Sunday, December 13, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 50 - Seasons Greetings!

Happy Holidays Everybody:

Hope you are getting into the Christmas Spirit! And speaking of spirits, we will be racking our wine for a second time very soon. That means we will be done with the malolactic fermentation and we will be starting the aging process!

In the first racking we removed the "Gross Lees". At the end of the malolatic fermentation period, in a second racking, we will remove the "Fines Lees". Then we will arrest any further malolactic fermentation by adding a sulfur compound (SO4), also called "Meta".

As you may know, most red wines and a few whites will improve with aging. All reds and whites like Chardonnay should be aged for at least a year. Part of that aging will be done in our big carboy bottles, called "Bulk Aging". And then the "Final Aging" will be done in individual corked bottles.

So, while we wait for our wine to age, and to put you in the the proper spirits of the season, please enjoy our Sphar Family Christmas Video with wishes of fine wines in the New Year!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Years!!
Kristen, John, Scott, Katie & Suzie

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 49 - Stirring The Lees!

Hi all:

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We had a great turkey meal, accented by a couple of glasses of my home brewed Cabernet that I was able to pull during the last racking! I may be bias, but I thought it is pretty good!

After Thursday, we had a nice "stay at home", long weekend. And just when I thought everything was on automatic pilot in the wine making department, and just like my primary fermentation process, my malolactic fermentation seems to be stuck.

It turns out that you have to "Stir the Lees", the fine lees that settle to the bottom of the container, along with the maloactic bacteria in dormant lump. Also, my cellar (aka: my crawl space) is too cool, from 55-65 degrees, when we should be around 72 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 13-20 degrees versus 22 degrees Celsius for all you metric folk).

So, after ineffectually trying to shake my 5 gallon jug of wine, I bought a food-grade, long handled, narrow plastic spoon used in beer making, as recommended by the folks at MoreFlavor! (formerly Fermentation Frenzy), four bucks ($4 US). So now I can reach the bottom of my 5 gallon carboy and stir up the fine lees (clumps of malolactic bacteria cells, tiny bits of grape skins & other solids).

In the old days they used a long wooden stick ("baton"), but wood can carry unwanted bacteria, which can reek havoc with wines. I have read some winemakers stir weekly, some monthly and the commercial guys automate stirring by storing their oak barrels on roller racks, which can be rotated automatically. Let's try it twice a month and see how that goes!

It was pretty warm a few weeks ago, the last hurrah of Indian Summer, but now it is turning pretty cold. Did you see the snow on the hills this morning! So I am trying to get things a bit warmer down in the cellar, to hopefully finish the malolactic fermentation. I hope you stay warm on these cool autumn evenings as winter quickly approaches!

From down in my cold wine cellar,


P.S. - Miriam Bach, our German exchange student, was almost trampled to death by our herd of pygmy goats in their avarice rush to eat the weeds in the vineyard! See the heroic video below of her near death experience!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 48 - Oakiness

Hi all:

Hey, one last thing in all these "starts & stops" of our wine making process. How do you get oak flavor from a glass carboy container during aging, you ask? Well, as I mentioned many, many posts ago (my second actually), Professor Singleton of the University of California - Davis had devised the use of wood oak cubes, while fermenting wine in large stainless tanks to get the flavor of the "Tannins" that one gets from aging in oak barrels.

By the way, that word tannin comes from the Old High German tanna for tree, you know like... "O' Tannenbaum, o' tannenbaum, how lovely are your branches..."! And there are several kinds of oak that have distinctive flavors. Our American grown oak barrels help impart that wonderful vanilla flavor you get in many of our California Chardonnays.

Well, during the malolactic process, it is suggested to add oak cubes when using a container that is not made of oak. Not only does it give you the oak flavor, but it offers the malolactic bacteria a place to hide. You can buy a package of little oak cubes (1/2"x 3/4"x 1") as you can see in my picture above. They have even calculated the total surface of a cube versus the one inside surface of an oak barrel, so yo know how much to use.

So things will be chuggin' along until Christmas, when we will do our second racking. Enjoy the approaching holiday season!

From down in the wine cellar,

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 47 - Malolactic Fermentation

Hi all:

So, now we are in a "stop" mode! Freshly fermented wine has malic acids in it that have a sour taste like you would find in the tartness of sour apples. In "Malolactic Fermentation" (not really a fermentation process, since it does not produce alcohol), special bacteria convert the sour malic acids in wine to better tasting lactic acids, the kind of acids you would find in fermented milk (i.e.: yogurt, keifer, etc.). Lactic acid also has a better "mouthiness" feel to it that winemakers & wine drinkers prefer!

