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),