2011 Grape Harvest
I have been making wine since 2007, and every year has been different. This year (2011), “it is a good news bad news” kind of thing.
First, the bad news. As seen in the pictures below, lot of the grapes had mold on them. Sooo, it took us a lot longer to collect the grapes. The three of us (Lisa, Kubi, and I) spent close to four hours to collect net 186 lbs (84.4 kg) of grapes (9 buckets). We tried to flick off the moldy ones. The grape variety is chardonnay.
Another problem is that according to Ron the brix level was little less than 18. Brix level measures the sugar level and normally it should be a minimum of 20. He also said that the acid level is the highest he has ever seen. Acid level and the pH level are somehow related, but I do not understand the details. He was suggesting to put potassium/calcium carbonate, but to me it sounded pretty tricky to properly adjust it.
In the past I never worried much about any of the stuff mentioned above. I made sure that the carboys were relatively clean and pitched the yeast into it in the few days after I brought them home. The wine that came out always tasted great. But perhaps this year is different and I should worry about if it will all work out.
Now the good news.
In the past we used Ron’s de-stemmer machine to separate the grapes from the stems. This process on its own produces a lot of juice and it makes the press work more efficiently by packing grapes into a smaller space. However, it takes a lot of time to press the grapes. If you wanted more juice, you just have to wait longer, no way around it.
This year the de-stemmer machine was gone. When we tried to use the press with the whole grapes, it soon became clear to me that it would take even longer and that there was no time to press all the grapes we collected. It was about 5PM already when we started to use the press.
Ron offered his new centrifugal juicer machine as an option. We just emptied out all the grapes into the machine plus his own grapes. The catch was that I would have to make another trip the next day. In the past, with this much grape I got little less than two carboys. When I got there the next day, there was a surprise waiting for me: three full carboys. Absolutely amazing! To give you an idea of how amazing this is, in the past it took 280 lbs (12 buckets) to get this much juice. The new machine is super efficient, and also I think that Ron was also being extra nice to me.
Here is a good bunch
Another good bunch
2011 Harvest, Kubi took the picture
Making wine is real easy. We pitch the yeast into the grape juice, put the airlock on, and then keep the carboy indoors until about christmas time. By then the liquid will clarify and there will be a thick sediment at the bottom of the carboy. We rack (or transfer) the clear liquid into another clean carboy leaving behind all that sediment. And wait some more until March or April. At that time, wine will be ready to drink. Of course the longer you wait, the better it will taste, but in my case it never lasted long enough to appreciate the better results.
This year because of the worries I mentioned above, I set up an experiment. Next year in April or May the taste testing will tell us what worked best. One container will be the small control batch with the original grape juice with nothing added to it. The other three carboys creatively labelled as one, two, and three will get one, two, and three cups of syrup respectively.
I prepared the syrup by mixing 6 cups powdered sugar with 6 cups of water and stirred it over medium heat until all the sugar dissolved.
Preparing the syrup
Carboys needed some head space for fermentation foam. So first thing I did was that I removed 2 quarts of juice from each carboy into a control bucket to use it as a reference.
It is not necessary, but it is a good idea to prepare a yeast starter. Removed one quart liquid from each carboy into a large pitcher, and poured two cups of it into a measuring cup. Shaked the liquid yeast real good so there is not any residue stuck onto the sides of the vial, then poured the vial into the measuring cup.
I saw tiny bubbles rising to the surface after a few hours. I poured the measuring cup into the large pitcher. Again I waited until tiny bubbles rose to the surface (a few hours), and then poured the large pitcher into each carboy in equal amounts.
Within 24 hours lots of bubbles were visible rising to the top in each carboy, which meant that so far everything is going according to the plan.
Now there is nothing else to do but wait until the end of the year before racking the carboys (and the reference container).
After removing yeast starter and control juice
Liquid Yeast and the yeast starter
Update on Jan 8th, 2012
On January 1st, I racked all three carboys. After I cleaned out the bucket of sediments, I used it as a temporary holding area. I transferred the wine from the first carboy into a bucket, cleaned out the sediments from the carboy, and transferred the wine back into the same carboy. The same story for the remaining two carboys.
I tasted a small sample from all three carboys, and the control wine without any syrup. I was glad that I added extra syrup, but it really was not nearly enough. They all tasted very similar: very sour. As a result I decided that I should add more syrup to each carboy.
On January 8th, I made 6 cups of sugar with 6 cups of water, and added 2 cups of syrup equally to each carboy.
Now we have to wait more…
The wine from the first and the second carboy tasted just great, the one from the third carboy was little on the sweet side. The sour taste that I mentioned above was completely gone after a few months of wait.
The other thing that I noticed is that the Cornelius Kegs that I kept in the fridge had small crystals formed in them, which made it difficult to clean. I thought that that was due to the extra syrup I put in the juice, but Ron was telling me that it was the tartaric acid. I had not seen these small crystals in the past.