There are naturally occurring Lactobacillus bacteria found on grapes, but winemakers don't like to rely on just the possibility of the malolactic fermentation occurring. So after our first racking, we have inoculated our wine with the appropriate bacteria from our friends down at MoreFlavor! (formerly Fermentation Frenzy). Part of the malolactic process is the production of CO2 gas, so we should see a bit more bubbling out of the Air-Lock Bungs!

We are allowing the malolactic fermentation to occur for three or four weeks. And the next racking is planned for the week before Christmas, so we are really in the home stretch now! But I am really tempted to pull a glass or two out for Thanksgiving dinner!

We hope you all have a truly wonderful Thanksgiving celebration with family and friends. Our best wishes to you & yours!


Friday, November 20, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 46 - Rackin' the Lees

Hi all:

The wine making process does have its "starts" & "stop! So, starting at about 48 hours after pressing, the wine should be "Racked" to remove the "Gross Lees". The Gross Lees are all the dead yeast cells, tiny bits of grape skins and other solids that have settled down to the bottom of the Carboy container after Pressing. And Racking involves siphoning off the wine from one container to another leaving the Gross Lees behind to be discarded, which you can see me doing into my kitchen sink.

I read in one source about pressing the Gross Lees to get more wine volume, but the volume of my Gross Lees is only a couple of quarts with a liquid component of a cup or two. And the reason you want to remove the Gross Lees is because the yeast cells and other solids are organic matter that can start to decay and give you foul off flavors & odors!

During the first Racking, the siphon tube should be place near the top of the new container so that the wine flows down the surface of the Carboy, which you can see happening in the picture to the left. This allows for aeration of the wine one last time. Depending who you talk to, Racking is done several more times, at intervals of at least three weeks. However, unlike the first Racking, the siphon tube is placed at the bottom of the new container to avoid aeration of the wine.

The next "start" is malolactic fermentation, but we'll save that for next time!

Here's to "Beaujolais Nouveau" for Thanksgiving!

P.S. - Hey, Young Oak Vineyards Honey will be available at MoreFlavor! (formerly Fermentation Frenzy) right next to Armadillo Wille's, while it lasts!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 45: Trivia Question - What Is A Carboy ?!

Well, according to WIKIPEDIA a "Carboy" is:

... from the Persian qarabah (قرابه), or from the Arabic qarraba, meaning "a big jug". You know those 5 gallon water bottles at the office water cooler. Well, for you youngin's, they used to made out of glass, and many a conversation was had around them about office politics, gossip, maybe even about work!

But I digress! Now that the "Primary Fermentation" is now finally over, the next step in our adventure is to "Press" the "Must", removing the "Pomace" (grape skins, bit of stems, solids, etc.). This is done with a wine press of which there are many different designs, like this old beauty below (not mine).

The juice that flows freely through the press without any pressing is called "Free Run". Many winemakers think that the Free Run makes a superior wine and there are those who think pressing offers some additional complex flavors to the wine. Well, I have both. I was able to collect 5 gallons of Free Run separately from 3 gallons of pressed wine, which I squeezed thru a gauge mesh.

After pressing, I transferred the wine into glass carboys. The other choice is an oak barrel, which I am leaving until I know what I am doing and will discuss in a later post. Finally, we placed an ingenious stopper contraptions, an"Air-Lock Bung", on the carboy opening, which allows CO2 gases to escape, but not allow atmospheric air to get back in. Now we can let things settle down a bit.

It ain't vinegar yet!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 44: Final Fermentation

Hi all:

Well, the weather did cooperate on Saturday, nice & warm, but not on Sunday, when we had another storm front move in, bringing some slight showers, and plummeting cold temperatures! From advise of one of my blog followers, HB of Virginia (check out his blog!), I am going to resort to an external heater, of which I have some professional experience from my old days at Raychem Corporation. I am going to put a thin electric sheet heater on my fermentation barrel with aluminum foil tape. This should add a small amount of heat to the "Must". Hopefully, with a little heat, we can move along to the next step!

Spending way too much time under my house, than in my house, John

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 43: Stuck Fermentation!!

Hi all:

My initial fermentation has been taking more time than expected. In fact, I have had the "Must" (grape skins & juice) fermenting for almost two weeks now, which should have only been about a week. According to:

Wine yeast is most happy when:

  • It's not too hot, and not too cold
  • There's lots of food to eat
  • No killer agents are present
  • They live in sanitary conditions
  • Oxygen is available (to kick off fermentation)
To make sure oxygen is available, I have been punching down the "Cap", the layer of floating grape skins, that forms on the top of the "Must". I have been trying to do this 2 or 3 times a day, once early in the morning before school (my work), late in the afternoon after school (my work) and once at bedtime. This circulates the juice, grape pulp & skins which should give more food to the yeast.

There is the possibility that the fermentation is "Stuck", which does not happen very often, but if it is going to happen, it will happen to me & I cannot rule it out. I have tried my best to be sanitary & there is not much I can do about past contamination, so that just leaves the temperature variable.

