Posts Tagged ‘Wine 101’

mumu's 2010 Eagle Point Ranch grenache

Behold the moment that you’ve all been waiting for! Well, at least what I have been waiting for. Last weekend I decided it was go time. Time to bottle my 13 gallons of 2010 Eagle Point Grenache wine and let the chips fall where they may.

But before sealing the deal with a cork, there were a few final steps that I needed to perform. First, a final racking and assemblage were in order. Now you might ask, why are you blending all 3 carboys since they consist of the same varietal?

Very good question. First, upon tasting, I noticed that the wine in my 3 gallon carboy seemed a bit more reductive than the two 5 gallon carboys. Second, when I performed my tests on free sulfur, I wanted to make sure that all 3 vessels were essentially reading the same ppm.  Basically, I did not want to perform this test 3 times. And finally I wanted to rack as much of the wine off its lees, as you can see at the bottom of the carboys.

about as scientific as I'll ever get... testing free SO2 by aeration oxidation

After I racked and blended my 3 glass carboys, it was time to test for how much free SO2 I had left protecting the wine. The test, and the resulting number or parts per million (ppm), would allow me to make calculations toward adding the requisite amount of sulfur to protect the wine once it was bottled.

test beaker # 1 acidic

I purchased this eration-oxidation kit from an online wine supply site called More Wine!. In addition to providing just about anything a home winemaker could need, More Wine! Also provides fantastic videos, wine making manuals and step by step instructions for certain tests and procedures. It is truly a fantastic winemaking resource, and I highly recommend it to anyone of you out there interested in making wine for the first time.

test beaker # 2 alkali

Measuring free SO2 by aeration-oxidation is a relatively easy and painless test which takes about 20-30 minutes to perform.  If you are interested in the specific materials needed and how to perform the test, please click here.

My test results indicated that I had 16ppm free SO2 in my wine. Since my pH was quite high I decided to bottle with approximately 40ppm free SO2.  I wanted my wine to be enjoyed soon and over the next year or so, however with a pH of 3.9 I wanted the wine to be sufficiently protected against premature oxidation.

So I made the necessary adjustments and added just enough SO2 to equal 24 ppm.This 24ppm + the 16ppm already existant would bring me right up to where I wanted to be. Ultimately, at bottling time I would be closer to around 30 ppm anyway.

They don't make 'em like they used to: the indestructible Sanbri hand corker

The following day my good friend Wes came over to help me get the bottling underway. After picking up corks, bottles and a good ol’ fashioned hand corker (thank you Homer!) at Oak Barrel Winecraft we were cookin’ with gas!

Will work for wine: assistant winemaker Wes

Wes started by rinsing out our bottles with distilled water, while I set up our “bottling line”.  The goal was to work as quickly as possible in order to mitigate the amount of time that this young Grenache was exposed to oxygen.

feeling pretty good about life! mumu bottling

I was responsible for filling the clean bottles, using a plastic hose, and a nifty bottle filler that shuts off when the desired fill level of a wine bottle is reached. Here I am in the zone and showing how it’s done about 24 bottles into it.

Once the bottle was filled, Wes grabbed a cork, and with a one, two punch inserted the cork snuggly into the wine bottle.

The finish line

And voila! Like an artisanal assembly line, Wes and I bottled 60 bottles of wine in just a couple of hours and change. It was really great to have a friend help out with these final steps. Not only was it more fun, but it cut my bottling time in half.

Gallego's and Grenache!

After all of our hard work, and to enjoy the fruits of our labor, Wes and I celebrated with a super Mexican lunch from Gallego’s in Berkeley.

gamay meets grenache??

I chilled down our bottle for about 15 minutes in the fridge, as I wanted to mitigate the sensation of alcohol (close to 15%) with the spicier qualities of our lunch. The lush cherry nuances and subtle rose hip aromatics worked great though.  Stylistically, Wes said it reminded him of a fresh beaujolais. I found it to be akin to a Jurassien Trousseau that got lost, wandered south, and set down roots in the southern Rhone! Regardless, the fact that I made this wine myself and with the help of my friends made drinking this first glass very special to me.



