The Calm Before the Storm

October 6th, 2012 – Robert
It’s the evening before crush and there is a lot to do. We’re about to come into 300 pounds of volatile and unpredictable grape juice, much like a teenager with the car keys, and need to make sure we have everything ready. This morning, I visited my local homebrew store, Maryland Home Brew, in Columbia, Maryland to procure all of the supplies I’ll need for the next few weeks. Here’s how we’re getting ready:

Cleanliness is next to godliness.
We’re going to be storing all 300 pounds of grape must (technical term) in five 7.8 gallon, food-safe fermenting buckets. Since our wine is going to be sitting in these for the next few weeks, we need to make sure they’re as sanitized as we can get them. This means lots of hot water and a sanitizing solution containing iodine called Iodophor. Iodophor is an awesome sanitizer because, unlike other solutions like dish soap, it evaporates directly to a gas, leaving no residue behind. We’ll be washing all of our equipment in Iodophor to make sure it’s sanitized. It smells terrible and leaves everything a little yellow, but man does it get things clean.

Icebergs ahoy!
Once we crush the grapes tomorrow, we want to keep them really cold for a couple of days, so the juice and skins have extra time to be in contact with one another before fermentation. This process is called a cold soak. Professional winemaking operations simply wheel their fermenters into their walk-in freezers and are done with it. I, however, don’t have a walk-in freezer, or any kind of freezer that can accommodate 300 pounds of grape must. It’s time to get creative.

Last seen near the titanic.

Here’s the plan: I’ve purchased ten, 1-gallon jugs of water and spent the past week freezing them in my standard, normal-person sized freezer (we had to throw out some old leftovers to make room for them, but we didn’t really need those salmon burgers anyway). The plan is to add these to my fermenters as huge ice cubes, to cool down the must during the cold soak. I’m planning to wrap these frozen jugs in those plastic bags you’d usually use to roast turkeys in, so they don’t spring a leak and dilute my grape juice. Side note: does Reynolds® know they can market their oven bags to home winemakers? Must send memo. Will likely result in endorsement deal.

Mise en place – not just for chefs anymore.
We’ll also be adding some things (technical term) to our grapes as soon as we get them to protect them on their journey to wine. The first and most important is potassium metabisulfite. When you see “contains sulfites” on wine labels, this is what they’re talking about. Metabisulfite protects the wine must from spoilage and helps it retain its delicate flavors and color. We have to buy a new batch of metabisulfite every year, as we need to make sure it’s as potent as it can be. I also bought our wine yeast, malolactic bacteria, pectic enzyme, and yeast nutrient. We’ll talk more about these ingredients as we start fermentation, but it’s really important to have these items on hand. The next few days are going to be really busy, and you never know how things are going to play out.

That’s it! We’re ready to go and will head to the vineyard in Westminster tomorrow with our SUV loaded up with all of the supplies and additives we’ll need to get this winemaking season on its way. We have lots of posts coming in the next few days, as this is our busiest time of year.

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