead at six months like I proposed in the WineBlog entry of January 13th, as the taste will still be quite rough at that point. "I figured you understood the Maraschino-Chocolate Mead would not taste good that young," the wife wrote, "but from reading the blog, I was concerned that some of your less experienced readers might not realize how important it is to realize that Chocolate wines will probably NOT taste good until 9 to 12 months, but at a year they should tasted good."

I greatly appreciate their advice in this matter and promised them I would be prudent, but I really don't think this mead will need to be sweetened at all. The starting s.g. was so high that I'm almost certain it will finish sweet. I do intend to stabilize it after six months of bulk aging, no matter what. I do not want even a dozen hardy yeast cells surviving and reproducing beyond that point, as degassing will be more problematic if they are there.

The Chocolate Secret

Many people have written me over the years asking for a chocolate wine recipe. Until recently, my answer has always been that I didn't have one. I have tried making chocolate wines from block chocolate processed through a grater, chocolate chips ground to crumbs, chocolate syrup, and chocolate powder. And, of course, I tried chocolate covered cherries.

My next experiment would have been using cocoa beans, which I located online, but in 2002 I tried Hershey's cocoa powder one more time along with some slivered almonds and produced a Chocolate-Almond Mead. I had no real hopes for it, and in fact let it bulk age for over two years without even tasting it. When I finally did, I was astounded. I quickly bottled it and in its only competition it won first place. Due to a glitch by a steward, it was not considered for the best of show taste-off.

So, Hershey's cocoa powder and a year or more of bulk aging is the secret - one I don't mind sharing. Speaking of sharing, here is another Chocolate Mead recipe - not mine, but another from Sharps Chapel, Tennessee (slightly altered):

Chocolate Mead
(makes 6 gallons)


  • 20 lbs honey
  • 20 oz Hershey's Cocoa Powder
  • 6 teabags infused in 1 cup hot water (original recipe called for 3)
  • 7 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 3/4 tsp yeast energizer (my addition)
  • 3 tblsp acid blend (my addition)
  • Water to make 6 gallons total
  • 2 sachets Red Star Premier Curvee Wine Yeast

Use 1 pint of warm water containing a teaspoon of dissolved sugar and a pinch of yeast nutrient to make a yeast starter solution to get the yeast propagating. Pour the honey (unboiled) into the primary. Use some of the water to get all the remaining honey from the honey bottles and add this to the primary. Add 3 gallons of water and stir well to dissolve.

Put the teabags into 1 cup of hot water and set aside. Now prepare the cocoa powder.

Place a cup of water in a blender and turn it on to its lowest setting while slowly pouring 4 ounces of cocoa the powder into it. After a minute, add this to the primary and repeat until all 20 ounces of cocoa powder is dissolved and added.

Check the tea. When water is dark, press teabags and add the tannic water to the primary along with the acid blend, yeast nutrient and yeast energizer. Stir while adding the remaining water, bringing the total volume to 6 gallons. Check temperature to ensure it is no colder than 65 degrees F. and no warmer than 80. Starting s.g. should be around 1.130. Slowly and gently add the yeast starter solution to the surface of the must (pour the solution into a large spoon held horizontally on the surface of the must to avoid pouring deep). Do not stir.

Cover primary and move it to a warm place. After 24 hours stir shallowly. After another 24 hours stir deeply. Transfer to secondary when vigorous fermentation subsides. Top up with pure honey, stir well with a sanitized wooden dowel, then affix airlock. Keep a record of how much honey you use for topping up, but do not exceed 5-1/3 cups (4 pounds). After adding that much, start topping up with water. Rack 30 days later, again topping up with pure honey, and 3 months after that (same drill as before). After additional 3 months, rack if needed and stabilize with potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite. Set aside for 6 additional months.

The original recipe from Tennessee called for adding 3 lbs of sugar at one point. To keep it a pure mead, I have used honey as a topping up medium in lieu of adding sugar. Four pounds of honey approximates 3 pounds of sugar, so the results should be the same. If, during topping up operations, you do not use 5-1/3 cups (4 lbs) of honey, your mead will probably be okay anyway, but final sweetness may need adjusting. Incidentally, one cup of honey weighs 12 ounces (340 grams).

Remember, there is no reason whatsoever to taste this mead until it is 9 to 12 months old, and even then it may need more aging to yummy up. But I promise you, it will yummy up. When it does, bottle it and allow 3 additional months for bouquet to form.




February 3rd, 2007

A reader wrote and asked, "I have a quick question about the layer on top that the yeast produces. Am I supposed to push it down a couple of inches, mix it up, or leave it alone?" This is a good question, but I'm not really clear exactly what this foam looks like. My answer, therefore, depends on the details not described. Yes, it was a quick question, but requires a lengthy answer.

Fermentation Foam

If the layer is actually the initial yeast culture (usually not described as "foam", but foaming could occur), wait 4-6 hours for it to spread and thicken and if it doesn't collapse into the must of its own weight then stir it shallowly, so it is integrated into the must but still remains near the surface. During their first 48-72 hours, yeast need oxygen to reproduce sufficient to our needs. So, after stirring shallowly, wait until the next day (or after at least another 6 hours) and stir the must deeply to more thoroughly distribute the yeast. Stirring also distributes oxygen throughout the must so it becomes more available to yeast not near the surface

If the layer is fermentation foam, stir well twice daily. Fermentation foam is just that, a whitish but slightly colored (by the pigments in the must) foam produced by rising CO2 bubbles that fail to break the surface layer completely and get encapsulated by a thin boundary of juice from the must. This foam forms heaviest early on, when the specific gravity of the must is still high and increased density resists the CO2 more. As the gravity decreases through conversion of heavy sugar into light alcohol, the surface offers less resistance to the CO2 and it escapes the must without being trapped as foam. But fruit proteins also increase the surface tension of the must and contribute to foam formation. Pretreating a fruit must with an enzyme such as protease can greatly reduce the amount of foam produced. Also, yeast foam is foam containing yeast cells that adhere to the rising CO2 bubbles. Some yeast strains are more prone to forming yeast foam (such as Montrachet or Pasteur White), while others are not (such as Prise de Mousse, a.k.a. E.C. 1118).

If the layer is scum (you'll know the difference), spoon it off and discard daily. Scum forms when minute insoluble solids and impurities are pushed upward by the rising micro-bubbles of CO2 and remain on the surface as a thin layer of discoloration. Should you stir them back into the must, they most likely will settle into the lees and can be removed though racking, but some might remain suspended and later settle in the bottle. When these solids form a scum layer, they can be easily removed with patience and a gentle spooning technique.

If the layer is pulp, skins, berries, etc, punch it down twice a day until the time comes to separate the liquid from the solids (3-10 days, depending on the base being used). Timing the separation is somewhat an inexact science. Recipes often suggest a window (such as 5-7 days) when the solids should be removed (and possibly pressed), but these are only approximations based on the experiences of the person devising the recipe.

To better understand when you should remove these solids (often simply referred to as "pulp"), you must decide why you are fermenting "on the pulp" in the first place. Basically, there are three reasons - extracting sugar, extracting flavor and extracting color. I'll discuss these in detail in a later WineBlog entry.




February 7th, 2007

In my last WineBlog entry I mentioned the layer of pulp, skins, berries, etc. - called the cap when floating high on top of the must and simply "pulp" when referred to generally -- that forms on top of the must during primary. This cap needs to be punched it down twice a day until the time comes to separate the liquid from the solids (3-10 days, depending on the base being used).

I said that timing the separation of the liquid from the pulp is somewhat an inexact science. Recipes often suggest a window (such as 5-7 days) when the solids should be removed (and possibly pressed), but these are only approximations based on the experiences of the person devising the recipe. To better understand when you should remove the pulp, you must decide why you are fermenting "on the pulp" in the first place. Basically, there are three reasons - extracting sugar, extracting flavor and extracting color. I said I'd discuss these in detail in a later WineBlog entry. This is that entry.

Extracting Sugar from Pulp

There are several ways to extract the natural sugars from the pulp of the base being used. Freezing the fruit or other base concentrates the natural sugars to a degree, but it also compromises cellular walls to allow juice and constituent extraction after thawing. Extracting and fermenting just the juice is one way, as most of the sugars are in solution in the juice. Juice can be extracted by cold press, steam and hot press methods. The sugars that are left behind are mostly those bonded into the vegetable fibers themselves.

Cold maceration is another method, whereby the fruit is crushed and soaked in its own juice, its own juice and water, or just water. The addition of pectic enzymes during maceration greatly increases the release of natural sugars from the fruit. Hot maceration is a variation, whereby hot or boiling water is poured over the crushed fruit. When the water cools, pectic enzymes are added to further extraction. After maceration, the crushed fruit can be pressed and the resulting juice can be fermented or the crushed fruit can be inoculated for fermentation after the must is prepared (acid, nutrients, sugar, etc. are added). If you do the latter, the pulp is removed after 3-5 days.

Finally, the fruit can be crushed, pectic enzymes added and allowed to work, water and other additives added (acid, nutrients, sugar, etc.), and the crush inoculated for fermentation. In this case the pectic enzymes, water and yeast combine to extract the sugars. If you follow this common method, the pulp is removed after 5-7 days, and for certain bases even later.

Extracting Flavor from Pulp

A great many constituents contribute to flavor. The food industry has spent a great amount of money to determine what these are and how to artificially synthesize them. The problem in a general discussion is that the contributors to fruit flavors vary widely according to the type of fruit. Even in grapes, a tremendous amount of research has focused on what contributes to the unique flavor of Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, as opposed to Zinfandel or Chenin Blanc.

What I can say here is that a great many differing constituents contribute to the flavors we want in our wines, while an even greater number can adversely affect it. Over the millennia, trial and error methods have been selected to extract the correct components and avoid extracting the ones that produce off flavors and odors. During the past 90 years, but especially during the past 40, chemical analysis has allowed us to learn much more than you might imagine. We know now, for example, that over 1,000 constituents can be identified in many wines, and who knows what that number will be in another 40 years?

So as not to get bogged down in a dissertation on organic chemistry, I will simply say that the most important contributors to wine flavor are a combination of sugars, acids, fusil oils, volatiles, lower and higher alcohols, both hydrolyzable and condensed tannins, anthrocyanins, flavonoids, amino acids, other phenolic compounds, and decomposed yeast cells. All but alcohol and the latter must be extracted from the base ingredients, and many of them are locked inside the pulp, skin, stems, and seeds. How, then, are we to get them out?

The best way, it turns out, is to control their quantity in the must and allow both added and natural enzymes and yeast and its resulting byproduct - alcohol - to extract them. By control, I mean we do not want too many stems in our must, if any - the latter conditional depends on the base and the components found in the stems of that particular base. Nor do we want the undesirable bitterness in the pith of citrus to contaminate our wines, but we do want some of the constituents found in the skins - we add the zest of oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit to obtain them. Further, we do not want most fruit seeds to lay in the must too long or the wine will taint bitter.

When a white wine is to be made of a colored base, we want to limit skin contact or avoid it altogether. But when we avoid skin contact, we automatically limit the amount of certain flavor constituents from our wine. We can add some of the back - such as certain tannins - without affecting the color, but others will simply be absent. It is their absence that causes certain wine consumers to avoid white wines altogether.

With pulp and its components (fruit flesh, skins, stems, and seeds), too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. That is why we never ferment our wines to dryness on the pulp.

Extracting Color from Pulp

Most red, purple and blue fruit contain their coloring constituents - tannins and anthrocyanins - in their skins. Yellow and pink-fleshed fruit (pineapples, peaches, some plums, citrus, etc.) contain different kinds of pigments located in the pulp and juice. Many aggregate berries contain anthrocyanins in their juice and the membranes of their drupelets (blackberries, raspberries, pomegranates, mulberries, etc.). You can cold press blackberries and make red wine from the juice, but you'll get a deeper color fermenting the crushed whole berries. In many epigynous berries, the anthrocyanins are found in the skins, pulp and juice (blueberries, bilberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries). To get the best color, you need to know where the color is located and ferment that part(s) in the primary

Both anthrocyanins and tannins are rather complex. Each has many structures and therefore many names. Here, a little organic chemistry is useful.

There are five anthrocyanidins in grapes - delphinidin, petunidin, malvidin, cyanidin, and peonidin. They are a type of substance known as aglycones and exist in different forms - either heterosidic or as anthrocyanins (3-monoglucosides, 3,5-diglucosides, and acylated heterosides) and have different characteristics. Anthrocyanins react to bisulfite ions and lose some of their color, but as free SO2 dissipates the color returns. They also lose some color by reduction, but again this is a temporary condition. Some winemakers observe that a some freshly fermented wines are lightly colored, but as the anthrocyanins are progressively oxidized (as during barrel aging) the color deepens.

Tannins can be either hydrolyzable or condensed. The former consist of one glucosidic molecule bonded to different phenols, such as gallic or ellagic acid, while the latter are condensed polymers from 3-flavanols (catechins) and 3,4-flavandials (leucoanthrocyanidins). Both monomeric and polymerized leucoanthrocyanidins display the characteristic, which the catechins do not, of transforming into red anthrocyanins when heated in an acidic media. Under the same conditions, the catechins turn into insoluble brown-black phlobaphenes that precipitate. However, if unheated, no change occurs.

Tannins and anthrocyanidins react with one another in interesting ways, but it is enough here to say that extracting maximum color requires that tannins be extracted along with anthrocyanins. Normally, the most desirable tannins are concentrated in the skins or drupelet membranes. Research has shown that fermenting whole crushed grapes and aggregate berries for 3-5 days extracts most of the color obtainable. Beyond that, the wine might actually suffer increasing harshness from seed breakdown. Fermentation at higher temperatures also extracts more color constituents, but again 3-5 days is the optimum skin contact time.

Naturally, these considerations are only the beginning of the story, but that is the subject for future WineBlog entries.




February 10th, 2007

I learn a lot every day. I make it a point to do so. A day without learning is a day wasted.

