Posts Tagged ‘winemaking’

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.



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Here is the latest news flash on my harvest 2010!

look at the gross lees!

When this picture was snapped, my grenache was 6 weeks into malolactic fermentation. As you might recall from an earlier post, I had conducted a paper chromatography test, which indicated that the process was only a little more than half way done.

Well, it’s about time to check again, but before I do, I am going to rack and separate the wine from the gross lees or deposit that has settled at the bottom of the carboy over the last 6 weeks.

my grenache transfusion

As seen above, the process is quite strait forward. Wine from the carboy above is siphoned though a hose to the empty vessel below, with great care taken to stop/pull the hose before any of the lees is transferred to the new vessel.

So what is the purpose of racking? Well, there are two pretty important reasons to rack a wine in progress. The first is stabilization. Leaving the wine too long on the lees can lead to the formation of off flavors, for instance the rotten egg smell that is often an indicator of hydrogen sulfide.

The second reason to rack wine is for clarification. By the time a wine is ready to be bottled, a clear and relatively bright wine is generally desired..i.e.. from an aesthetic viewpoint you don’t want a murky product with particles floating throughout the bottle.

crushed roses..

Once the wine has been racked from the carboy, this is what is left at the bottom. Lots of dead yeast cells as well as grape seeds, pulp, stem fragments and insoluble tartrates that collect and are deposited during the vinification an aging process.

What a brilliant pink-lavender hue! And guess what, the stuff smells like crushed roses with a whiff of cocoa. Casey Hartilp, the grower who supplied me with this Grenache from Eaglepoint Ranch, says that Eaglepoint lees often smells like chocolate covered cherries.

In the next several days I will conduct a second paper chromatography test to determine whether or not the malolactic fermentation is complete. More to come!

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After our tour of the vineyards and estate grounds, Svetlana and I headed over to Renaissance’s lakeside tasting room. As the winter light streamed in through the large windows, Svetlana began lining up the bottles.

winter's light @ Renaissance

But before we get started, let me provide a bit of winemaking backstory. Current winemaker Gideon Beinstock has been involved with Renaissance since its inception back in the late 1970s when he helped plant the fledgling domaine’s vineyards.

After wine travels and study in Europe, Gideon returned to Renaissance in 1994 and became the winery’s chief winemaker. The formative time and experience spent abroad inspired Gideon to affect a new beginning or “Renaissance” in the cellar.

Prior to Gideon’s arrival, the Renaissance wine style was one of considerable extraction, weight and tannic structure. The new spirit at Renaissance was going to employ different techniques. Gentle extractions, no inoculations for primary or secondary fermentations, no acid or must corrections, no fining or filtering, and only minimal use of sulfur dioxide.

The results are in the bottle. Elegant, ageworthy wines that at 5-10 years of age still had a lot to say. Moreover, I was grateful to see alcohol levels hovering around a modest 12.5-14%, the likes of which I rarely seen on comparable domestic wines of the same varietal since the early 1980’s.

In addition to his winemaking responsibilities at Renaissance, Gideon and his wife Saron are the owners of Clos Saron, their small familial domaine dedicated primarily to pinot noir.

large format bottles @ Renaissance


Below you’ll find a brief list and description of the range of wines produced at Renaissance.


Estate: The blue/gray Renaissance label denotes Renaissance’s Estate level wines and exemplify the overall quality and thumbprint  if you will of the domaine. Balanced and  ageworthy 100% estate grown wines.

Vin de Terroir: these wines hail from specific vineyard sites planted on the estate. The object here is to showcase the potential of a particular terroir (soil, site, micro-climate) as and its relationship to a particular varietal(s).

Reserve: Wines given the Reserve designation can either come from specially selected vineyard sites noted for producing exceptional grapes, or from a lot of grapes that are specifically triaged (selected) from a particular harvest. Regardless of the selection process, Reserve wines are produced with long term ageing in mind.

Premier Cuvee: Represents almost exclusively a barrel selection of what Renaissance considers wines of the highest quality and ageing potential.