The temperature of my bubbling brew has not exceeded 68 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 20 degrees Celsius for you metric folk), which maybe is a little on the low side. It is suggested that one might warm the "Must" to 70-75 degrees to "Un-Stuck" a "Stuck" fermentation, which I hope will naturally happen with our bout of warmer weather we have had here for the last two or three days. I'll let you know how things progress over the weekend.

With alcoholic wishes & vinegar nightmares,

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 42: Pressing Matters !!

Oh my, oh my!

My "Brix" (sugar content), which measured 25.5 degrees at the start of fermentation, is now measuring 9 degrees, but it needs to drop to 0 degrees to start the next step of fermentation, "Pressing" ! And my total acid level, which was low at 2.5 grams per Liter at the beginning of fermentation, has now risen to 8.25 g/L, a little higher than desired (6.0 - 8.0 g/L)!

Arrrrgh !!!! What to do, what to do!!!!!!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 41: Fermentation Frenzy

Hi all:

Here's a couple of shots of my must. The first shows the "Cap" of grape skins, which forms a protective layer over the wine. You can see my hand there with a military issue potato masher that is used to "Punch" down the cap a couple of times a day. The second shot shows the punched down cap. The bubbles are carbon dioxide and other gases given off during fermentation. In fact, the large wineries have to be careful when fermenting due to the large amounts of CO2 given off in the buildings.

For years & years, I have been driving by this little shop on the very edge of Los Altos next to Palo Alto, formerly called "Fermentation Frenzy" (now called MoreBeer!, MoreWine!, MoreCoffee!, More Flavor!, MoreSomething!, take your pick). One year, Kris bought me all the equipment and supplies from there for making beer. And for the last 3 or 4 years I have been popping into the place every once in a while to look at equipment and ponder winemaking. But this year, they know me by my first & last name, and they have also memorized my credit card number!

Well, it really hasn't been hugely expensive, but if I don't need another food-grade 10 gallon plastic fermentation barrel ($21), I need a pound of tartaric acid ($7.95) or just sage advise that I am doing things right ($$ priceless $$)! At any rate, between all the little things one does need for winemaking, these guys have it all, or at the least, they will have it by next Thursday! If you need anything for beer making, winemaking & now coffee roasting, checkout MoreFlavor! Plus they take their time with customers explaining & helping, which can be a double edged sword sometimes. Especially when you forgot to get enough tartaric acid that was suppose to be added before the wine yeast and you are the fifth customer in line!

Well, the crawl space under my house has been converted to a winery for the next few months. [I am actually planning on building (adding on) under our house in the future, so someday I will have a "cellar" or at least a place to store a lot of wine or vinegar.] As I had mentioned in my previous post, I have added the "Meta", and the "Yeast". But I hadn't mentioned that I had to add some tartaric acid to bring the acid level of the "Must" up to 6.5 g/L. And as things go, I hadn't bought enough acid to reach that level, so I had added the Yeast anyway just to get things going. And now I have just added more tartaric acid to bring it up to the desired level. Apparently, the acid protects the wine yeast from harmful bacteria that cannot tolerate that high of acid level.

You know, its just like cooking, you read the recipe for the first time, but you mix up the order or the ingredients or whatever and you try & correct it! And after you have made the dish a dozen times, you can make it by heart, and you might even experiment here & there. Well, I am still at that first stage, reading the recipe for the first time and making little mistakes & corrections. Having said that, wine is also very forgiving, so I still have a fighting chance to make something decent!

And the most wonderful thing is that this whole concoction is starting to smell like wine! Or at least it smells like that strange, wonderful smell I remember from my youth going on tours of wineries up in Napa, through all those caves & cellars, by the huge fermentation barrels on the way to the tasting rooms!

Things are happening very fast & we will be pressing the wine very soon, so we will have another post next weekend to keep updated on pressing matters (a very little joke)! As Nora Jones said in her song, Don't Know Why, "My heart is drenched in wine, ..., but you'll be on my mind, ..., forever."

Intoxicated from under the floor boards of my house,

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 40: Pickin' 'N A Grinin'

Hey, where were you?

I know, I know, ..., it was Oktoberfest, ..., but we had baked goodies from Ester's German Bakery & Peet's French Roast Coffee!

I know, I know, ..., there was a soccer match, ..., but we had Dittmer's Deli Sandwiches & Izze's Sodas!

It's OK, but we really missed you. But as they say, "blood is thicker than water", and my brother, Mike, and his wife, Monica, really pulled through helping us harvest our grapes, a whole 185 pounds of grapes! Kristen & I owe you & Monica big time Bro'! At least a couple of cases! (And hopefully, not cases of vinegar!

