The Tortoise and the Hare

When we accidentally came into possession of 100 pounds of Vidal Blanc grapes several weeks ago, I knew making a white wine would be different from making a red. By accidentally, I of course mean that I placed a direct order for them with Dr. Bob. Don’t tell Caitlin.

I didn’t expect things would be this different. Fermentation is beginning to wind down for both of our wines.

Sturgeon bladder: not just for sturgeons.
Our white wine is now 7 Brix (or about 7% sugar by weight), down from 12 Brix on Sunday. We’re on day eight of fermentation and probably have another three to four days until all the sugar has been converted to alcohol and fermentation is complete. This is a much longer fermentation than the red (as you’ll read shortly). The most interesting thing, at least to me, is the color change we’ve seen as the white has gone through fermentation.

When we pressed the wine at the vineyard, it was hazy. It was cloudy. It resembled dirty dishwater. We let it stand in a carboy while the solids sank to the bottom and it turned fairly clear; still a little hazy but definitely translucent. Now that we’re in the middle of fermentation, it has turned very murky again. We think it is due to the reaction caused by the yeast. We expect that once fermentation is completes, it will go back to being clear-ish again. I’m posting a picture showing the current state of the white wine, as it sits in our patent-pending turkey roasting pan filled with ice cooling system. Now accepting suggestions for a snappier brand name.

We mentioned in a previous post that it is more difficult to make white wine than red, due to the clarity requirements. The Great Clarity Challenge of 2012 will begin when fermentation ends. Spoiler alert: this may include the use of a milkshake made of clay, egg whites, or purified sturgeon bladder. Clay and/or egg whites: less terrifying, easy to come by. Purified sturgeon bladder: way better blog post.

Red wine yeast: we hardly knew ye.
Our red fermentation is, for all intents and purposes, complete. The juice was down to 1 Brix when I checked it this morning. I expect it to be fully complete by this evening. The wine has turned a deep red-purple color, as the hot fermentation allowed the juice to extract color from the skins floating in it. Fermentation only took five days, which seems fast to me when compared to previous years. I did some research. It seems that a speedy fermentation isn’t a bad thing, as long as we were able to get the temperature of the fermenting must up above 80 degrees (we did).

When fermentation is complete, we’ll go back to adding our large ice cubes to the wine. This will cool it back down for the next few days, until we’re ready to press it.
This is called extended maceration. During this time, we do our best to minimize contact with the air to avoid excess oxidation.

Punching down the caps: great name or greatest name for a rock band?
The past few days have given me the opportunity to perform one of my favorite tasks in winemaking: punching down the caps that form over our fermenting red grape juice. When we ferment the red, we leave in the skins to allow more color and flavor to be extracted from the grapes. When the yeast starts fermenting, it gives off CO2 bubbles, which rise to the top of the fermenter. The bubbles drag grape skins along with them, creating a cap of dry grape skins on top of the wine. We want to keep those skins in contact with the wine, so we press the cap down, back into the wine, several times a day. I’m including pictures of what the grape cap looks like before punching down and after, when the skins are all mixed back in.

It looks like this Saturday is going to be pressing day for the red – one of the best days of the year. There’s lots of fun, messy work to be done. It’s also our tradition to break into the previous year’s vintage for the first time. Don’t look at me like that. You can’t prove there’s a correlation between all the wine drinking we’re doing and the huge mess we make.

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