I learn a lot from books, research articles, discussions with other winemakers, and discussion groups when I have the time to visit. And I learn a lot from most of the e-lists I belong to. When I don't learn from a list (or don't understand what I'm reading), I drop out of it.

Over the past few nights on an e-list of very bright folks, I had one of the tenets I had long held dear to me shattered. The discussion was about diglucosides, a form of the anthrocyanin compounds found in grapes that I mentioned in my last WineBlog entry.

I have long held the belief, based on old but authoritative research by one of the world leaders in the field, that only native American grape species (and a couple of native Asian species) contained the 3,5-diglucosides of the anthrocyanins -- Vitis vinifera never had them unless obtained through cross pollination with a native that had them. This was consistently proven using paper chromatography.

So, now I learn that more sensitive and discriminating testing methods (HPLC) have found very minute traces of 3,5-diglucoside of the anthrocyanin malvidin in as many as 10% of the V. vinifera varieties analyzed.

Well, this was confidence-shattering. Now I can no longer sit across from a Bordeaux-sipping Frenchman, take a swig of my mesquite-aged Mustang, and smugly say, "I'm getting loaded on diglucosides and you're not."

Damn! There are some things I'd rather not learn.

Types of Fruit

In one of the online discussions at WinePress.us, the questions was asked, "I agree cherries are not berries, but what about grapes? I have heard a lot of vineyard growers refer to their grapes as berries. I think not. I think to be a berry you must have seeds in individual drupes like blackberries and raspberries. Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?"

As luck would have it, I had researched this before and had a set of notes on the subject, so I dug them out and replied that in botany, fruit is a term with a specific meaning -- it is the ripened ovary and the seeds of a flowering plant. But there are many kinds of fruit.

Cherries, plums, peaches, and apricots are drupes, a kind of fruit with a hard, central seed (stone, pit) that formed from the superior ovary wall of its flower.

Tomatoes, grapes, eggplants, and chile peppers are all true berries, a kind of fruit with one or more seeds surrounded by a fleshy body formed from the superior ovary wall of its flower.

Citrus produce a type of berry called a hesperidium, which is a berry in every sense but has a tough, leathery rind and a fleshy interior composed of sections (carpels).

Blackberries, raspberries and similar bramble-fruit are aggregate fruit, which develop from a single flower with multiple pistils, each pistil contributing to a single sac-like structure which, in aggregate, are called drupelets. The pomegranate is a variant type of aggregate fruit.

A compound fruit (sometimes called multiple fruit) is one that forms from a large cluster of flowers, each of which forms a fruit that collectively grow together into a single mass. The breadfruit, pineapple and mulberry are all compound (multiple) fruit.

Apples, pears, serviceberries, hawthorns, and rose hips are pomes, a kind if fruit in which the seeds are in seed chambers encased in a leathery lining (the endocarp) within a core (mesocarp) formed from the floral tube of a flower with an inferior ovary; pomes have other peculiar characteristics, but the ones mentioned are sufficient to identify them.

Blueberries, cranberries, gooseberries, currants and bananas are all false berries, a fruit that forms from a flower with an inferior ovary; in these, the basal portions of the stamen, sepals and petals can ripen to form part of the fruit.

Melons (all muskmellons and watermelons), gourds (pumpkins and squash), and cucumbers are pepoes, a subset of false berries of the Cucurbitaceae family, bearing flowers with an inferior, unilocular ovary.

Strawberries and cashews are examples of accessory fruit, those in which the fleshy part of the fruit is derived not from the ovary, but from some adjacent part(s) of the flower. In fact, they are technically false berries, but ones in which their seeds are outside the fruit (think of the strawberry's seeds spaced around its skin; the cashew nut hangs below and outside the cashew fruit).

The fig is a specialized type of accessory fruit called a syconium -- a bulb-shaped, inversed flower cluster. The actual fruits are the flowers on the inner surface of the cluster, their ripe petals forming the part we think if as the flesh, and their seeds at the petal tips (outside the fruits, but at the center of the inversed bulb).

There are several others that come to mind, but one reaches a point where it just doesn't matter all that much to split hairs any further. Besides, the nomenclature of fruit you have rarely determines how you will ferment it into wine. And in truth, most of us, despite what we may know, will continue to think of tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplants as vegetables, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries as berries, apples, bananas and oranges as fruit, and pumpkins and rose hips as something else -- we're not quite sure what.




February 24th, 2007

A kid down the street came and showed me an arrowhead he found in the fallow acreage behind our properties. He had been looking for horned lizards (we called them "horny toads" when I was a kid) because his dad had told him there used to be a lot of them around here but they're gone now, victims of encroaching fire ants. He decided to find one. Instead, he found the arrowhead.

His tale reminded me of something. Like the kid down the street, I really don't like being told something isn't where it ought to be.

Dr. Barry Comeaux and I are working on an article on the distribution of native grapes in Texas. Our starting point was the 12,000-plus specimens of pressed grape vines Barry has collected over the past 29 or so years, plus herbaria specimens scattered around Texas. After we mapped the 15 species naturally located in the Lone Star State (okay, five are sub-specie varieties), I looked at the map for Vitis mustangensis and saw several counties I was sure the mustang grape resided in, but two in particular were within an hour and a half to two hours drive. One weekend I took off to find it in those two counties.

I found it in abundance eight miles inside one county, although the second county proved a real challenge. For six hours I drove the highways and back roads searching for the grape without success, but I was sure it had to be there. Late in the day I was crossing a bridge over a deep creek bed and spotted a tree about a half-mile up the creek that was covered in vine. I knew immediately by the color of the leaves it was mustang grape, but it took quite a hike to reach it and collect samples for pressing.

There are seven more counties I think provide residence to the mustang. Three of these are within two to two and a half hours drive. One is about four hours away, and three are about six hours distant. Unfortunately, the counties are not lined up for a single dash. I figure I can cover them in three day-trips and two over-nighters. But the vines are dormant right now and I'll have to await new leaf before I can venture out to find them. Since the article is fairly well finished, even if I find the grape in those counties it likely will be too late to include them in the distribution map.

But in the article we present the challenge of asking readers who know of a grape's existence in a county we missed to notify us of the location of the stand so we can go collect specimens. In other words, we want to be proven wrong so we can better map the various grapes' distributions.

We had two real disappointments in writing the article.

One grape that was widely reported to exist 100 years ago could not be found in the state. Looking especially where Thomas V. Munson said it was in his seminal Foundations of American Grape Culture (1909), we struck out. A combination of cattle grazing, three lengthy droughts, and over-zealous state and county highway crews appear to have eradicated Vitis riparia from Texas, but oh how I hope we are wrong! I would love for someone to write me and say it's growing in some gulches on their deer lease.

The second disappointment was Vitis rupestris. Munson reported this grape growing "abundantly" in central to southwestern Texas down to the Rio Grande, with Llano County being at the center of this distribution. Despite serious looking, we could find it only in Val Verde County, at the southwestern extremity of this prior distribution. The only confirming herbaria specimens we located were also from this county. This indicates serious decline even if isolated examples of it still exist in a couple of counties where we missed it.

Pinot Grigio Wine

A fellow wrote me about 10-11 days ago asking for a Pinot Grigio recipe. He didn't say whether he wanted to use grapes or juice, so I'm posting the recipe for using juice. If he has grapes, he'll have to crush and press them or adapt. This grape is also called Pinot Gris and Rulander (in Germany). This recipe makes 5 gallons

  • 5 gallons Pinot Grigio juice
  • 3 ½ tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet Red Star Premier Cuveé yeast

A good 4-6 hours before you think you'll need it, make a yeast starter with a half-cup of juice and a half-cup of warm water; sprinkle the dry yeast on top, cover with a cloth or napkin, and set aside without stirring. Then go do some chores. Return at the appropriate hour and measure the specific gravity of the juice. If low in sugar, add sufficient sweetness to bring the s.g. up to around 1.085 to 1.090. Stir in the yeast nutrient and transfer the must to a 6-gallon carboy. Add the activated yeast starter. Cover the carboy with cloth or a napkin held in place with a rubberband. Set aside for 2-3 days, being watchful for signs of vigorous fermentation. When vigor is confirmed, wait 8 hours and cap carboy with an airlock. Let ferment until vigor subsides (4-9 additional days) and transfer to a 5-gallon carboy. Attach airlock and set aside 30 days. Rack into sanitized carboy with ¼ tsp potassium metabisulfite. Rack every 30 days until clear (2-4 additional rackings), sulfiting every other time. Degas, stabilize with sulfite and potassium sorbate, sweeten to 1.002-1.008 (as preferred), set aside 30 days, and bottle if no fermentation is evident. Age 4-6 months before tasting. Drink within one year. [Author's own recipe]




March 4th, 2007

I've been working in the vineyard, replacing five vines that performed substandard for me. I replaced them with two vines of President, two of Brilliant and one of Bailey Alicante. I am uncertain of the development of President, but Brilliant was developed by the late and great Thomas V. Munson of Dennison, Texas over a century ago. The third is a cross with one of Munson's other vines (Bailey).

President is a seedling of Herbert. My wife and I tasted this grape on the vine at the Munson Memorial Vineyard in Dennison a few years back. It was delicious, fruiting in a medium compact cluster of large, black berries. The vine was strong, healthy and prolific, with perfect flowers. Upon tasting this grape, I could only imagine the wine it would make. I hope to find out in two years.

Brilliant was developed in 1883, the result of a cross between Lindley and Delaware. The vine endures 15 below zero weather and Munson claimed it endues both heat and drought. Since I know the vine was grown for years slightly south and west of here, I expect it to do well in Pleasanton. It produces large, cylindrical clusters with large, red berries that are both delicious and make a good wine. Although I have misplaced my notes, I know this grape was successfully crossed with muscadine and that every red (not black or purple) muscadine has some Brilliant in its ancestry. I ordered this vine about 7-8 years ago from the National Clonal Germplasm Repository at Geneva, New York and received another grape by mistake. That vine grew well and I shared cuttings with several members of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild before we identified the actual grape. This time I received my cuttings from Dennison.

Bailey was developed in 1886 by crossing Big Berry and Triumph. Clusters are large to very large, cylindrical or branching, generally compact. The large, black berries are quite delicious. The cross with Alicante should yield a more wine-worthy grape and I have high hopes for it. Last year the cuttings rooted well and as winter approached the leaves turned a brilliant red. If nothing else, they will add color to the vineyard.

You can read about Munson's grapes in his classic Foundations of American Grape Culture (see link at the end of this post).

Tamarind Wine

Loyal readers will recall that I began a tamarind wine on December 30th, 2004. In my WineBlog entry of May 17th, 2005 I published a recipe for tamarind wine from the About Mead website (Mead Lover's Digest #779), but never posted my own recipe. I have now received two requests for my recipe and will post it here. Before I do I'd like to say that this wine turned out very well -- far better than its placement in competition might lead one to believe. It only placed third, but it was beat by two excellent wines made by Luke Clark of Leesville, Louisiana. I am not at all disappointed in its placement when I consider the two excellent wines that beat it.

  • 12 oz. tamarind pods
  • 2 lb. sugar
  • 1 gallon plus 1 pint water
  • 1 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet Unican Hock wine yeast

Separate the pod from the pulp-encased seeds inside. Pulp is sticky, but manageable. Do not try to separate pulp from seeds. Simmer pulp in 1 quart of water for 15 minutes. Strain liquid from pulp and discard the latter. In primary, combine sugar with liquid and stir until dissolved. Add remaining water and set aside to cool. When room temperature, add the pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Cover primary and set aside 12 hours. Add activated yeast as a starter solution and recover primary. Set aside until active fermentation starts and subsides (7-10 days) and transfer to secondary. Top up if required and attach airlock. Rack, top up and reattach airlock every 30 days until wine clears. Sulfite at first racking and every other one. Stabilize wine, sweeten to taste and set aside additional 30 days. If fermentation does not restart (it shouldn't), degas and bottle wine. Wait three months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]




March 10th, 2007

I don't know why hydrometers and specific gravity are difficult for some people to fathom. They are essential in making good wine and monitoring yeast fermentation. As I think back, I know I struggled with them for a short time, but I also struggled with learning to drive a stick-shift automobile -- but only for a short while. Once I started driving, it all fell into place and became automatic. I think the same thing holds for specific gravity. One has to work with it on a regular basis to gain comfort in using it to tell you what is happening.

When I first started using a hydrometer, the only winemaking book I owned was C. J. J. Berry's First Steps in Wine Making. It contained a hydrometer table that was okay for predicting potential alcohol, but it was calibrated for Imperial gallons and so the sugar measures were off for American gallons. Whenever I wanted to know how much sugar to add to attain a certain s.g., I had to calculate the amount based on the conversion of Imperial gallons to American ones and use the ratio to convert the sugar weights in Berry's hydrometer table. After doing this several times by hand, I bought a calculator and converted the whole table one evening. My conversion is posted on my web site to this day.

One of the difficulties in working with specific gravity is that there are several hydrometer tables out there that differ. Why this is so escapes me, but it is a fact. For example, Peter Brehm has a hydrometer table on his website that claims an s.g. of 1.0838 contains 12% potential alcohol. Honeycreek Vineyards has a table that claims an s.g. of 1,090 contains 12% potential alcohol. My table claims an s.g. of 1.088 contains 12% potential alcohol. Ben Rotter, on his Improved Winemaking website, has constructed a table that reports the potential alcohol calculations of 5 different models (formulas), a most impressive and appreciated service to us all. So which one is correct? According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture document I have, none of them are absolutely correct, but my table is very close to accurate. The USDA claims that 12% potential alcohol falls somewhere between 1.088 and 1.090, so take your pick. Despite the differences in tables, if you pick one and use it, you'll at least know what is happening with your yeast fermentation.