Read Full Post »

On the winemaking front, things have been pretty quite as of late. My 200 lbs of Eaglepoint Ranch grenache has been destemmed, crushed, fermented, pressed and is presently undergoing malolactic fermentation or “ML”.  This  is an important part of the red (and sometimes white) winemaking process.

What exactly is Malolactic Fermentation?

ML or Malo is the process in which certain strains of bacteria (Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc and/or Pediococcus) metabolize the harsh malic acid (found in apples)  present in the wine and transform it into the softer tasting and less acidic lactic acid (found in milk).

Although ML process is commonly referred to as a secondary fermentation (because CO2 is produced), in truth ML is not a true fermentation because no additional alcohol is being produced from the metabolism of sugars.

These bacteria are often naturally present in the fermenting wine, however you can purchase malo cultures, like the one from Whitelabs pictured above, to ensure a more timely start to the process.

What is the purpose of Malolactic Fermentation?

1. Helps to reduce harsh acidity

2. Increases complexity by generating additional flavor components (ketones like diacetyl)

3. Increases the stability of the wine by consuming bacterial nutrients

4. This increased stability is especially important in red wines, as added sulfur dioxide will bind to anthocyanins (coloring compounds).

When does ML generally start?

Malolactic fermentation can begin either during or after the primary fermentation. There are pros and cons to both times. The pros: An MLF which begins at the height of primary fermentation and before pressing will often proceed more quickly. Why? A higher temperature, and ML bacteria benefit from the presence of grapeskins. The cons: ML bateria and yeast often compete for the same nutrients during the active fermentation.

Like all bacteria, ML strains thrive in higher temperatures (70-75 degrees F) and have an aversion to sulfur dioxide. For this reason, during ML, it is important to monitor the temperature of your wine (or at the very least the cellar) and to NOT add sulfur dioxide. Failure to do so can result in a stuck ML.

Above is a closeup of the wine in full ML. Like primary fermentation, ML does generate a bit of carbon dioxide, however in much smaller quantities. Throughout the primary fermentation, considerable amounts of CO2 help to protect the wine against oxidation and wine spoilage bacteria.

However during ML, much less CO2 is generated. For this reason it is important to flush out any headspace with an inert gas (CO2, nitrogen or argon) and keep airlocks tightly secured on each carboy.

Once malo does start the entire process can take anywhere from two weeks (very fast) to 6+ months (very long). The average time is generally around 1-2 months.

In the next week or so, I will check in on the progress of ML by using a procedure called paper chromatography.

Read Full Post »

Harvest 2010 at Eaglepoint Ranch

Just look at this gorgeous shade of purple. Ripe and ready to go..these grapes from Eaglepoint Ranch are the reason I made the 2.5 hour drive up to Mendocino County @ 4 a.m. a few days ago.

About 20 minutes east of the Ukiah Valley, approximately 1800 feet above sea level and well above the fog line I arrived at Eaglepoint Ranch.  Here, on the 1,250 acre property, approximately 82 acres of vineyard are planted on 30+ separate vineyard blocks. Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Counoise, Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon are represented on the various sloping hillsides composed largely of red alluvial soils.

"Mr. Eaglepoint" Casey Hartlip (R)

As I pulled into a spot next to a grove of oliviers I spotted a tractor coming down the road. Casey Hartlip, viticulturalist/grapegrower, and  a.k.a. “Mr. Eaglepoint” made a quick sign for me to hang tight for 2 minutes while he attended to unfinished harvest business.

Considered one of the most respected wine growers in California, Casey Hartlip knows Eaglepoint like the back of his hand. Actually probably better than the back of his hand! Casey’s first harvest at Eaglepoint was in 1977. Over the years he has managed the vineyards at the property..from grafting over certain blocks, to the planning and planting of new vineyard blocks and varietals. Much has been written about the reputation of Eaglepoint Ranch and the indispensable role that Casey has played in shaping that reputation. Suffice to say, that as a newbie winemaker, Casey was incredibly generous to oblige my request for 200 lbs of grapes.