We began our tasting with a selection of estate whites whose grapes are grown on some of the cooler vineyard slopes of the property. The 2007 Carte d’Or (a newer addition to the selections listed above) is a blend of 60% Semillon and 40% sauvignon blanc. It is fermented in stainless steel and does not undergo malolactic fermentation.

Although this is a classic Bordeaux blanc blend, to me the Carte d’Or evokes more of an Alsace meets Provence esprit. Squarely medium bodied, but with a fresh, almost pungent herb nuance and bright minerality. Very interesting, and I suspect a winner with a farmhouse cheese such as Banon or Picodon.

Next, Sveltana cracked open 2 estate syrah releases which are currently being offered by the winery. The 2002 and the 2005 offered textbook examples as to the significance of vintage variation.

The 2002 displayed subtle darker fruit berry notes, with hints of savory-beef notes. The tannins were a bit more pronounced, and there was a distinct bramley-ness to the wine. Really delicious and exhibiting lots of classic rough-hewn syrah character.

In contrast, the 2005 was a decidedly fleshier and more forward rendition of syrah. More red-berry notes, less bramble, a more round and ample texture, and with finer tannins than its older sibling. Keep in mind that this “weightier” 2005 still comes in at a modest 14% abv. So it was by no means a bruiser.

Renaissance’s Granite Crown is 50/50 cabernet sauvignon and syrah blend, and comprises part the the estate’s “Vin de Terroir” selection. I have always loved this combination, and feel like it is a truly under appreciated and overlooked style of wine with awesome potential.

Dark berry fruits, smoky tea, roasted herbs.. the cabernet provides structure, while syrah provides a bit of fruit and floral nuance. Yalumba’s FDR1A, Domaine de Trevallon, and Renaissance’s Granite Crown should all occupy top spots in this category as all three age are built for the long haul and do it so gracefully.


Renaissance’s 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was a revelation for me. With all of power, press and hoo ha about Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, who would think that such a stunning (and appropriately aged) example would come from Oregon House California?

First of all, the 2001 Reserve comes in at a modest 13.6% abv. No excess heat on the finish or up my nose. And certainly all of the textbook characteristics that I am looking for when I drink Cabernet Sauvignon. Black current, hints of tobacco, eucalyptus, mineral, smoke.

Fine tannins and acid to boot, this cabernet should easily hold its own for another 8-10 years if stored properly. This is the cabernet sauvignon that I will open at my next dinner party, or open to “show off” California wines to my french wine friends. At $45 a bottle, this (soon to be) ten year old bottle of red is an absolute steal.

Svetlana Sladkova of Renaissance Vineyard & Winery

We capped off the tasting with Renaissance’s 1999 late harvest Semillon. Produced in a style similar to Sauternes, these botrytis affected grapes were harvested at 28.3 brix and completed fermentation with 9% residual sugar (or 90g/l). A bit lighter and with less viscosity and sweetness than most sauternes, this unusual late harvest would be a great match with an Epoisses (from Burgundy) or Roquefort (Aveyron).

Thank you Svetlana, and thank you Renaissance  for showcasing such unique and expressive wines from California’s Sierra Foothills. A visit and tasting here is truly something to write home about.

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After 3 weeks into Malo (MLF), I decided to check in on my wine in order to see how the conversion of malic to lactic acid was progressing. Question: How exactly do winemakers do this? Answer: Paper Chromatography.

As the process applies to winemaking and testing for MLF, paper chromatography is pretty strait forward. I have copied this text from the literature provided by the super cool guys at Oak Barrel/WineCraft:

“A special solvent migrates through a sample(s) of wine, picks up tartaric (heaviest), malic and lactic acid (lightest), and carries the lighter acids along its path at a faster rate than the heavier acids. When the solvent saturated paper is developed, the different acids are separated along a linear path. It is easy to see qualitatively whether malic or lactic acid is present, and the relative sizes of the two spots give a pretty good indication of the progress of MLF.”

Above is a shot of my chromatography worksheet. On a piece of paper turned sideways, I have drawn a line (approximately 1.25 inch from the bottom) and placed a series of X’s (approximately 1 inch apart) where I will later be applying my test samples and acids.