The hydrometer measures specific gravity. Some hydrometers measure other units, such as degrees Brix (or Balling), degrees Baumé, degrees Twaddle, or degrees Oeschle, but I use specific gravity and that's what I talk about on this website. Specific gravity (s.g.) is a measure of density of a liquid. Water has an s.g. of 1.000. Note that specific gravity is always written out to three decimal places. The s.g. of water isn't 1 or 1.0 or even 1.00 -- it's 1.000. If you dissolve anything heavier than water in the water, the density goes up. Dissolve a pound of sugar into a gallon of water and the specific gravity is 1.045. The magic number in winemaking is usually 1,088 or 1.090, as this will ferment out to 12% alcohol by volume

Suppose you mixed up a gallon of must of fruit juices, took a specific gravity reading, and discovered the gravity was 1.065. If you look at the specific gravity table below, you'll see that 1.065 contains 1 pound 7 ounces of dissolved sugar and, if fermented to dryness, will yield a wine with 8.6% alcohol by volume. Now, if you wanted to increase the specific gravity to yield 12% alcohol, simply look at the chart below at 1.090. This yield 12.2% alcohol, but that's close enough. The must requires 2 pounds of sugar to reach this level, so you need to add 9 ounces of sugar to go from 1 pound 7 ounces to 2 pounds even.

Hydrometer Table

After adding the sugar and stirring well to dissolve it, you pour some of the must into a hydrometer cylinder (test jar), ease the hydrometer into the must and give it a twist to spin it. This will knock any bubbles off the hydrometer and help stabilize the hydrometer away from the edge. Then you look level at the point where the surface of the must intersects the hydrometer and take a reading. See the drawing below to see how to do this correctly. The reading should be 1.090.

Reading aYour Hydrometer

After you finish preparing the must and inoculate it with yeast, fermentation will start and become quite vigorous. When the vigorous fermentation subsides, take another reading. It should be below 1.020 -- probably closer to 1.010. Transfer the wine to a secondary, attach an airlock, and let the fermentation finish. When all signs of fermentation have ceased and you have racked the wine twice (at 30-day intervals), take another hydrometer reading. It should now be below 1.000 -- somewhere between 1.000 and 0.990. The reason it is lower than 1.000 is because alcohol is less dense than water. Tannins, pigments, pectins, acids, and other soluble solids in the wine raise the density, but the alcohol thins the wine and the overall result in a finished wine is usually a density less than 1.000. At this point, you may want to stabilize the wine and sweeten it. Here, too, the hydrometer helps. If you like a wine that is "just" sweet, sweeten it a little and take a reading. When the wine reads 1.008, it is at the threshold of sweetness.




March 14th, 2007

While I was writing my last WineBlog entry, I was watching "The Bourne Supremacy" on TV at the same time. I shouldn't do that, as my divided attention caused me to make a mistake. In my final paragraph, I wrote, "It should now be below 1.000 -- somewhere between 1.000 and 1.090." A reader caught this and notified me of the mistake.

That evening, while talking on the phone to my wife in California, I opened my editor, corrected the mistake, and sent the correction by FTP to my server. Or so I thought. The next morning I found an email from the same reader notifying me I had changed it to read, "It should now be below 1.000 -- somewhere between 1.000 and 0.090." I know of no liquid with an s.g. all the way down at 0.090. How embarrassing.

The entry is now corrected to read, "It should now be below 1.000 -- somewhere between 1.000 and 0.990," which is what I intended to write in the first place. But this goes to show you that one has to focus all of his or her attention to the task at hand when writing about or making wine. Otherwise, mistakes can creep in and spoil the effort.

Too Much Sulfite

I have received many letters over the years from people who mistakenly added a teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite to a gallon of wine thinking it was pectic enzyme or year nutrient or acid blend. In fact, this is probably the most common "oops" I'm informed of. So what do you do when this happens?

Wine yeast strains are much more tolerant of sulfites than are wild strains or baker's yeast strains, but they aren't that tolerant. So, before pitching the yeast, one has to get rid of the massive amount of excess free (unbound) sulfur in the must as sulfur dioxide (SO2). There are several ways to do this, but they all boil down to degassing the must.

If you have a small vacuum pump with gauge, you can pour the must into a carboy or jug and affix a piece of tubing from the pump to a fitting in a bung and run the vacuum pump to achieve a couple of atmospheres of negative pressure. This will slowly pull the SO2 from the must. A few hours later, start the pump and build the negative pressure back up. You may have to do this several times. When the negative pressure stops pulling SO2 from the must, remove the bung and use an SO2 test kit to determine the remaining concentration. When it drops to 100-120 ppm, it is usually safe to pitch the activated yeast in a starter solution.

If you don't have a vacuum pump, you can manually pour the must from one bucket to another to "knock" the SO2 out of the must. This will take a considerable amount of time. Due to inattentiveness, I have made the very same mistake (once) and I had to stop after pouring the must about 80 times. My arms just got very tired. After a rest, I continued and poured it back and forth another 30 or so times before a test revealed a reading of about 105 ppm. After that, I treated the must as though I had done nothing wrong.

Another Look at Specific Gravity Tables

When writing my last WineBlog entry, I used some tables for reference I had printed out and placed in a 3-ring binder, but I knew had left a second 3-ring binder with more tables in it on my desk at work. Having since looked at the material in the second binder, I've found examples of even greater disparity than I reported previously. But I also found a table from the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics that convinces me that the table posted on my site is pretty darned accurate - with a margin of error of about 1.59%. The CRC places a 12% potential alcohol level around a specific gravity of 1.08938. The reason we cannot be more definitive is because of the existence of nonfermentable dissolved solids in must.

I long ago realized there had to be some measure of specific gravity that represented nonfermentable dissolved solids such as phenols, acids and their salts, pigments, etc. In an experiment, I dissolved exactly two pounds of sugar in a gallon of water to achieve a specific gravity of 1.088, then I mixed a gallon of grape juice from concentrate and adjusted TA to .7%, added a teaspoon of yeast nutrient, and added sugar until the grape must also measured 1.088. I then fermented the two batches.

The grape must fermented fairly quickly, but the sweetened water lagged far behind - no nutrients, no acidity. In fact, it took nearly 4 months for the sweetened water to finish fermentation. I then tried to measure the results. I say tried because I was unable to do so. I did not have a hydrometer that measured low enough to get an accurate reading on the fermented sweet-water.

The specific gravity of alcohol is 0.791, while the s.g. of water is 1.000. If the potential alcohol of the sweet-water is 12% by volume, it stands to reason that 12% of it will have an s.g. of 0.791 and 88% will have an s.g. of 1.000. This calculates to a theoretical s.g. of 0.975, but my best hydrometer only went down to 0.985. My intent was to actually measure the difference between a sweet-water fermentation and a grape juice fermentation so as to calculate the actual difference in finished specific gravity, which would reveal the specific gravity value of the nonfermentable dissolved solids in the grape. But, because I could not calculate it, I turned to UC-Davis for an answer.

Somewhere among the information on their website at the time I found a figure of 1.5-1.7 Brix, which translates to a specific gravity value of about 0.006 to 0.007. I've played around with these numbers and, quite honestly, think they are too small. The grape must I fermented for the experiment finished at 0.990, and I've had wines ferment to as low as 0.988, but no lower. It therefore seems to me that the real number for nonfermentable dissolved solids ought to be around 3.4 Brix. I just haven't been able to prove it yet. I'll write more when I can....




March 20th, 2007

The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild met last Sunday at our home. Although my wife is in California, she was very much present and called during the meeting to see how things were going. They went fine. I served a brisket I had cooked on low heat from midnight last night until 1 p.m. today and carnitas I smoked over pecan for three hours. The other members brought the side dishes and desserts. Everyone brought wine.

I was not able to taste all of the wines brought today. I think I tasted 12. Let's count them. These ranged from homemade blackberry, blueberry, grapefruit, cantaloupe, the best mulberry wine I've ever tasted, Black Spanish (grape), Carlos (grape), an excellent mustang (grape), and at least three commercial wines -- including an exceptional Côtes du Rhône. Let's see...that makes 11. But before the guests arrived, I sampled a cranberry wine with Larry Lothringer, our First Vice President (we have two -- I am the Second V.P.). Last December Larry mentioned to me that he had 21 pounds of cranberries in his freezer, but has never gotten around to making them into wine. I volunteered to do the conversion for him. He gave me the cranberries in January and I went right to work.

Cranberry Wine
(makes 5 gallons)

  • 21 lb. whole cranberries
  • 8 lb. 4 oz. sugar
  • 3 3/4 gallons plus 1 pint water
  • 4 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 6 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp. potassium metabisulfite
  • 1 sachet Gervin Varietal D wine yeast

I allowed the berries to sit in their cooler overnight and the whole of the next day, thinking this was sufficient for them to thaw. Not! But I didn't discover this until I began running them through a food processor. That's when I discovered about two-thirds of them were still frozen. But, the food processor is a Magic Mill DLX and it does have power, so they eventually were reduced to 3 1/2 gallons of chopped cranberry bits. To these I added 2 3/4 gallons of hot water and, after an hour, 4 teaspoons of pectic enzyme. This was allowed to macerate in a 10-gallon primary for two days, at which time I dissolved 8 pounds 4 ounces of sugar and 6 teaspoons of yeast nutrient in a gallon of water and added this to the primary. I then added a yeast starter I had begun 20 hours earlier with Gervin Varietal D wine yeast. The must showed signs of vigorous fermentation within about 10 hours.

Vigorous fermentation proceeded for six days, then subsided notably. The sheer bulk of the pulp required an entire evening to strain, a quart at a time. I used the pulp to make 12 jars of cranberry jam, one gallon of a second wine, and the rest went into my compost pile. The wine went into a 5-gallon carboy and required about two cups of water to top up. Pretty good guesswork, I thought. I sulfited it at that time.

Today the wine is exactly three months old and has been racked twice. It is probably the best cranberry wine I've ever made. The color is exceptional, the gravity is just shy of sweet, the nose is unmistakably cranberry, and the finish is both smooth and long. I trust Larry will souvenir me a few bottles for my trouble, but even if he doesn't I still have the gallon of second wine and 10 of the 12 jars of very good jam. [Author's own recipe]

Cranberry Second Wine
(makes 1 gallon)

  • 6 lb. previously fermented cranberry pulp
  • 2 lb. sugar
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 1/4 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet

The second wine fermented from the yeast still in the pulp. Because the pulp still tasted strongly of cranberry, I did not initially add the acid and tannin. It took two days to achieve a vigorous fermentation and was done in a week -- specific gravity at that time was 0.998. After transferring to secondary, it showed no signs of continued fermentation, but still dropped to 0.994 in 30 days. This means it absorbed the CO2 subsequently created and so I degassed it at second racking while slowly adding one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. This wine is not quite as good as the first but is still nice. I will stabilize it in a week or so and sweeten it to 1.008 or thereabout. It won't beat the first wine I made for Larry, but it will hold its own against many others. [Author's own recipe]




March 24th, 2007

I don't like to visit the subject of the health benefits of moderate wine consumption too often -- notice I said "moderate" wine consumption -- because there is an awful lot of hype out there. If you read the popular press and alternative health blogs, you'll be left with the impression that red wine is a cure-all and preventative for everything from aging to viral infections. For a more realistic view, you have to read the science. I read science everyday in my day job, so when I get home I'd rather spend time with my wife and Springer Spaniel, or making wine, tending my grape vines, and reading about wine. But occasionally, I have to revisit the subject.

Potential Health Benefits of Red Wine Consumption

I was recently informed that every single link on my "Potential Health Benefits of Red Wine Consumption" page was dead -- the links no longer worked. This isn't really my fault. Every time I compile a new list for that page, I know while I am doing it that most, if not all, of the links will cease operating one day. This is because most websites rotate their content. If they post an article at all, they rarely do so with a URL that can be archived as-is -- that is to say, without changing the link. So, if they archive the article at all, which few of them actually do, they move it to a sub-directory that changes the URL. My link (and everyone else's, for that matter) no longer works. But, since it has been a while since I updated that page, I spent this morning doing so.

To update the page, I did three searches. The first used the title from the first article I had previously listed just to see if that article was still around. I couldn't find it, but I found many, many others. I listed but a few of these, then searched again using one word -- resveratrol. That search alone yielded over 1.6 million hits, so I looked at the first 100 of these and selected a few links to list. In all, from these two searches I culled 27 titles, which I placed in a table for your use. Then I went to PubMed Central. PMC is a huge database of articles from hundreds of medical journals and publications. Titles and abstracts are displayed for the public, but the articles themselves are usually only viewable by subscription or purchase. We subscribe to PMC at work, but I am not going to abuse that subscription here. Like copying copyrighted songs, movies or books without paying for the privilege, that would be criminal. You might think otherwise, but my ethics dictate my behavior. So, I searched PubMed's "free" articles. These can indeed be accessed and copied without payment to anyone as long as the copies are appropriately cited. I didn't copy them, but simply linked to them so you could read each entire article should you chose to do so. I listed 14 scientific articles from that source in a separate table.

The scientific articles do not paint nearly as rosy a picture as the more popular articles, press summations or blog entries. This should be expected. While science can be exciting, scientific papers -- especially medical ones -- usually are written in a style that is not. And, because these are largely medical research papers, they can only report what they, or others, have actually found. Speculation, while permitted, is minimumized. It is considered bad form to do otherwise. Finally, one has to realize that there is a huge body of medical evidence that supports the view that alcohol, especially in excess, is not good for your body. To suggest that moderate alcohol consumption might benefit the body flows against this traditional negative medical bias, so benefits are often down-played and/or cautiously qualified. Still, if you want to know the "real skinny," read the science.

Switching gears, I received an email asking how to make port. I explained that there are essentially two ways.

Making Port (unfortified)
(makes 1 gallon)

  • 15 lb. Black Spanish (Lenoir) grapes*
  • sugar to raise s.g. to 1.090
  • 2/3 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 sachet Lalvin K1-V1116 (Montpellier) wine yeast

*You can use any tannic black grape. I chose Black Spanish because it is available to me. If you use a larger grape (Black Spanish has small berries), you may need only 12 pounds of fruit.