Yes, we were
pickin' & a grinin'" (thank you Poco!) last Saturday morning and a fine "Indian Summer" day it was. A little windy, but that keep it cool! My brother and his wife came all the way from Nevada! Talk about migrant farm workers! And they came prepared, hitting the vineyard with their own hooked harvest knives, which they picked up in Lodi (made famous by the John Fogarty & Creedence Clearwater Revival and now a big Zinfandel region of California) at the vineyard supply store located there. However, Mike and I soon converted to regular pruning shears after a coupe of cut fingers from these traditional instruments! Obviously, dexterity runs in our family. (Look to the side bar for more pictures of "My First Crush"!)

It took about 5 hours to pick all the grapes, but to start the wine making process it took less than thirty minutes. I had rented a "Crusher/De-Stemmer" apparatus from our local beer & wine making shop, "MoreFlavor!" (formerly known as "Fermentation Frenzy"), located near Chef Chu's & Armadillo Wille's. The Crusher part of the machine replaces that age old technique of stompin' grapes (picture Lucille Ball in that wine vat!), and mechanically "pops" open the grape skins to release the juice and inner fruit. While the De-Stemmer part ingeniously separates the crushed grapes from the stems!

The crushed grapes, now called the "Must", was collected a plastic fermentation barrel resulting in about 25 gallons of must. Because of my inexperience, I decided not to use oak barrels this time around, due to their high cost and it is easy to ruin a wooden barrel. And, at any rate, you can add oak wood chips during the latter part of the fermentation process, an idea that was conceived by Professor Singleton, who taught my "Introduction to Wine" class in Davis in 1975, giving wine the oaky flavor that comes from barrel fermenting.

Sunday, I added a sulfur compound called "Meta", to the must, that actually kills off the naturally occuring yeast and any foreign bacteria that maybe present. The naturally occurring yeast can be used to ferment the grapes, but there is a risk of getting off flavors. So most winemakers use Meta allowing about 24 hours for it to do its thing and then add back a specific wine yeast. The "Yeast", that I added on Monday, is for bordeaux style wines, which Cabernet Sauvignon falls into. So everybody cross your fingers, ..., we will see how things progress from here!

Hey Hose Alert! - To borrow another blogger's surprise catch phrase: "Have I been living under a rock!" They are actually sell garden hoses that have the following warning labels on them, "Do not drink from hose & wash hands after handling as the hose contains lead." Is it just me or has the entire world gone crazy! Who in the hell would make a hose that you could not drink from, ..., let alone let your kids play in a sprinkler, ..., or fill a kiddie pool without worrying that you are killing neurons in your kids! My wife, Kristen, came across this as we were buying some new hoses. Now we have lead free hoses around our hose. Not too big an investment to avoid dementia!

Yours from down in my wine cellar (well, actually in the crawl space under my house),


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Young Oak Vineyards: Volume 39: Crush Alert !!!

First thing is first,

Sorry for the last minute notice, but "THE CRUSH IS ON, BABY !!!!!"  We are going to be picking our first major harvest of grapes this:

* Saturday, October 3rd
* Coffee & Mornin' Food 8:30 a.m.
* Pickin' Begins  9:30 a.m.
* Wine Makin' 10:30 a.m.

Bring your own hand shears and gloves !!!

I been using the old methods of determining the time to pick, which are touch, taste and seed color.  And although I usually can tell which tomato to buy in the grocery store, there seems to be a little bit more to it in the vineyard.  The sugar in grape is predominately glucose, which is about half as sweet as cane sugar or sucrose. Therefore, the sweetness difference is very subtle.

Anyway, to be sure, I bought an instrument called a refractometer scope, which uses sun light and refraction to determine the percent sugar content (by weight) of a liquid like grape juice.  You know how if you put a spoon or a pencil in a glass of water it appears to be bent.  That's refraction!  Light gets bent (actually slows down) in different mediums like water, glass or grape juice.

Well, someone calibrated the amount refraction (light bending) that occurs with the amount of sugar by weight in water, which they measure in degrees brix.  The reflectometer has a glass platform to place a couple of drips of fluid on. And when you look through thru the eyepiece, thru the glass platform, you see a scale super-imposed on the field of view.  You first calibrate the scale with a sample of distilled water (no sugar there).  My scope was right on right out of the box, O% sugar!  Then you try a sample, in my case, grape juice.

So, I walked through the vineyard today and grabbed a sampling of grapes from different vines separately smashing them in different plastic bags.  I found that the brix for all my grape juice samples ranged from 23 to 24 degrees or 23 to 24% sugar.  The typical range for ripe grapes in brix is 20 to 24 degrees!  So, it is time to pick, but the earliest I can do it is next Saturday!

Anyway, I have to hit the books, learn how to make wine and find all the necessary equipment & supplies to crush, de-stem & press the grapes. Not to mention the fermentation container(s), buckets, etc.!  Pray it doesn't rain!

Wishing you well from down in the vineyard!