A dog's life: Pee Wee

The team mascot at Eaglepoint Ranch is Pee Wee, a 6 year old fox terrier who graciously greeted my pup Sonic. I am certain that Pee Wee is the envy of many pooches. Acres of vineyard land to run through, sun, squirrels, gophers, random rides in the vineyard pickup truck. Life is sweet. 

La cosecha 2010

When I arrived around 7:30, harvest was in full swing. The counoise and syrah blocks had just been harvested (all done by hand), and the grenache blocks were just about to get underway.  How many pictures of these harvesting pros did I take? Many. How many actually came out? Few. Team Eaglepoint moves fast and furious. It seemed like just about every time I snapped a pic, I was half a second too late!

The goods: Eaglepoint Ranch Grenache 2010

Here are the raw goods. A cluster of Eaglepoint Grenache that was soon to make it into one of my assorted bins. Casey indicated that the grapes were smaller this year than general. Grenache has a tendency towards thinner skins and a healthy skin to juice ratio, resulting in lighter pigmentation in the finished wine. Considering the size of this years grapes and amount of skin to juice ratio, I suspect that the finished wine is going to be pretty deeply colored.

load em' up!


Back at home base, and with the first drop of grenache grapes in, it was time for me to pitchfork 200 lbs of grenache into my bins. 15 minutes later, loaded up with my grapes and one tired dog, I bid au revoir to Casey and started my drive back to Oakland.

Thank you Eaglepoint Ranch and thank you Casey. Now let’s see how I do with this beautiful fruit!


Next up: Winemaking 101 chez mumu!

Read Full Post »

It looks like harvest 2010 in Northern California is finally up and running. It’s been a very strange year for many regions throughout the state. Rainy, rainy, cold…then HOT..then pretty nice..then cool. The upshot of all of this climactic drama is for most growers a later harvest then usual. This extra hang time is giving me a few extra weeks to read up and prepare for mumu’s first go at making wine.

So check out my new toys! The super knowledgeable guys at Oak Barrel Winecraft  in Berkeley helped me assemble all of the equipment and gadgets that I will need to vinify my first batch of grapes.   At this point is looks like its going to be Grenache, but that could change so I am ready for anything. Counoise anyone?

Winemaking Equipment Kit  (for 200 lbs of red grapes)


32 gallon fermenter w/ lid

3 x 5 gallon carboy

1 x 3 gallon carboy

3 x #7 stoppers and airlocks

racking tube & holder

6’ siphon hose

hydrometer & jar

carboy brush

postassium metabisulfite

Yeast..(not sure which one yet)

pH meter

Star San sanitizing agent



SO2 test kit (for home winemakers)

ML / paper chromatography test kit

Plastic sheeting (since I am making this in my living room/kitchen)

Home Winemaking Step by Step by Jon Iverson


I am sure that I have forgotten several other necessary items. If anyone sees any glaring omissions, please let me know.

I plan on crushing and de-stemming (or perhaps on partial) by hand. 200 lbs should be pretty doable. In the meantime, I had better figure out how to calibrate and use my new pH meter.

More to come on the home winemaking front!


Read Full Post »

molecular formula for ethanol

Living in the Bay Area of northern California has many advantages. Yes, it is beautiful here. The food is fantastic..great products, great restaurants. If you are into wine tasting, we’ve got Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and the Sierra Foothills just a short jaunt from our doorstep. If you are into making wine, a world class university is only about 90 minutes away.

Researchers, enologists and students come from all over the world to study and do work at the University of California at Davis. When it comes to the ivy league of wine making schools, Davis is right up there with Geisenheim, Adelaide, Montpellier and Dijon.

Summer School!

For the past several months I have had a bug in my bonnet. No, it’s not enough for me to work with wine 8+ hours a day, imbibe the stuff and write about it in blog format. Soon my living room will double as a chai/cellar! Yes, that’s right, I am going to attempt to make a small amount of wine this fall. Eeek!