On the chromatography paper I have placed five distinct X’s. Just above each X will serve as the contact point for the 5 samples (in the glasses above) I have prepared.

The five samples include:

 My 2 reference acids

1. 1 gram tartaric acid dissolved in 250ml distilled water

2. 1 gram malic acid dissolved in 250ml distilled water

The next 3 wine samples are from each of the 3 carboys that are currently going through MLF.

3. 50-75 ml of wine sample from carboy # 3

4. 50-75 ml of wine sample from carboy # 5

5. 50-75 ml of wine sample from carboy # 5-A

Here, I have taken a second piece of paper and folded it accordion style and labeled each trough with each of my carboy samples as well as my reference acids. I have used tiny capillary tubes to pull samples (each tube is filled about 2/3 full) of each sample. The trough makes it easier for me to pick up and handle each sample, which I let hang off the end of the paper.

Now I begin applying, one drop at a time, each of the 5 samples just above their respective X’s. Pressing the capillary tube (ever so gently) will release a drop of fluid. As soon as the fluid flows onto the paper pick up the tube. Allow the spot to dry (a few minutes) and go on to the next sample.

Ultimately, you’ll want to use up just about all of the fluid pulled for each sample. The key is to make sure that a) the paper dries between each application b) none of the dots overlap one another. Ideally, each dot should be around 1cm in diameter.

Next I stapled the edges of the paper to form a cylinder, making sure that the edges of the paper do not overlap.

Into my test jar I poured 50ml of chromatography solvent. I then inserted my chromatography paper into the jar with the data/dots side towards the bottom of the jar.

This process is known as ascending chromatography. I then sealed the jar, watched and waited..

And waited..after about 30 minutes, the solvent had begun to absorb the paper and creep upwards.

And waited..after about 2 hours the solvent had traveled approximately 1/3 of the way towards the top of the paper.

When the fluid finally made its way to within 1.5 inches of the top of the paper it was nighttime and 8.5 hours later. I took the paper out of the jar, removed the staples and hung the paper up in a well ventilated spot.

And like a bad tie-dyed T-shirt, in the morning, the dried paper yielded the results of my test! As I suspected, my wine has not completed MLF and is probably only around halfway complete. How did I determine this?

The second X on the paper (L-R) represents the malic acid sample. Halfway up the paper is a big yellow malic dot, indicating where the solvent ultimately carried the malic acid. My paper chromatography test indicates that samples #3, #5, #5-A still contain evidence of malic acic. Why? Because each of these samples also exhibits a yellow, albeit half the size, dot halfway up the paper and parallel to the big yellow malic dot.

What am I looking for? Basically, I want the yellow sample dots on #3, #5 and #5-A that are parallel to the yellow malic dot to diminish and ultimately fade away. When this occurs, it will indicate that the solvent has carried the lightest acid (which is lactic acid) to the very top of the paper. My yellow dots for the three wine samples will therefore no longer be displayed next to the malic dot, but instead above it and at the top of the chromatography paper.

Whew! O.K. enough analytical chemistry for now. I will conduct this test again, probably in a 3-4 weeks to see how MLF is going. Now it’s time to eat, drink and actually taste some finished wine..

Next: A tasting with Chateau Pradeaux!

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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.

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As I write this post, my new wine is safe and sound, tucked away at the end of my hallway undergoing malolactic fermentation or ML.

For the next several weeks, I will be monitoring this important phase of the winemaking process, however alot of the more visually compelling winemaking events will have to take a back seat for now.  Things like stomping, punching down, and pressing (all within about 2 weeks time) give way to paper chromatography tests, periodic stirring, and waiting..

Run free!

Pressing the newly formed wine is definitely a photographic and winemaking highlight for me. Look at all of that gorgeous wine! This is a #35 stainless steel basket press that I rented for the day from Oak Barrel/Winecraft. What you see above is pure free run juice..in other words, I have just started loading the fermented grapes into the press and this is what is running out the sides an into my bowl before I have exerted any pressure.