Crush and destem the grapes and place them in primary. Add 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, cover the primary, and allow to sit 10-12 hours. Make a yeast starter and activate your yeast. Sprinkle pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient over surface, stir into grapes, recover the primary, and let sit another 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast starter and recover the primary. Check s.g. after four days and daily until it drops to 1.010. Strain and press grapes, combining free run and pressed juice in secondary, add 6 oz. sugar, stir well to dissolve, and attach airlock. Check s.g. daily and when back to 1.010 add 5 oz. sugar, stirring well to dissolve. Check s.g. daily and when again back to 1.010 add 5 oz. sugar and stir well to dissolve. You can repeat this one or two more times if fermentation appears strong. K1-V1116 yeast will ferment to 18-22% alcohol. When the fermentation finally stops and will not restart by adding more sugar, wait two weeks and rack. Stabilize wine and rack after additional 30 days. After additional 30 days, rack again and add another finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Wine should be clear. Sweeten to 1.020 or to your taste and set aside to age. You may oak this wine if desired at any time for up to 6 months, depending on your oaking method. After aging one year from last racking, bottle wine and set aside to bottle age another year at least. [Author's own recipe]

Making Port (fortified)
(makes 2 1/2 gallons)

  • 30 lb. Black Spanish (Lenoir) grapes*
  • sugar to raise s.g. to 1.103
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 2 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • 2 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 sachet Lalvin 71B-1122 (Narbonne) wine yeast

*Again, you can use any tannic black grape.

As before, crush and destem the grapes and place them in primary. Add 2 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablets, cover the primary, and allow to sit 10-12 hours. Make a yeast starter and activate your yeast. Sprinkle pectic enzyme over surface, stir into grapes, recover the primary, and let sit another 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast starter and recover the primary. After three days strain and press grapes, combine free run and pressed juice, and put in 2 1/2-gallon carboy. Add 8 oz. of sugar and stir well to dissolve Affix airlock and allow wine to ferment to dryness. Alcohol should be 14%, as 71B-1122 reliably ferments to 14%. Rack into clean 2 1/2 gallon carboy and top up with 80-proof brandy. Wine will now have 19" alcohol and almost 3% residual sugar. If you do not have 2 1/2-gallon carboys, double recipe and make 5 gallons, but you will be adding a gallon of brandy. Rack after 30 days and again 30 days later only if needed. You can oak before adding brandy or use oak essence. I have made this brandy twice and each time it was delightful after aging one year in bulk and two years in the bottle. [Author's own recipe]

The thing to remember with either method is to use grapes high in tannin and acid (at least 0.70% in acid). Otherwise the wine will not age well, and port has to be aged.




March 30th, 2007

How Sweet Are Your Fruit?

I was recently asked about the sweetness of fruit. The writer said he had moved into a home with nine cherry trees in the yard, both sweet and sour. He wanted to know what is an average to good Brix for their fruit. This reminded me of another email I've been sitting on that asked essentially the same thing about strawberries. I had answered this one, but saved it because I thought it would make a good topic for a WineBlog entry. The question about the cherries spurred me into action. I dug out three 3-ring binders I've filled with information on various fruit and started leafing through them. I have the averaqe value of the sugars posted on my site already, along with the averages for dozens of fruit and berries (see the links below), but I wanted to see if I could find a range of values like the requestors asked for.

Suddenly I found myself staring at a table on the Brix values of several dozen fruit. I vaguely recall seeing it before, but have no idea when or where I got it. Some days I go searching for information and copy nearly everything I find and stuff it in these binders. I have ten binders on information on native American grape species alone, plus another four dozen on wine yeast, the constituents of wine, health effects of wine, and research articles on both wine and grapes. Additionally, I have three shelves of winemaking books. I have a lot of information collected already, plus more is being added online every day. If I copied the pages directly from the internet, I have the web addresses printed across the bottom of each page. But occasionally, a web page or table is too wide to print on regular paper or is cluttered with extraneous ads, sidebars or otger stuff I don't want to print, so I copy it to Word and resize it for printing. In doing so, I lose the source information. It looks like that is the case here. I took a few minutes then to search my own document files to see if I saved the table and I did, so I converted the Word file into a web file and attached the source code for the table here.

Fruit Brix Range

FruitPoorAverageGoodExcellentAcid
Apple (Sour)6101418+Malic
Apple (Sweet)10141822+Malic
Apricot6121623+Malic
Banana8101214+Malic/Citric
Beet681014+-
Blackberry681416+Malic
Black Raspberry681416+-
Blueberry681215+Citric
Cantaloupe8121416+-
Casaba Melon8101214+-
Cherry (Sour)681416+Malic
Cherry (Sweet)10162025+Malic
Cranberry1.012-1.018 3-56-2030Citric/Malic
Coconut8101214+-
Black Currant1.015-1.079 4-1920-2829-48Citric
Red Currant1.011-1.0243-69-16 21-31Citric
Elderberry1.030-1.0467-1112-2023Citric
Fig1.06046-1015 Malic
Gooseberry1.032-1.0608-1516-2021-24Citric
Grape (Table)8121620+Tartaric/Malic
Grape (Wine)12162026+Tartaric/Malic
Grapefruit6101418+Citric
Guava1.026-1.0477-1114-20--
Honeydew8101214+-
Kiwi8121418+Citric
Kumquat46810+Citric
Lemon46812+Citric
Lime46812+Citric
Litchi1.06935-1117-
Loganberry681416+Malic/Citric
Mango461014+-
Nectarine6121620+Malic
Orange6121620+Citric
Papaya6101822+-
Passionfruit1.018-1.0913-910-2123-30Malic
Peach6121620+Malic
Pear6121620+Malic
Persimmon1.0562-414--
Pineapple12142024+-
Plum6121620+Malic
Pomegranate1.05271213-
Raisin60707580+Tartaric/Malic
Raspberry681416+Citric
Rowanberry1.009-1.0242.5-6.58-21 23.0-38.3Malic
Rutabagas461012+-
Squash681216+-
Strawberry6101416+Citric
Sloe1.026-1.0477-1213-2527.5-38.3Malic
Tomato (Slicing)46812+-
Tomato (Cherry)10141622+-
Watermelon8121416+-

I had to delete 5 different entries on this table because the data were incomplete or missing. Still, I see some surprising numbers. Look at Black Currants, for example. Can you imagine eating a berry with a Brix of 48? Also, (this was not nearly as surprising to me) look at Raisins. This is the reason that bringing a must to 1.080 specific gravity and then adding a pound of chopped raisins will result in a high alcohol (16+%) wine.

Old Hydrometers

A few months back a lady wrote to me about some winemaking equipment she was given by her late father. Some of it was simply too old to be useful -- chemicals, corks, racking hose, some of the bungs which have become hard -- but some of it still has utility. Her biggest curiosity, however, as the hydrometer that would not read 1.000 in water carefully brought to 60 degrees F.

I explained to her that really old hydrometers were calibrated at 4 degrees C. (39 degrees F.). Then the calibration changed to 15 degrees C. (59 degrees F.) and stayed that way for half a century. Today, most hydrometers are calibrated to 20 degrees C. (68 degrees F.), at which temperature distilled water should measure a specific gravity of exactly 1.000. She discovered that indeed the hydrometer calibrated at about 40 degrees F. She also learned from her mother that the hydrometer was really old -- it had been given to her father by his father.




April 1st, 2007

I don't like posting on April 1st. Some might not take it seriously, and yet the subject chosen is very serious -- wine stability. This is too often a concern of winemakers only after a stability problem has surfaced. There are different kinds of instability, and for this reason there are different treatments or, with a view to prevention of instability, pretreatments. Wine may be physically, chemically or biologically unstable.

Physical Instability

An example of physical instability is a wine that is clear but not brilliant due to suspended yeast or microscopic particles of organic base material - pulp - and the associated proteins, peptides, pigments, tannins, and other compounds in suspension. Wines maintained at warm or tepid temperatures can resist settling for months or even years.

During my early period of winemaking I was also going through a period of excessive frugality. I maintained my home at 80-82 degrees F. during the warmest months to reduce the costs associated with air conditionings. I soon discovered that my wines simply would not fall brilliant. A fine dusting of material would appear on the bottoms of the secondaries and I would rack them, only to see another fine dusting appear within weeks. I finally succumbed to the lure of Bentonite fining to remove the proteins and peptides and gelatin fining to remove the rest. During late fall and winter, my wines did not exhibit these clearing problems. The little light in my head finally clicked on....

Chemical Instability

An example of chemical instability is tartrate instability. In mature grapes, the dominate acid is tartaric and the most prominent cation is potassium. Significant concentrations of potassium tartrate form in the juice and pose no problem until the juice has been fermented. Then, alcohol content leads to super concentrations which do pose a potential precipitation problem if the wines is subsequently chilled. Chilling the bulk wine nearly to its freezing point will cause the potassium tartrate crystals to precipitate under controlled conditions where it can be separated from the wine before bottling.

On various discussion forums I have seen the advice given to chill the wine for "a few days." This is inadequate. Even at 20 degrees F., potassium tartrate crystal formation could take a week to commence and could continue for several weeks. When you suspect crystal formation has ceased, rack the wine while still cold and reinsert it into the chiller for another two weeks. If no new crystals have formed, it is probably finished. But if any appear, leave the wine in the chiller another month.

Colloidal compounds can prevent the wine from dropping potassium tartrate crystals even after prolonged chilling. One might think this stabilizes the wine against this problem, but colloids deteriorate over time, rendering the wine unstable. In such cases, a portion of the wine is removed and ion exchange treatment removes the potassium from it. When the treated portion is integrated back into the bulk wine, the whole bulk is rendered tartrate stable. Such a treatment is usually beyond the means of the home winemaker, but many commercial laboratories can perform the treatment for you. It may simply be cost prohibitive.

One of the most troubling chemical instabilities is a nebulous term called "protein instability" or "protein cloudiness." The reason it is so troublesome is that it is difficult to pinpoint without advanced laboratory investigation.

Proteins serve as nuclei for other activities in much the same way as silver nitrate molecules serve as "seeds" in clouds to produce rain. To these protein nuclei form salt, iron, copper, tin and other trace metal deposits, albeit very small. To the eye, they appear as hazes or cloudiness that will not settle no matter how patient the winemaker is.

Heat, followed by cold stabilization and Bentonite fining and possibly filtration may be required, but in the case of colloidal metal complexes, called casse, additional treatment(s) may be required.

It has long been known that simple yeast fermentation removes most of the heavy metals originating in the vineyard - up to 70% of the iron and 90% of the copper. Judicious use of stainless steel or coated metal in all contacts with the grapes or must will eliminate outside contamination. Such elimination is desirous not only from an aesthetic point of view from cloudiness or sedimentation, but also due to the strong oxidative and catalytic properties these metals possess that influence flavor.

The removal of metallic hazes and cloudiness is beyond the scope I am prepared to delve in today. Since these conditions are almost certainly caused by metal contamination during harvesting, processing, fermentation, or post- fermentation handling, it is easily eliminated by thorough investigation and action.

Oxidation is the final form of chemical instability. Color changes due to oxidation is known as oxidasic casse. There is no known way to stabilize a wine against this condition, but certainly its onset can be dramatically postponed by following good winemaking procedures, foremost of which is the appropriate use of sulfites. The other procedures are eliminating or minimizing aeration during racking, clarification, filtration, aging, blending, and bottling operations.

I corresponded with a winemaker from Michigan who boasted that he had tasted his wine every day following the first week of fermentation and actually recorded its flavor improvement in a rather tedious journal. His concern was that the wine was starting to turn brown and smell and taste oxidized after only 95 days. Well, duh! He unnecessarily exposed it to oxygen at least 88 times in order to taste it. Why wouldn't it oxidize quickly?

Biological Instability

Biological instability can take many forms - acetobacter contamination, lactic acid bacterial contamination, spoilage bacterial contamination, and contamination by undesirable yeast. All of these can be prevented by the appropriate application of sulfites. Correcting the problem and saving the wine after contamination can be difficult to impossible.

Acetic acid is a normal by-product of yeast fermentation. Almost all young wines contain 0.005 to 0.03 grams of acetic acid per 100 mL. More than that is considered contamination by acetobacter - acetic acid-producing bacteria - post-fermentation. Since a septic application of sulfites will kill all known strains of acetobacter, it is easy enough to prevent. But even if one forgets to maintain a septic level of SO2, the bacteria require a rather large amount of oxygen to oxidize ethyl alcohol into acetic acid. Keeping tanks, barrels and carboys topped up denies it the oxygen it requires. Filling bottles to within 1/2 inch of the inserted cork will prevent bottled wines from becoming overly acetic. Finally, if one decides to purposefully make vinegar, the "mother" culture should never be opened in the same room where wine will be made or exposed to the air while being made.

It turns out that there are many bacteria which produce lactic acid, but only a small number that convert malic acid into lactic and also produce carbon dioxide through the decarboxylation of malic to lactic. Those few can be useful; all others can produce spoilage. In terms of need, only wines made in cooler regions from grapes with an excessive amount of malic acid are actually improved by MLF, and even that improvement is often imperceptible. Tasting panels have never consistently been able to discern which wines had undergone MLF, and UC-Davis researchers long ago concluded that most wines made under California conditions would be adversely affected by MLF rather than improved. Despite this evidence, MLF is still the rage among home winemakers influenced by articles and books that fail to tell the whole story. For these reasons (and some others), I rarely subject my wines to MLF. Indeed, one of the reasons I sulfite my musts early is to prevent it from occurring.

Both spoilage bacteria and undesirable yeasts are easily discouraged by the application of 100-125 ppm of sulfites at crush and before inoculation with a desirable yeast culture. Early racking will remove many of the attractants of spoilage bacteria, while a polishing and sterile filtration before bottling will remove both residual yeast and bacteria, while scrupulous sanitation procedures will prevent new contaminations.




April 10th, 2007

I consider myself very lucky. The Easter weekend freeze that roared down from Canada dipped all the way into South-Central Texas and stopped at the city limits of San Antonio. Only thirty miles south of the Alamo City, my thermometer only dipped to 40 degrees F. My grapevines, now flush with leaves and flowers, were spared.

Many friends were not so lucky, and for them I feel very bad. For some it was the second or third year to receive a post-bud break freeze which, for those of you who do not grow grapes, probably means no grapes this year. The vines will recover. Beneath every bud lies the seed for a second (and usually a third) bud, which will be triggered into growth and will push a length of new vine. The problem is that most secondary buds will not push a fruit-bearing vine, so they will not bear grapes this year.

Nine years ago I planted some vines on my back property behind my yard. Cutter ants discovered them and in one day cut every leaf from every vine. I nervously waited while the vines' secondary buds swelled and then broke into leaf, only to be devoured several weeks later by a ravaging population of young grasshoppers. The days were now hot and I thought the vines would die. Without leaves they could not produce the energy they needed. I watered them profusely and and fed them liquid plant food, hoping to help them survive. It took perhaps two weeks for the tertiary buds to swell, break and produce fledgling shoots of new vine growth. Then the grasshoppers returned, all grown up, and that was the end of that. With no more buds to push, the vines died.

My Texas friends probably will not have much fruit this year. Primary buds that were pushing late might survive and produce a few fruiting canes, but for the most part they will be growing vine for next year's buds. My friends much farther north had largely not yet experienced bud break. For them there is hope. I wish them all well.

Wine Bottles

I was recently asked about bottle sizes and if the various sizes have names. I pointed the person to my "Glossary of Winemaking Terms" to look up "Bottle." The very next email I opened asked how the bottle called Winston got its name. It was a special bottle created by Pol Roger especially for Sir Winston Churchill and held 20 fluid ounces, or 600 mL (an Imperial pint). A bottle of this was served to Sir Winston by his butler at 11 a.m. as he was getting up.

These two questions convinced me that I ought to at least mention wine bottle sizes here. The most common wine bottle size worldwide is 750 mL, but it is not standard everywhere. Some German wine bottles are a liter, some are 700 mL, while some from Alsace are 720 mL. Every wine bottle consists of a mouth, neck, ogive or shoulder, body, and bottom. The bottom may contain a concave indention, the term for which is a punt. Some almost standard names for different size wine bottles are:

  • Sample: 175 mL
  • Split (Sparkling): 187 mL
  • Picolo: 187 mL
  • Chopine: 250 mL
  • Half-Bottle, Demi, Split (still wine): 375 mL
  • Pot: 500 mL (Beaujolais table bottle)
  • Winston: 600 mL
  • Clavelin: 620 mL (Jura bottle)
  • Bottle, Standard: 750 mL
  • Magnum: 1.5 litres
  • Tregnum, Marie Jean: 2.25 litres
  • Double-Magnum: 3 litres (Bordeaux shaped)
  • Jeroboam (Sparkling): 3 litres (Burgundy shaped)
  • Jeroboam (Still): 4.5 to 5 litres (Bordeaux shaped)
  • Rehoboam: 4.5 litres
  • Imperial (Still): 6 litres (Bordeaux shaped)
  • Methusalah (Sparkling): 6 litres (Burgundy shaped)
  • Salmanazar: 9 litres (Bordeaux shaped)
  • Balthazar (Sparkling): 12 litres (Burgundy shaped)
  • Nebuchadnezzar (Sparkling): 15 litres (Burgundy shaped)
  • Melchior: 18 litres
  • Solomon: 20 litres
  • Sovereign: 25 liters
  • Primat: 27 litres
  • Melchizedek: 30 litres

Sweeting Finished Wines

If you want to sweeten a finished and stabilized wine before bottling, there are several different ways to do this.

One way is to use a "sweet reserve," some of the original, unfermented juice that was aside for this purpose -- usually by freezing it. We're talking about juice with a healthy Brix. After the juice is thawed, it is allowed to settle any organic sediment. Fining helps. Then it is racked and the clear juice added to the finished wine.

Another way is to add honey to the wine. This yields mixed results. If the honey is exceptionally high-grade and very clear, there usually is no problem. But if not, the pollen in the honey could cloud the wine, requiring additional clarification. But try the honey with a sample of the wine before sweetening the whole batch. Some wines simply do not taste right with honey in them -- especially strongly flavored varietal honeys.

The most common way among home winemakers is to add a strong sugar syrup. By strong I mean two parts sugar dissolved in one part water or wine. A reader recently wrote me expressing concern that the amount of stirring required to dissolve granulated sugar in wine might introduce too much oxygen to the wine. In my reply, I made two suggestions.

First, if the wine was properly sulfited, oxygen intake will be minimized. Second, if you use bar sugar (a.k.a. ultrafine or superfine), minimum stirring will be required. This is expensive sugar, I'll admit, when compared to regular granulated, but it is the quickest dissolving granulated sugar you can buy. Today I bought a 4-pound carton of ultrafine sugar for about 50 cents more than a 4-pound bag of regular granulated. The product I bought is called Baker's Sugar and is sold under the brand name "C&H Professional." I have bought this product before and it dissolves very quickly.

Lastly, a warning. Do not use powdered sugar to sweeten wine. It contains corn starch to keep the sugar powder from clumping together and corn starch in your wine will cause a problem you don't need.




April 21st, 2007

I was recently asked about a product called Biolees, produced by Laffort. It seems to me that I wrote about it before, but perhaps it was just on my "Winemaking Additives and Cleansers" page. I can't seem to find any other reference to it on my site.

Biolees

The practice of lees aging (sur lie) and stirring (batonage) is very old and long known to increase the perception sweetness and reduce the perception of acidity and phenolic bitterness in both white and red wines. The scientific mechanisms behind this process were not understood until recently.

Extensive research, sponsored by Laffort Oenologie, was undertaken to determine exactly what was responsible for the positive sensory impact during yeast autolysis. The original research work was directed by SARCO and the Bordeaux Institute of Enology. It was subsequently demonstrated that the enhanced mouthfeel character is due to a specific group of peptides released during autolysis of dead yeast cells. These naturally occurring peptides add a sweetening effect while improving overall mouthfeel. These characteristics were reported as significant at threshold levels as low as 16 ppm.

Laffort Oenologie continued this work and further investigated how these peptides could be isolated and extracted from yeast. This effort resulted in the production of Biolees. Biolees can be added during primary fermentation or toward the end of malolactic fermentation. In addition to nutritive benefits, when added at the later stage, it can provide a similar positive sensory impact to sur lie aging and batonage while greatly reducing time and labor. In 3-5 weeks Biolees can impart a perception of sweetness and mouthfeel that would normally take a few months of barrel aging and stirring to achieve. Its use also improves the balance of wines and eliminates specific harsh phenolics in a manner similar to sur lie aging.

Lab trials are always recommended to determine the best dosage and the treatment time needed. Open bags should be used up rapidly but sealed bags have a 3 year shelf-life. Biolees should be stored in a dry, odorless environment at 32 to 72 degrees F.

Yeast for Fruit Wines and Meads

Another reader wrote asking about some of my yeast recommendations. He noted that I often recommend yeasts not obtainable in the United States - brands like Gervin, Unican, SB, and others. So, he asks, are there other yeasts I would recommend?

Fair question, but let me first say a couple of things about the yeasts I use. Every yeast I use today was obtained via internet order from my home. On my page entitled "Strains of Wine Yeast" I give links to where these yeasts can be obtained. I can understand that you may not want to incur the expense of ordering yeast from England, but you must if you want to try some of these excellent yeasts. Having said that, I'll admit that some of those very strains are available in the U.S. under different names. I have an ongoing project to cross-reference all the strains, but some manufacturers are reluctant to identify their strains in such a way as to make cross-reference possible. So, instead of trying to give you an alternative yeast strain for one obtainable in England, I'll simply list the strains widely marketed in North America that I consider best suited for making fruit wines (I'll do the same for meads) and encourage you to go to my "Strains of Wine Yeast" page and determine for yourself which should be used for which wines. This is the best way to become knowledgeable about the various strains.

For fruit wines, I like Lalvin's 71B-1122 (Narbonne), DV10, EC-1118 (Prise de Mousse), K1-V1116 (Montpellier), R2, and W15; Red Star's Côte des Blancs, Montrachet, and Premier Curvee; and Laffort's Actiflore C (Strain F33) and Zymaflore VL1. These each impart particular characteristics best suited for certain fruit and not others. For those who question inclusion of Montrachet, I'll simply say that it is an extremely fast and reliable yeast, and there are many fruit that spoil quickly if not fermented cold or very quickly.

For meads, I particularly like Lalvin's DV10, EC-1118 (Prise de Mousse), and K1-V1116 (Montpellier); Red Star's Premier Curvee; and Laffort's Actiflore C (Strain F33). While I have used White Labs' WLP720 Sweet Mead/Wine Yeast with very good results, I am simply partial to active dry yeasts because of their longer shelf life and quicker activation time.

Now you know....




April 24th, 2007

I saw a product at the supermarket - maraschino cherry syrup - and scanned the list of ingredients. The only preservatives listed were citric acid (yes, citric acid is a preservative) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). So, I decided to attempt making a wine with it. I bought two bottles and headed home.

Attempting a hydrometer reading was, well, laughable. The hydrometer floated so high the bulb bare got wet. I began diluting with water and eventually determined the actual syrup had a specific gravity between 1.180 and 1.200. In time, I prepared 4 liters of must with a TA of 6.0 g/L, a pH of 3.45, a specific gravity of 1.085, and 50 ppm of SO2. I added yeast nutrient and a thin pinch of yeast energizer. While I was doing this, I had a yeast starter solution going and let it continue for about six hours before adding to the must.

The next day a thin foam had appeared on the surface and by that evening was dense enough that I capped the jug with an airlock. It started pushing bubbles within 6-8 seconds and they were encouragingly regular. I expected increased frequency the next morning but it looked the same. I timed them and got 28 bubbles per minute, not exactly vigorous but sufficient. I went to work. When I got home they looked slower. I timed them again and found they were pushing at only 22 per minute. Later that evening, they had slowed to 20 per minute. I removed the airlock and stirred the must to aerate it, then covered it with a paper napkin held by a rubber band. I ignored it the next morning and went to work. When I got home I reattached the airlock and waited and waited and waited. When it finally started passing bubbles, they were at a slow 3 per minute. Uh-oh.

Undisclosed Ingredient

That night I started another yeast starter solution and added it in the morning before leaving for work. Later that morning, I Googled the syrup's brand name and found a toll-free customer service number. I called and asked about their cherry syrup, explaining that I suspected it contained an unlisted ingredient, sorbic acid. After two transfers, I spoke with a gentleman who said no, there was no sorbic acid in the syrup. I was about to protest that the syrup resisted fermentation, suggesting sorbic acid, when the man said, "But I see that we did leave one ingredient off the list - in error, I assume." "And what would that be?" I asked. He said, "Benzoic acid."

For those not familiar with these chemicals, sorbic acid results from its salt, potassium sorbate, and renders yeast cells incapable of budding -- reproduction. It has widely replaced benzoic acid, which results from its salt, sodium benzoate, and has the same effect on yeast. I had 4 liters of non-fermentable must at home sitting on my kitchen counter.

As I thought about this turn of events, I recalled an article I had found and printed out some time ago from Finland. When I got home, I airlocked the must and it pushed 22 bubbles per minute. I noted that and went looking through stacks of scientific papers until I found "Preparation of Fermentable Lingonberry Juice through Removal of Benzoic Acid by Saccharomyces cerevisiae Yeast."

Lingonberries are one of six northern wild berries that naturally contain concentrations of benzoic acid; the others are bilberries, cranberries, cloudberries, red raspberries, and black crowberries. Five cultivated berries also contain natural concentrations of benzoic acid -- black currant, white currant, red currant, red gooseberries, and strawberries. Of these eleven berries, only lingonberries contain enough benzoic acid to resist fermentation. I sat back and read the article.

Removing Benzoic Acid

The article explains a method of removing benzoic acid by suspending Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast in it under low pH conditions. At pH levels below 3.0, the protonated form of benzoic acid predominates. The lipophilic character of protonated benzoic acid enables its penetration through the cytoplasmic membrane into the yeast cells, where it is ionized, releases a proton, and the released proton is excreted from the cell. Benzoate ions are also driven from the cells by an electrochemical gradient, but once outside the cell they are again protonated and the cycle started again.

If the cycle can be interrupted when the benzoic acid is inside the yeast cells -- interrupted by removing the cells -- the benzoic acid can be reduced to a level that allows fermentation. For lingonberries, the benzoic acid has to be reduced to 1/6th its natural concentration, but I have no way to measure the benzoic acidity of my must and therefore have no idea how much I would have to reduce it. Also, I have neither the home laboratory nor the chemicals required to strictly follow the procedures in the article. Still, I understood the concept and thought I could manage it -- or at least try.

My immediate first step was to increase acidity and lower pH, which I did using tartaric acid because I can later remove it, but I only lowered the pH to 3.08 due to taste. Next, I had to refrigerate the restarted must and allow it to again stop fermenting, which it essentially did in two days at 40 degrees F. After another five days, I racked the must off the growing layer of yeast lees. I then activated two tablespoons of bakers yeast and after 30 minutes suspended that into the must. In the procedure in the paper, the must would be centrifuged after only 10 minutes of suspension. I could not do that, so I simply allowed the yeast to settle out over seven days and again racked it off the lees. I then filtered the must through a MiniJet to remove residual bakers yeast. I was now down to 3 liters of must and decided to test it for fermentability.

Restarting the Must

I used Montrachet yeast and made a starter solution which I allowed to build for 16 hours to get a huge culture. During the last 8 hours of starter culturing I removed the must from the refrigerator and allowed it to assume 70 degrees F. room temperature. I then inoculated the must and prayed.

I did not airlock the jug for 48 hours, but when I did I noted it was pushing 18 bubbles per minute. Six hours later it was up to 23 bubbles per minute. Twenty-one hours later fermentation was vigorous at 68 bubbles per minute.

Fermentation continues....




May 2nd, 2007

The WineBlog was down for three days, having crashed while trying to upload this entry. Internet America apologizes for losing its Pleasanton connection.

This past Sunday was the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's 2007 Spring Competition. I entered ten wines and took six places, including Best of Show (Non-Grape) and runner-up (Honorable Mention) to Best of Show (Grape). But I am not writing this entry to boast my own wines. Rather, I'm writing to discuss an aspect of judging that came up Sunday.

We encourage the use of both novice and apprentice judges. Novice judges are those who know something about wine but have not taken any of the tests for certification. Apprentice judges are those who have passed at least one of the certification tests. We use these folks as competition judges both to help train them and because we never seem to have enough certified judges. Sunday we enlisted the services of two novices. I had the pleasure of judging one category with such a novice. She did well, but had a little trouble judging wine color.

Judging Wine Color

I once wrote a paper on judging color and spent about four pages discussing the way we perceive color through the 6 million cones in the human eye, each of which perceives either blue, green or red wavelengths. While I like what I wrote, it really isn't necessary to know that much in order to judge the appropriateness of a wine's color. But we should like the judge to know something about color.

Sunlight contains all the colors we can perceive. When sunlight passes through a prism, five clearly discernable hues emerge in a rainbow of red, yellow, green, blue, and purple. These are the five true colors the eye can discern and recognize. All other hues are mixtures of these five which, in turn, are mixtures of blue, green and red.

When you look at a wine in sunlight, all the colors we can perceive are present as wavelengths in that light. Most of these wavelengths (colors) are absorbed by the pigments in the wine, but some are not. Those wavelengths (colors) that are not absorbed are reflected and the various cones in the eye undergo near-instantaneous photochemical changes that detect the reflected hues and transmit them to the brain where they are mixed to a color sensation we perceive.

The color of a wine may be more or less intense - closer to one of the pure hues of the rainbow. For example, the estate Blanc du Bois I entered that won Honorable Mention is a light straw color with a hint of yellowish-green - not a very intense color but correct for a still-young white. On the other hand, a young dandelion wine is usually much more intensely yellow and may or may not show a trace of greenishness. If either is golden amber tending toward brown, it is approaching its end. But there are wines that are naturally golden amber in color - even tending toward brown -- such as Botrytized Sauternes or my own Praline Dessert Wine. One does not want a novice judging such a wine unless paired with one or more experienced judges.

Four years ago in this WineBlog I commented on the judging in a major competition by inexperienced enology students who severely faulted my Praline as "brown" and "oxidized." It was certainly brown, as anyone who has ever eaten a praline would expect, but it definitely was not "oxidized." Judging such as this makes the competition a mockery, although I have the highest respect for the competition's sponsor. I have never entered another wine at that competition, but may change my mind in the future.

Cabernet sauvignon is undoubtedly a red wine, but it lacks the intensity of redness that a beet or cranberry wine contains simply because it is more reddish-purple due to purple tannins. But in truth, many red wines contain more purple in them when young through the pigmented tannins they contain. As they age, the purples may mellow to ruby-redness or precipitate out and leave a less intense red. Truly purple wines, such as some elderberries and blueberries, age to almost garnet redness. However, any wine that has turned brickish-red is almost always past its prime. As more brown seeps into the brick, the more definitive the diagnosis.

In addition to intensity, color may also be more or less saturated. To understand saturation, suppose you had a bottle of claret and poured five samples which you then diluted with water by (1) none, (2) 10%, (3) 20%, (4) 35%, and (5) 50%. Each of the five samples is the same color, but each has a different saturation of that color. Given enough volume appropriate to overcome the various dilutions, each would appear the same.

It is helpful to know what color is typical for a given wine. This is a knowledge gained from experience, knowledge the novice judge I was paired with did not possess. I therefore helped her as best I could by critiquing each wine against the standard for it that is stored in my head.

The most difficult wines to judge for color are blush and rosé wines. Their colors may range from pink to light red to nearly red, or, they may display only the slightest traces of color. Depending on the ingredients involved, these colors may be acceptable, may be too light or dark, or may be entirely out of range. For example, a white zinfandel or white merlot that is orange in hue is simply wrong - out of range for the grape.

In other instances, a wine may be inappropriately categorized if entered as a blush or rosé. For example, strawberry wine naturally ranges from a light to just-shy of medium strawberry red. Blush and rosé are styles. One cannot help but make strawberry that looks like a blush or rosé, but that is its natural color, not a style the winemaker engineered. It should be entered as a fruit wine. Now, if a pronounced strawberry wine is blended with a kiwi, for example, with the idea being to produce a blush or rosé, then one might argue it should be entered as such. When I made that wine, I entered it as a fruit blend but was aware that I could have entered it as a blush.




May 5th, 2007

I am frequently asked all manner of questions about sulfites and using sulfites. In truth, I think I have addressed this subject adequately, but I still answer the repetitive questions in my email, snail mail, and phone calls. This WineBlog entry is to answer a phone request. The problem with repetitive requests, I think, is that people don't bother to read what has already been written before contacting me with repetitive questions. Take a little honesty test:

  • Have you read the WineBlog archives listed in the left column of this page?
  • Have you ever used my site's internal search engine to track down topics within the more than 400 pages of The Winemaking Home Page?
  • Did you even know this website had an internal search engine?
  • Do you know how to find it?

The answer to the last question is to look in the sectional descriptions on my index (home) page. It is the sixth item listed. Or, on just about any other page, look at the last item (far right) in the top row of the navigation panel (see below).

The "Search" button will bring up a page with some verbiage. Please read it before typing in a search topic. Do NOT include the word "wine" in your search term or it will list every page in the whole website because "wine" is printed on them all. The word "recipe" is also on a lot of pages. So, if you want to search for a recipe for strawberry wine, first try searching for the single word "strawberry."

"Raw" Sulfites

Let me get back to sulfites. Because most of my recipes are for 1-gallon batches, they usually call for the use of Campden tablets. These contain pre-measured amounts of the sulfite-containing salts that release sulfur dioxide into our wine. Each tablet usually treats one gallon of wine. The preferred salt is potassium metabisulfite, but some formulations of Campden still use sodium metabisulfite and others use sodium bisulfite. These are not the same thing and I only recommend the potassium salt for your wine, but the sulfur dioxide released by each is indistinguishable except in the quantity released.

When buying Campden tablets, ask what the active ingredient is. If the supplier doesn't know, buy from someone else. There is no shortage of suppliers if you shop over the internet. Just go to my listing of winemaking and homebrew shops and start clicking. Almost all shops have an email address on their contact page and many have toll-free phone numbers so you can call and inquire.

Also remember that Campden tablets degrade over time, so after a year - certainly after two - they should be discarded and new ones obtained. It is a good idea to write the date on the label when you open them, then you'll have a better idea of when to order new ones. They aren't expensive, so bite the bullet and order new ones.

If you are making wine in bulk, or if you can accurately measure the dosage, it is better and cheaper to buy and use the pure potassium metabisulfite. You will be surprised how little it takes to deliver an effective, aseptic dose to a gallon of wine - only 1/5 of 1/4 teaspoon. For gallon batches, I used to measure a level 1/4 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite, dump that onto a cutting board, and use a knife to divide it into five equal little piles. I transferred these to small vials until needed. The amount of the pure salt needed was so small that it seemed unbelievable it could do the job, but it did. It also made me realize just how much of the Campden tablet was actually inert 'bonding material, the contents of which I have yet to discover. Whatever it is, I really would prefer it not be in my wine.

You can also buy a small measure that holds 1/16 teaspoon, slightly more than the amount I obtained by dividing a quarter-teaspoon into fifths. But 1/16 teaspoon will not overload your wine or render it undrinkable by any stretch of the imagination. A friend gave me one of the measures and I use it all the time. If you can't find it elsewhere, you can get it at E. C. Kraus Home Wine and Beer Making Supplies, Independence, MO (you can find them on my list of shops).

A quarter-teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite weighs approximately 1.5 grams and will deliver 45 ppm (parts per million) of SO2 to a 5-gallon carboy or 225 ppm to a gallon of wine, juice or must. To deliver only 30 ppm, one gram will treat a 5-gallon carboy and 0.20 gram will treat a gallon. Thus, the importance of a gram scale (or the little measure from E. C. Kraus) is actually huge.

Like Campden tablets, potassium metabisulfite has a shelf life. I use so much I rarely have to discard it, but if you make less wine than I do you probably should write the date you open it on its label and discard it between its first and second anniversary. Both it and Campben tablets should be kept in an airtight, humidity-resistant container. A glass vial or jar is perfect. Be sure to transfer the label or make a new one for the new container.

10% SO2 Solution

Another way to deliver sulfur dioxide to your wine or must is to make and use a 10% solution of potassium metabisulfite in water. This is what the caller was asking about. You will need a reasonably accurate gram scale and milliliter measure to do this. When I make a 10% solution, I make a tenth of a liter, or 100 milliliters. I measure 10 grams of potassium metabisulfite and add that to a graduated 100 mL tumbler. I then add distilled water to the 100 mL mark and stir with a small whisk to ensure it is dissolved. I transfer this to a 125 mL bottle labeled "10% SO2" and store it with my winemaking chemicals.

I have numerous ways to measure small amounts of liquid accurately - graduated test tubes, pipettes, tumblers, and flasks, plus a graduated syringe. The latter is the easiest to use for measuring SO2 for small batches of wine. You can obtain one from any pharmacy or veterinarian. Ask for a 10 mL or 1 cL graduated syringe. One centiliter is the same as 10 mL.

The key thing to remember is that fresh 10% potassium metabisulfite solution contains 5.7% SO2. Over time, especially if stored poorly (in a garage, for example), it will degrade. When it does, I use it to sanitize my wine bottles and equipment.

I constructed the table below for my own use. It works well for musts in the 3.25-3.45 pH range. Higher pH levels need to be adjusted downward. Lower pH levels require different calculations I am not prepared to go into here.

ppm SO2 1 liter 1 US gal 2.5 US gal 3 US gal 5 US gal 6 US gal
10 ppm
20 ppm
30 ppm
40 ppm
50 ppm
60 ppm
70 ppm
80 ppm
90 ppm
100 ppm
.18
.35
.53
.70
.88
1.05
1.23
1.40
1.58
1.75
.68
1.32
2.00
2.65
3.33
3.97
4.66
5.30
5.98
6.62
1.70
3.31
5.02
6.62
8.33
9.94
11.64
13.25
14.95
16.56
2.04
3.97
6.02
7.95
9.99
11.92
13.97
15.90
17.94
19.87
3.40
6.62
10.03
13.25
16.65
19.87
23.28
26.50
29.90
33.12
4.09
7.95
12.04
15.90
19.99
23.85
27.94
31.80
35.88
39.75

To use the table, scan the top line for the volume of juice, must or wine to treat and the left column (ppm SO2) for the level of SO2 (in ppm) you desire. The numbers at the intersection correspond with the milliliters of 10% SO2 solution required to achieve that level in that volume. If you wish to treat a volume not found here, multiply the number for the desired ppm for 1 liter or 1 gal by the number of liters or gallons you wish to treat. For example, to add 30 ppm to 6.5 US gallons: 2.00 X 6.5 =13.00 (actually, the multiplier for 1 gal at 30 ppm is 2.006262, yielding 13.04, but 13.00 is close enough).

I am sure the first criticism will be that it is nearly impossible to estimate 2.65 mL or 3.33 mL with a 10 mL syringe. And to that I will say that if you estimate the fractions the best that you can you'll be doing the same thing I am doing. If you want greater accuracy, spend some money and buy the appropriate equipment.

If you are a stickler for accuracy, the multipliers to the 6th decimal place in the 1 gal column for the various ppm levels are: .681372, 1.324890, 2.006262, 2.649780, 3.331152, 3.974670, 4.656042, 5.299560, 5.980932, and 6.624450.




May 10th, 2007

A reader wrote and asked, "What are gross lees? Are these the ones that smell bad, look bad or what? And what are fine lees? Are there just plain lees?"

I'll admit it. I laughed pretty good. Then I hit "Reply" and began my answer.

Gross Lees

Firstly, I pointed out to the inquirer that my website contains perhaps the best glossary of winemaking terms one will find on the internet. In fact, the glossary is the first page I ever posted on the net. When I decided to post a second page (of useful links I had found), I needed a name other than "Glossary of Winemaking Terms" as an umbrella for the pages. I chose, "The Winemaking Home Page" as the umbrella. But that's a digression. Here's what my glossary says:

Gross Lees:
Loose sediments containing a large quantity of fine pulp from the fruit or other base materials from which the wine is made. The pulp does not compact well on its own and therefore is loosely suspended in wine. Gross lees can be compacted somewhat by adding gelatin to the wine, or they can be coarsely filtered or centrifuged to recover much of the wine trapped within them.

Contrast this with my entry on lees:

Lees:
Deposits of yeast and other solids formed during fermentation. This sediment is usually separated from the wine by racking. Sometimes the wine is left in contact with the lees in an attempt to develop more flavor. See Autolysis and Sur Lie Aging.

Having written this to the gentleman, I got to thinking about it. While these descriptions do in fact describe the lees, they don't really say much more than that. And then, I did not describe fine lees. But hey, what else is there to say? Quite a bit, actually.

Pectin or No Pectin

If the must was treated previously with pectinase (pectic enzyme), the gross lees will settle fairly rapidly - in 24-72 hours. If not thus treated, the polysaccharides tend to keep things in suspension. It is therefore necessary to treat the wine with pectic enzyme and allow sufficient time for the hydrolysis of pectin to occur - about 24 hours.

There are different problems associated with musts containing grapes infected with Botrytis cinerea, the fungus commonly called bunch rot. Bunch rot can produce two distinctively different conditions. Consistently wet or humid conditions give rise to grey rot, which results in the loss of the affected grapes. But, if dry conditions follow wet ones, the result can be noble rot; the grapes begin to become partially raisined and, if picked at exactly the right time, can result in distinctively sweeter grapes suitable for the finest dessert wines.

What does this have to do with gross lees? Well, grapes with Botrytis cinerea tend to produce more complex lees, but the interaction of the fungus with the grapes produces glucanes, another form of polysaccharides that tends to keep solids in suspension. In this case the wine should be treated with glucanase, an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of glucanes.

Problems Arising from Gross Lees

Particles of fruit pulp left in the wine too long can produce off odors and herbaceous flavors generally considered undesirable. For this reason, every attempt should be made to remove gross lees when transferring wine from primary to secondary. The easiest way to accomplish this is to lay a very fine nylon mesh or coarse nylon cloth in a large funnel and siphon the wine through the funnel.

Gross lees also tend to attract and combine with free SO2 in the must, thereby removing its benefits from the bulk. This exposes the must (and later the wine) to harmful bacteria it would otherwise be protected from. If gross lees remain in the must for more than 10 days, the must should be tested for SO2 levels after the lees and wine are separated.

Plain and Fine Lees

Generally speaking, plain lees are dead yeast cells, microscopic vegetative matter, pigments, tannins, and fining precipitants such as Bentonite, casein and PVPP. Fining material left too long in wine, due to the action of the ethanol, will release the substances they absorbed, defeating the purpose of their use. The other components each pose a slight risk to the wine, but cumulatively the risk is greatly increased. These lees should be separated from the wine through racking within 3-8 weeks of transfer to the secondary.

Additionally, if the wine underwent malo-lactic fermentation, the depleted MLF bacteria will settle on the lees and eventually begin autolysis. More importantly, the live MLF bacteria can, if left alone, go on to metabolize with citric acid and different amino acids to produce acetic acid -- not good. When MLF is finished, the wine should be sulfited to an aseptic level commensurate with the wine's pH to kill off the MLF bacteria and then racked no later than 10 days thereafter to prevent undesirable results.

After the wine has been racked once and fallen clear, a new layer of very fine yeast lees will form. These lees can be retained in the wine for sur lie aging, but must be stirred regularly every 3-5 days to prevent sulfur-derived off odors and flavors from developing.

Finally, it sometimes occurs that during aging, especially in a cool cellar or closet, very fine (and sometimes coarse) crystals precipitate out and form a layer that looks similar to silica sand (in white wines) or amethyst (in red wines). These are potassium tartrate crystals. Upon discovery, the wine should be chilled, if possible, to encourage more, and then racked off the layer while still chilled or cool. If allowed to warm before racking, some (if not all) of the potassium tartrate will dissolve back into the wine and precipitate again later, possibly in the bottle.




May 20th, 2007

In my last WineBlog entry (May 10th, 2007) I discussed lees - gross, plain and fine. The gross lees, I noted, are undesirable for prolonged contact with wine, but the fine lees, which are almost entirely dead yeast cells, can be held in long contact with wine in a process known as sur lie aging. Why exactly would we want to do that? In a sentence, to enhance its oenological properties.

When an alcoholic fermentation is finished, there are an incredible amount of yeast cells in the wine - between 30 and 100 grams per liter of wine. Yeast are an important source of polysaccharides, amino acids, nucleic acids, and esters. Each of these is well know in the food industry for their strong flavors. To liberate them from the yeast, the yeast need to be dead, need time to break down, and need to be moved through the wine (stirred) frequently. Stirring is important because compacted Saccharomyces lees can release sulfur compounds which, if released, can surely spoil the wine.

Polysaccharides

Polysaccharides are locked in the cell walls of the yeast. If liberated, they contribute a roundness to the palate, lengthen the finish and provide stability to the wine. The first is achieved by creating a sensorial effect of volume and coating, usually interpreted as smoothness. The second is perceived by the late liberation of certain volatile compounds on the palate. These compounds are rendered unavailable for polymerization and sedimentation and therefore remain stable in the wine. The third contribution, stability, is achieved by a colloidal effect that slows down or blocks tartaric crystallization and associates certain tannins, pigments and volatile compounds.

Amino Acids and Nucleic Acids

Yeast cells are rich in amino and nucleic acids. These are gradually released when yeast die and their cells break down. When their concentrations are sufficient, they contribute to amplifying the intensity of complex sensations at the end of the palate.

Esters

Certain esters of fatty acids - ethyl hexanoate, ethyl octanoate, etc. - contribute sweet and spicy aromas to the wine, while other hydrolyzed esters - isoamyle acetate, hexyle acetate, etc. -- contribute floral aromas. When these esters are released simultaneously, the senses perceive sweet and spicy grape aromas. In order to liberate and preserve these esters, along with the beneficial amino and nucleic acids, the sulfur compounds have to be expunged from the wine or they will ruin it. Thus, batonage, or stirring the lees, is incredibly important. At the same time, the wine must be protected against oxidation from the frequent stirrings over the several months of sur lie aging required. As I have said so many times in the past, this protection is delivered by maintaining an aseptic level of sulfite in the wine.

From Lees to Blackberry

Changing subjects, I was recently asked the following on a thread about blackberry wine: "Tell me, what's your favorite way to make blackberry wine? What do you do, what % alcohol do you think is best, what yeast? Any other tips?" I said I would answer these questions here, so consider this that answer.

If, by my favorite way to make blackberry wine means a favorite method, that would be to freeze and later thaw the berries, mash them in a nylon straining bag, and create a balanced must to produce 13-13.5% alcohol -- primary fermentation to 1.020, strain the pulp, transfer the liquor to secondary, and ferment to dryness. After clarification and stabilization, sweetening to about 1.004-1.006 usually produces the wine I like. I might add a teaspoon of glycerin. It depends on the mouthfeel of the finished wine.

If, by my favorite way to make blackberry wine means a favorite recipe, I am still working on that. I've made blackberry wine using everything from 4 pounds of fruit per gallon to 16.75 pounds. Only one batch was ever deemed unsalvageable, but that, I am sure, was because the berries, commercially obtained, were past ripe and spoiling, plus there was some fungal contamination that I thought would be checked by sulfites. I'm sure it was, but the damage had already been done. All the other batches were good to great. Some were better blended with other wines. Most were great straight.

Now, if one asks a different question, I'll give a different answer. The best blackberry wine I ever made was made with 12 pounds of berries, one cup of Zinfandel concentrate, 1.5 pounds of ripe bananas simmered in 3 cups of water, and balanced in the must for 13% alcohol. There are three tips in the above.

I like Lalvin RC212 for blackberry. Because blackberry's acidity is mostly malic, I do not allow a whole batch to undergo MLF. However, half of the above wine separately underwent MLF, was stabilized, and then recombined with the rest.




May 24th, 2007

I was recently asked about the edibility of Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) and its suitability as a winemaking flower. The writer was warned that Scotch Broom is toxic and asked my opinion. My reply was short and simple: Scotch Broom has a very edible flower with medicinal properties known for hundreds (if not longer) of years. It sometimes gets placed on lists of toxic plants because the seeds are toxic if crushed, chewed or broken before swallowing. If swallowed whole and intact, they pass right through the body without affect.

After sending this reply, I got to thinking about it a bit more. My references to its edibility are confirmed, but one source lists the flower as a "survival food." This usually means that it is edible, but either not too tasty or not too nutritious. So I had to do a bit more research. I found the answers I was looking for, but not complete answers.

Brooms are multistalked shrubs growing 1-3 meters high. Their many branchings form dense thickets which, when in leaf, effectively shades undergrowth. Flowers are pea-like in appearance, normally bright yellow, large for the type (up to 1-inch high), and typically grow in clusters at or near the tips of the branchlets. The flowers develop into green pea-like pods which turn dark brown to black and burst to spread the very hard, dark seeds. Cultivated varieties have been developed with a wide range of colors, from white to yellow to orange to pink to scarlet.

Scotch Broom blank space Scotch Broom
Scotch Broom flowering and dried branches

In the images above, one can easily see where the name "broom" came from. Gathered dried and tied, the branches make natural brooms, especially the hand-held whisk brooms known as a "bisom."

Scotch Broom contains small amounts of sparteine and isosparteine, both of which are toxic quinolizidine alkaloids. These have been used in medicine as heart stimulants. Whether the toxins are found in the flowers is not known, but if so it is only present in trace amounts or the flower would not be considered edible even as a "survival food." Survival foods that poison you or make you sick are not assisting your survival. But at least one species could make you ill, as you'll see below.

So the real question is: would I make wine with these flowers? The answer is: only if I knew what I had and they yielded a satisfactory flavor. To determine that, I would harvest some of the flowers and make a tea, allow it to cool, and then taste it. Then I would sweeten it slightly and taste it again. If I found the flavor enjoyable, I would proceed. But that is me. You have to decide for yourself if you would make wine with them.

The Brooms

There are more than one "broom" plant species. The Common Broom is the plant referred to as Scotch Broom. There are also several others found in America. All were imported plants that escaped gardens and are now considered invasive, noxious weeds with little benefit to man or the habitat they quickly transform. Transformation occurs by aggressively crowding out desirable tree seedlings, especially in areas newly cleared by fire or timber harvesting. New trees, grasses and native shrubs cannot grow as fast as the Brooms and eventually die due to lack of sunlight. The result is the formation of monotypic stands of Broom that reduce wildlife habitat and hinder native revegetation.

Scotch Broom is a perennial evergreen shrub in the legume (Fabaceae) family. It reaches heights up to 12 feet, is multistalked and many-branched. The branches are stiff, angled, more or less erect, dark green, and broom- like. Many branches are leafless or have few leaves, but their density effectively shades the ground beneath them. Upper leaves are simple, but lower leaves are trifoliolate (three-parted).

The bright yellow flowers are about ¾ to 1 inch long, pea-like in shape, and bloom from throughout the spring. The brown or black pods are flat, like pea-pods, with hairs on the margins only. Each contains several seeds. Seeds are oval, about 1/8 inch long, dark greenish-brown, and have a hard, shiny surface. Seeds can last for 60- 80 years in the soil.

Portuguese Broom (Cytisus striatus) is easily distinguishable when seed pods form because the pods are more inflated than the Scotch pods and hairy or fuzzy all over, creating the appearance of being covered with pussy willow buds.

French Broom (Genista monspessulana) has smaller flowers that appear much earlier than the Scotch flowers, but it also sports trifoliolate leaves - triple leaves from a single point, as opposed to simple leaves of the other species. It has been noted that children have developed nausea and vomiting from sucking on the flowers of French Broom, a development that probably was generalized to all species.

The most drought-resistant of the broom species is Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum). It has flowers similar in size to Scotch Broom, but they are less numerous and appear on thicker stems with far fewer leaves. Their flowers are quite fragrant and appear later than those of Scotch Broom.

White Spanish Broom (Cytisus multiflorus), sometimes called White Portugal Broom, is less common. It produces white flowers, few seeds, and quite different in appearance from true Spanish Broom




May 27th, 2007

A reader asked me about color. In a recent WineBlog entry (May 2nd, 2007) I mentioned judging color and some of the problems judges have regarding this characteristic of a wine, so the reader asked how long a wine can be expected to retain its color and what, besides oxidation, causes color changes.

Believe it or not, whole chapters of books have been written on this subject. It is a complicated subject, and to be honest, most of it would bore the average reader of this WineBlog. So, I will simply hit a few highlights. For more detail, you really need a good book on wine chemistry. Several are listed at my website (see first two links, below).

Color Stability

I'm sorry, but one simply cannot discuss color stability without also mentioning oxidation. All grapes contain a natural enzyne that promotes oxidation -- tyrosinase, a polyphenol oxidase. The amount of this enzyme present varies among different grapes, but it is there -- trust me on this. Another oxidation-inducing enzyme -- laccase -- may also be present if the grapes being crushed include moldy ones. Otherwise, tyrosinase is the first worry. It will begin pulling O2 molecules to polyphenols almost as soon as the grapes are crushed. Now, most grapes don't really contain all that much tyrosinase, but some contain an awful lot. Blanc du Bois, for example, contains so much that for the average winemaker it is impossible to crush and press the grapes without the juice becoming brown within 24-48 hours. So with this grape, the juice is immediately cold-settled for 2-3 days, during which time the brownish phenols settle to the bottom and can be separated by racking prior to sulfiting and yeast inoculation.

Why not sulfite Blanc du Bois juice immediately after crush? First, it is important to remember that sulfiting will block the activity of the enzyme, but not destroy it. If the enzyme is left in the wine, it will activate as soon as the sulfite level drops too low. Second, it is important to realize that once the enzyme does its thing, it is essentially "used up" and no longer a problem. In other words, the wine is now more or less "color stable" for some time -- until other oxidative forces take over. Third, it is also worth noting that once the tyrosinase 'does its thing" the free O2 in the must is largely depleted, so adding sulfite to the juice as it is being racked following cold-settling will maximize the benefit of the sulfite -- more inter-molecular spaces will be empty of O2 molecules and can be occupied by SO2 molecules. However, because yeast need O2 to reproduce, micro-oxigenation may be desirable for the first 48-72 hours after inoculation.

The Importance of pH

Pigments in wines are mainly anthrocyanins and tannins. The pH of a wine affects the percentage of anthrocyanin compounds that can be readily oxidized. The lower the pH, the redder a red wine. The higher the pH, the more brown or purple a red wine will become. But no red wine will remain color-stable indefinitely. Eventually, the anthrocyanin molecules (and the tannin molecules) will polymerized with themselves and other phenolic compounds and grow too large to remain in solution. They will settle out as insoluble precipitation.

The Importance of CO2

We all know that once fermentation begins a CO2 blanket forms over the wine and excludes O2 contact. What we forget is that the protective blanket is lost when transferring to secondary, when sampling and testing, when bulk aging, when stirring lees during sur lie aging, and when bottling. We rely on our sulfite level (or the alignment of the planets, or a magnet inside a cow's skull, etc.) to protect our wine. Those who are really serious about their wines will create a new CO2 blanket whenever they remove the airlock from the secondary.

Most of us have consumed a red wine and discovered a "mask" of pigment covering the inner surface of the bottle. This "mask" is simply oxidized polyphenols that have attached themselves to the glass. Almost any red wine in the bottle for 5-10 years will form such a coating, but the key word here is "almost." I have had a 30-year old wine that was once recorked but retained in the same bottle that did not exhibit the slightest masking on the glass. The wine itself was still vibrantly red and young looking. This was an extremely well-made and well-husbanded wine. It had been racked several times, but each racking was carried out in a CO2-rich environment to exclude O2 contact with the wine. The receiving secondary was filled with CO2 and the secondary being racked from was filled with CO2 as the racking progressed. During bottling, each bottle was filled with CO2 prior to filling, so as the wine entered the bottle it found no O2 to scavenge.

The Bottom Line

If you retain anything from this entry, retain this. Low pH and maintaining appropriate SO2 levels help stabilize color. Further, a CO2 blanket introduced whenever the airlock is removed is an extra margin of insurance against early oxidation and helps preserve color stability.

CO2 canisters are a luxury many of us cannot afford, but if you can afford it do not create an artificial blanket in the primary immediately before or after yeast inoculation. Yeast need O2 to reproduce. Instead, rely on low pH and SO2 to protect your must.

If you are working with a grape high in tyrosinase, like Blanc du Bois, cold-settle the juice for 2-3 days, rack it off the brown sediment, and proceed with inoculation.




June 3rd, 2007

Several of us were remarking recently about how different white mustang wine tastes from red mustang. The mustang grape, known binominally as Vitis mustangensis, is primarily a black to reddish-purple grape. Since the mustang's flavor is almost exclusively locked up in its skin, one can make a blush or even white wine from the dark grapes by pressing immediately at crush and avoiding skin contact with the juice. However, a white form of the mustang grape exists, although it is extremely rare in nature. Based on the number of vines I have observed in nature, I am guessing the white fruited form occurs in the neighborhood of one in eight to ten thousand vines. I have never planted seeds from this grape to see if they would carry the genes responsible for the white skins, but intend to do so one day just to know the answer.

The point is that the dark mustang makes a very strongly flavored wine, albeit one some people don't care for, while the white form of the grape makes a more neutral flavored wine in comparison. However, if you are not comparing the white mustang to the red, it too is rather strongly flavored, just not with the same flavors as the red. Indeed, the difference is like night and day -- as great, really, as the difference between red and white Zinfandel wines. It is the greatest natural example I can point to of the flavors associated with anthrocyanins and tannins, for it is these that account for the differences in flavor between these two forms of mustang grape. There is no great lesson here -- just an observation.

Contains Sulfites

Wine labels are constantly changing, it seems. I remember the uproar years ago when the BATF required the warning, "Contains Sulfites," on wines sold in America containing over 10 parts sulfites per million. To anyone who knew anything about winemaking, this was a silly requirement as wine yeasts naturally produce around 20 parts sulfites per million. Thus, almost all wines contain sulfites after fermentation. It would have been far more logical to put "Sulfites Added" on the label to let those sensitive to sulfites know that sulfites were added than to require a label warning that a natural ingredient was present. Oh well, no one ever accused governments of being logical.

Sulfur dioxide ("sulphur dioxide" to my English-spelling friends) affects a small percentage of people who are sensitive to it, and I do mean small. But, if you are one of those affected by it this is no flippant issue.

Still, I know people who claim a sensitivity to sulfites who don't really have one except in their heads. They eat raisins and other dried fruit loaded with sulfites, drink fruit juices preserved with sulfites, and eat fast food chains' French fries that are processed with sulfites prior to freezing, all without any reaction. Yet, as soon as they see the "Contains Sulfites" warning on a wine label they go into mild hysteria. To these folks I have only pity. Their unnatural biases have complicated their lives unnecessarily.

Asthma sufferers can find their condition aggravated by too much sulfites, and this seems to be a genuine yet unpredictable reaction. I myself suffer from asthma but use sulfur dioxide without regard to my condition. This is because I rarely get an adverse reaction to it, and when I do it is from smelling the raw gas in a strong concentration, not from the levels used in the wine itself. There was one exception when the nose of a wine sent me into an asthmatic reaction, but I really think something else might have also been involved because it was but a single incident among countless episodes of sniffing wines. Still, I recognize that many other asthma sufferers have a much greater sensitivity to sulfur dioxide than do I. I do not treat the differences in tolerance lightly.

My wife, like many people, sometimes gets headaches from drinking too much red wine, but I am not at all sure this is from sulfites. Various authorities claim it is not the sulfites in wines that cause headaches, but histamines derived from grape skins. Since red wines have had prolonged skin contact while most white wines have not, the red wines will naturally contain histamines and several other components found only in trace amounts in white wines if at all. Someday, I am sure, we will know with certainty what really causes these reactions and will stop blaming sulfites for every adverse condition that develops after consuming wine. Until then, we can only endure the assault upon this extremely important and almost essential food and beverage preservative.

New Labels

The South African government and the European Union now require a similar sulfite warning on their wine labels. As far as I can see, their wine industries have not collapsed as a result, but one South African winemaker protested the new labeling law by putting "Warning: Contains H2O" on his label. He said he actually had people ask why he felt it necessary to add these "artificial chemicals" to his wine. How can one live to adulthood in this day and age without knowing that H2O is water?

A new wine label can be obtained in America that reads, "USDA Organic Wine." It is reserved for wines produced without the use of chemical sprays or fertilizers in the vineyard and without the addition of sulfites to those naturally produced from the grapes themselves. While I am sure there is a market for such wines, I am not sure such wines will make a market. If this sounds cryptic, let me make it plain. Stabilizing wines without adding chemicals is risky business. It would not take too many failures to keep an organic winery's books permanently in the red.

I'll be watching this niche market. I predict a rocky road for a while, but if this segment can develop successful alternatives to chemical stability then we can all benefit from it. Wouldn't that be cool?

A Little Bit of Elder

At a recent meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild I placed a Black Cherry-Elderberry wine on the tasting table. It received good comments and sparked several questions about making it. Naturally, the most common question asked varied on inquiries about the ratio of black cherry to elderberry, and here I could only guess. In truth, I added the elderberries without really looking at the measure, but if I had to guess I would guess about a half-cup per gallon of must. The frozen berries were placed in a 2-cup glass measure to thaw, set aside, and later dumped into the must without actually noting the exact level of fill. However, the measure was about a quarter full, so my guess is about a half-cup. Like mustang grapes, elderberry has very powerful flavors and 1/2 cup per gallon should be sufficient for what I was trying to achieve -- a slightly more tannic finish.

A little elderberry can improve many wines. The risk is overdoing it and masking the flavor of the primary ingredient(s). It not only is a good source of tannin, but also of color. My black cherry wine turned much darker as a result of the small amount of elderberry added and this too was a desired effect. Several years ago, a pure black cherry wine had been marked down because the judges did not know the true color of black cherry juice and expected a darker wine than presented. The addition of a little elderberry made this wine look the way "black cherry" sounds, but in truth it is much darker.

Adding elderberry to red wines to enrich their color is perfectly acceptable in home winemaking as long as the elderberry is listed as an ingredient. Failure to list it, even if only an oversight, constitutes fraudulent labeling. In competitions, this can (and should) mean disqualification.

Elderberries do more than enrich color and contribute tannin to a wine. They also add complexity that, especially when only added in trace amounts, defies easy recognition. However, there is a point when it becomes recognizable and at that point it detracts.




June 12th, 2007

I want to tell everyone who will listen how blessed I am. I have a circle of good, caring and loyal friends, a not-always-close but ready-to-pull-together family, and a wonderful, loving and lovely wife whom I totally adore. I have a reliable employer, an absolutely stellar boss who will never read this so I am not sucking up by saying so, and I love my work. Finally, I get too many emails to answer so at least I know I have readers who look to me for...well, something. All I am missing is my health, but I am working on that.

I had a heart attack last week -- my second in a decade. The first one left me with a triple-bypass and coronary artery disease. I went on meds and made some adjustments, but they were not enough. While I did yard work and made lots of wine, I did not really exercise. My body has paid the price.

This one left me with congestive heart failure. I went through one round of procedures last Friday and am scheduled for two more as my strength returns enough to permit them. I will be alright. I'm going to be writing for many more years.

But I have had to wake up. My life will change or it will end prematurely. Because I would not give up fried chicken and barbecued pork ribs, I'm going to have to give up salt. We don't really appreciate how much we love salt until we have had nine consecutive meals without it. Yes, there are substitutes, but they don't really taste like salt.

But it is the subject of wine I want to focus on here. It does not look like I will have to give up the fruit of the vine, but I will certainly have to cut back. Only the recovery of my heart will dictate whether I can continue judging wine events, so there are uncertainties in this area.

The Health Benefits of Red Wine Consumption

It would be reasonable for one to look at my lifestyle and my cardiac history and hold them up in some way against the claims of health benefits of red wine consumption. Do not go there.

In 1977, The Complete Book of Running by James F. Fixx became the best-selling non-fiction hardcover book ever and ushered in the age of jogging for health and fitness. Seven years later, Jim Fixx collapsed while running in Vermont and was found lying beside the road, dead of a heart attack at age 52. Did running kill Jim Fixx? No. If anything, it probably prolonged his life so he could achieve 52 years. Did red wine consumption cause my heart disease? Absolutely not. A sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy appetite for rich, southern foods were probably the major contributors. I am not an alcohol abuser, so have no doubt wine contributed nothing whatsoever to my own health problems.

Indeed, I think the health benefits of red wine consumption are overwhelming and have written about them several times. Further, there are 27 current links on my website where you can study the research and draw your own conclusions. More links can be found with minimal effort.

My reasons for writing this entry are several. First, I wanted to explain the delay between entries and warn you to expect future delays as additional procedures are undergone. Second, I needed to do my part in encouraging all to moderate their consumptive passions, whether for fried chicken, barbecued pork ribs or anything else. Moderation in all things is appropriate. Third, I wanted to dispel any thought that my winemaking / drinking contributed in any way to my health problems. Finally, I wanted to plug, once again, the probable health benefits of red wine consumption. I only hope you got something out of it.




June 17th, 2007

I don't want to beat this heart attack thing to death (oh, what a pun!), but I have received dozens of phone calls from people out there I may or may not have ever met, spoken to, or exchanged emails with, but who wished me well and asked that I keep them informed. It amazes me that people would pick up the phone and ask the operator for Pleasanton, Texas. I thank each and every one of them, but will post this update so no one has to spend his or her money on phone calls on my account.

I am doing very well. I visited my cardiologist Friday and was told my heart sounds and looks much stronger - so much so that we scheduled my next procedure for June 26th, a week earlier than projected only four days earlier. I also learned that after I am weaned off of Plavix - in a month or so - I can have a glass of port or two glasses of wine per day. Folks, that's huge news. The sun will rise tomorrow.

So, with that said, let me move on to more interesting topics.

Easy to Make Wine

A friend sent me a little hardcover book, Easy to Make Wine by Mrs. Gennery-Taylor. The book was originally published in England in 1957 as Easymade Wine and Country Drinks. I am most appreciative of my friend for sending me the book. It has a couple of recipes in it I did not have and others that are variations I haven't tried. So, it has value for me. But it is also 50 years old. A whole lot has changed in home winemaking. If this were your only guide, you would be making some fairly questionable stuff, but this can be corrected with minor alterations.

I have a large number of older winemaking books. I enjoy reading them - more to appreciate how far we've come than to actually learn method or technique. But in truth, I have learned something from every one of them. Easy to Make Wine is no exception. Should you happen to come upon one of these older books and have room for it in your library, then by all means obtain it if it is cheap. Such books have no value as antiquities as far as I can determine, but some people nonetheless think that any book 50 years old must be worth a small fortune. Leave them to their dreams and shop elsewhere.

Easy to Make Wine has a number of faults. If you recognize them and make allowances and corrections, the book can be useful. I'm going to run through a few of them simply because I find it a useful exercise. Hopefully, you'll get something out of it too.

Retard Oxidation

Mrs. Gennery-Taylor used common household kitchen articles in making her wine. I have a number of similar books that do the same thing. Most tend to employ an enameled stock pot, earthenware bowl or crock, or plastic bucket or trash bin as both a primary and secondary. You can certainly make wine that way, but it will oxidize very quickly. This isn't a problem if you drink it as fast as you make it, but if you want to cellar some for the future you need to retard oxidation as long as possible. There are three things you can do to this end not featured in Easy to Make Wine.

First, transfer the must from primary to secondary when the initial fermentation loses its vigor. Mrs. Gennery-Taylor did not use secondaries at all.

Second, use an airlock to keep the atmosphere away from the wine after transferring it to secondary. While Mrs. Gennery-Taylor mentioned that airlocks were available, she did not use them.

Third, use sulfites. I am not at all sure Mrs. Gennery-Taylor knew about sulfites, for she didn't mention them and actually allowed - no, encouraged -- mold to grow on certain of her musts. The latter is not all that unusual in old home winemaking books, but they also used to bleed people when they were sick. We're beyond that.

Completing Fermentation

In Easy to Make Wine, Mrs. Gennery-Taylor ferments her musts for a week to 10 days, strains them, and bottles them almost right away. She advocates corking the bottles and tying a cage with string over the loosely corked mouth of the bottle so the cork can rise and allow gas to escape without dislodging the closure completely. To add insult to injury, she "feeds" the wine with rock candy (marble-size crystals of sugar) when she bottles it so it will "improve." I have two other books from the same time-period that also bottle their wines with rock candy in the bottles and simply set beveled corks in the bottles without seating them.

If anyone reading this WineBlog doesn't already know it, the procedures in the previous paragraph are all wrong. True, one can make wine that way, but Mrs. Gennery-Taylor herself admits that her wines sometimes "blow," losing corks and wine. No small wonder when you complete fermentation in the bottle without aiming for a sparkling finish or controlling the prime.

Complete the fermentation in the secondary, under an airlock. You can monitor everything there, and racking will help clarify the wine way beyond what completing fermentation in the bottle can achieve.

Mrs. Gennery-Taylor has some interesting recipes in her little book, but her methods are hopelessly outdated. Adapt the recipes to modern winemaking methods and the book has value. Simply adapt them to the Basic Steps of modern winemaking and rest assured the wine will turn out okay. Finally, remember that her recipes are for Imperial gallons, not American ones. Adjust the sugar additions downward to achieve starting specific gravities in the 1.088-1.095 range.




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