In addition to offering graduate and undergraduate degrees in viticulture and enology, the university offers a series of ongoing courses for non-matriculated students who which to take advantage of and learn from the big brains at this institution. Over the course of the year (summer included) UC Davis Extension offers a comprehensive array of winemaking and viticulture classes, for all levels; from the home winemaker/grower to large commercial wineries.

my course description -summer 2010

At this point I fall squarely into the complete novice small potatos home winemaker camp. Realizing that I should probably start at the beginning, I decided to take an intro to wine chemistry course. You can read the course description above. For two days professor Michael Ramsey covered and “distilled” key topics like pH, total vs. titratable acidity, volatile acidity, hydrogen sulfide, the role of nitrogen, filtration and fining etc..

I left the class with my head spinning, a huge informational binder, and a much firmer handle on what I am about to undertake. Looks like there is a wine analysis class for home/small commerical winemakers in several weeks which I hope to sign up for.

This class was a great first experience for me. I recommend that anyone interested in learning more about winemaking, grape growing or the business of wine check out the courses offered through UC Davis Extension.

More to come on mumu’s home winemaking project..(so far it looks like I am going to work with grenache)

Next: Strait to the heart of Provence..Château Miraval

Read Full Post »

Chinon (cabernet franc) rosé from Couly-Dutheil

So many rosé wines, and so little time!  What does a lighter hue indicate? And what will that darker colored pink wine taste like? Making a fruity but balanced pink wine is no easy feat. In fact, many a winemaker will tell you that making rosé is more challenging than vinifying red or white wine.

The fruit, acid, alcohol balance of  rosé balances on a tightrope, and too much of any one component, leaves what should otherwise be a fresh, crisp and vibrant wine flat on its tuckus. Producing the perfect pink wine is not just a matter of mixing red and white grape juice…

a plethora of pink ..thanks to VARNA


..so HOW IS A rosé WINE MADE?


Rose wines are produced in the following 5 ways:

 1. White and red wines are blended together in order to achieve a desired level of pink or blush tint. This method is commonly used in the production of rosé Champagne as well as high quality sparkling wines. It is rarely utilized in the production of quality still rosé wines.

 2. Red grapes, either crushed or uncrushed but broken (preferable), are chilled down and allowed to macerate for 1-4 days. The juice will will then be drawn off or drained, and without being pressed. The drawn juice will then be fermented using cooler temperatures similar to  the fermentation procedure for a crisp white wine. This process is known as a “bleed” or “saignée” in French.

 3. Whole bunches of red grapes are pressed within 12-16 hours of harvest. This very lightly colored juice is then fermented at cool temperatures similar to that of a crisp, bright white wine. Very pale and delicate, this type of pink wine is often known as a Vin Gris. If left a bit longer, a darker hue will result, however never generally as dark as a rose made with the saignée method.

 4. Crushed red grapes and juice are mixed and fermented together for 1-3 days before the juice is run off. A traditional, albeit decreasingly utilized method.

 5. Red wine undergoes extensive fining to remove tannins. Color is stripped by treatment with active carbon. Utilized in the production of mass produced, poor quality and tasteless wine. To be avoided.

Strawberry inflected pink wines..GOOD!

* Although some rosés undergo malolactic fermentation, in general most do not, as a crisp and more vibrant mouthfeel and texture is desired. 
 * Oak ageing is utilized in some cases, although the majority of rosés out in the market undergo a relatively short elevage (3-6 months) in an stainless steel. If oak ageing is employed, it is almost without exception aged in older, neutral barrels so as not to interfere with or overwhelm the inherent fruity qualitites of the wine. An example of this style is Muga’s Rosado from Rioja.


Next: Bakesale Betty’s and a Rosé from the Basque country!

Read Full Post »

TCA the culprit of all "corked" wines

So here is the scenario. You pick up 2 bottles of your favorite chianti to bring to a friend’s pizza party.  The first bottle tastes great! Fresh, vibrant and juicy…just as you remembered it. Now you crack open that second bottle. However this one smells a bit funky, tastes a bit different, and just isn’t quite good as that first bottle. Is your chianti corked?