Equipped with a funnel and a sieve, I begin to fill my  5 and 3 gallon carboys. This first batch of free run juice is considered to be of the most delicate and high quality. Why? Because at this point, fewer of the harsh and more astringent tannins have been extracted of pressed out of the skins. However incorportating a bit of press wine will often give the finished product more structure and complextity. The key is to monitor the pressing, and to stop when the extracted juice becomes too bitter or astringent.

press blocks

Once the free run juice has stopped flowing, it’s time to get to press the skins! Here, I have inserted a series of blocks, upon which the press ratchet will be placed. Notice the wine still seeping out the sides of the press..

wine press assembled and ready for action!

With  the press is properly assembled (blocks placed between grapes and ratchet, keys facing proper direction) its time to start ratcheting and applying pressure to the mass of grapes inside the press. This process takes about 15-20 minutes. Over the course of time, the effort becomes increasingly more difficult,  as the mass of skins becomes more compacted.

As you can see from the photo above, now the wood blocks, having started at the top of the metal basket, are now more than half way down the cylinder. Very soon we’ll have reached the end of the line, and it will be time to flip those two metal keys over in order to reverse direction and remove the ratchet and press blocks.

grape marc makes great compost!

After removing the press blocks, this grape marc, or pommace  is just about all that remains. Along with making great compost, grape marc can and is often distilled to make spirits such as grappa. Time to scoop it out and clean the press.

newly minted wine..

Voila the freshly pressed wine! From approximately 200 lbs of grenache grapes I was able to press 13 gallons of fermented juice. This volume is a bit low on average for grenache (a varietal that tends to produce big grapes with a healthy dose of juice). Most likely the cooler growing year has something to do with this.

NEXT: Malolactic fermentation or ML.

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Today I pressed my batch of Eaglepoint Ranch grenache that I picked up, processed and began fermenting less than 2 weeks ago. So far so good! My grapes have successfully made the transformation from sweet fruit, to the beginnings of, I hope, a tasty wine.

However before I continue on with coverage of the press action, here is a play-by-play of the journey from day one up until now..


Day 1:

Destem and crush approximately 200 lbs grenache grapes

Volume: approximately 20 gallons

pH analysis: 3.7

broke hydrometer, but pulled sample to take sugar readings at later date

added 25ppm potassium metabisulfite

Day 2:

Inoculated must with:

15 grams LALVIN K1-V1116 a.k.a. “Montpellier” yeast strain

1 oz yeast nutrient

both dissolved in 12 oz. water @ 109 degrees farenheit.

Day 3:

Fermentation begins, indicated by foamy action..carbon dioxide which is a byproduct of fermentation.

Purchase 2nd hydrometer: pull unfermented must from fridge and take reading: 14.7% potential alcohol. (I should have done this earlier, but I need to get a starting point so that I can track the progress of fermentation)

The house smells really good!..like fresh grapes and violets.

Day 4:

 Begin 2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.

Monitoring fermentation temperature which reaches a high of 82 degrees on day 4.

Must is cooled to 75 degrees with 2 milk jugs filled with water and frozen (hugh ice cubes!)

I am having alot of fun!!

 Day 5:

2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.

Fermentation steady at approximately 78-80 degrees.

Break 2nd hydrometer (this time early in the morning, before I have had coffee)

Now the house smells like grapes and warm bread.


Day 6:

2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.

Purchase 3rd hydrometer: take reading, which indicates that fermenting must is at 8% potential alcohol


Day 7:

2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.

Now the house is beginning to smell like I smashed a bottle of red wine on the floor.


Day 8:

2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.

Carbon dioxide begins to lessen..less foamy action

My friend Keelyn informs me that she is going to make beer. We will trade wine for beer! 

Day 9:

 2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.


 Day 10:

3rd hydrometer reading indicates –1.25% potential alcohol.

Must has fermented to dryness.

1 punchdown only (less carbon dioxide being created to protect wine)

No extended maceration for these grapes, so it is time to press!

NEXT: le pressoir!

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