I. And what exactly is corked wine?


Corkiness or a corked wine is a wine fault that is caused by certain molds/funghi that in most instances will be found to live and grow in cork trees. These molds can and do live in cork even after it’s been harvested, processed and shipped out in the form of finished corks. For most people these molds (which are related to the same molds that create penicillin) are innocuous and remain unnoticeable, unless they come into contact with chlorine or chlorophenol compounds at any time during the winemaking process. .

What happens when these cork bark molds and chlorine interact? You guessed it.. the formation of an aromatically unpleasant compound known as TCA, or more specifically tri-chloroanisole.

 As you can imagine, the possibilities for the formation of TCA are quite numerous. For instance cork, bark undergoes sterilization in the production of corks, and bottles need to be sanitized before being used.

Just say no to chlorine based products!

Of course, the use of chlorine and chlorine based products are often found in our water supply, as well as in numerous cleaning agents. For this reason, wineries need to be extra vigilant when it comes to their water source and how they sanitize not only bottles but all winery equipment.

 While small amounts of TCA a wine can result in a very subtle loss of aromatic fruit and vibrancy, (like, you know this wine doesn’t taste as fresh and vibrant as it usually does) larger amounts can impart distinctive and off putting aromas that ultimately render a wine pretty much undrinkable.

II. What does a corked wine smell like?

Descriptors often include: wet cardboard, swamp, moldy mushrooms..

funky, dank and stale..

Wet dog..

Cute, but stinky!

If, you open a bottle of wine, especially a young and more fruit driven bottle of wine, and any one of these stale, musty aromas hit you in the face, then heads up, you could be dealing with a corked bottle of wine.

III. What is not necessarily an indicator of a corked wine?

Now that you know what causes corked wine, let’s debunk several factors  which  people often believe indicate a corked wine, but in fact do not.

 1. An old, or crumbly cork. The physical appearance of a cork doesn’t indicate that a particular wine is or is not corked. I’ve opened plenty of older bottles with corks that look less than perfect, but have done a great job keeping a wine protected over time. On the other hand, I’ve opened expensive bottles of wine with beautiful corks that, you guessed it, were rife with TCA.

 2. A pushed cork, or one that rises above the level of the bottle itself is not necessarily an indicator that a wine is suffering from TCA. A pushed cork could indicate that the wine was exposed to higher temperatures or that the bottle was overfilled, this happens more frequently with larger format bottles that are often bottled by hand.

 3. Bottle seepage or capsule corrosion. Once again, these two conditions are unrelated to TCA contamination and do not indicate that a wine is corked.

4. Mold on the cork. Frequently bottles of wine, especially older bottles that have been stored in humid conditions may develop some sort of mold or funghi on or around the cork. Usually this is discovered when you cut off the foil capule on a bottle of wine. These fungi are not necessarily related to molds that cause TCA. Its best to open the bottle and let your nose and mouth be the final judge.

 5. A musty smell from an older bottle of wine. This can get tricky, because older bottles can sometimes be confused with a wine suffering from TCA contamination, especially right after its been opened. My advice, let the bottle of wine areate and breath for a bit, either by pouring a glass or decanting the wine. With an older bottle of wine, the initial musty-ness should give way to very subtle and nuanced notes of things like earth, mineral, dried flowers, fruits and spice. If after 30 minutes your getting significant notes of wet dog and stale cardboard then you’ve probably got yourself a corked bottle. It does happen.


IV. What to do if you think you have a corked wine?

 If, after careful evaluation you really think that you’ve purchased a bottle of TCA contaminated wine, here’s what you want to do.

First, don’t pour out the bottle of wine. If possible, pour your glass or glasses back into the bottle and simply re-insert the cork. Next, give the wine shop a call and let them know about your situation. Most reputable wine retailers will and should exchange a bottle of wine that is truly corked. But, they’ll most likely want to taste the wine and make a professional evaluation.  So be prepared to bring in your opened bottle of wine as well as your receipt.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: