2020 Vintage – Barbera

We’re beginning year 6 of this wine making adventure. All the returning members rejoined (either they like the wine, or are too polite to tell me they don’t; I can never be sure). This year, we’re moving out of France, and trying a new Italian varietal, Barbera. And we have two new wine members, so I need to up the volume slightly. So, before diving into the main course of Barbera, I have a small appetizer to start with, Mourvèdre.

September 19, 2020
A couple years back, a friend referred me to the Cal Wine Broker, some guy with a mailing list that brings small wine makers to various vineyards in the Brentwood and Oakley area. His prices are cheap! This weekend, he was offering grapes for 75¢ a pound (picked for you), with no minimum or pricing tiers. I saw a couple weeks ago he had grapes for 30¢ a pound (you have to pick). Wow that’s cheap! Also, he will crush it onsite for a flat $20 fee. I was free this weekend, and it was right before the main Barbera delivery the next Tuesday (so I could press everything together). I had to bite. He offered Montepulciano, Aglianico, and Mourvèdre. Leah opted for the Mourvèdre since that was the only one she recognized. The price on this is low, and I don’t think particularly highly of this region. So, at this point, I’m not planning on blending this with the “seemingly” better quality Barbera I have coming. I’ll keep it separate for months, and then consider blending them at that time.

I met this guy at 7:30am in a gas station parking lot in Brentwood, CA with about 20 other folks. We then caravanned to Trilogy Vineyards, a gated retirement community, with a vineyard inside it …. ok. They had 6 big pallets of grapes out in the parking lot and the buyers went at it, scooping the grapes into their containers. Previously, when I did this I just scooped up everything (in Livermore, I would get the whole bin, so I didn’t really have a choice). But the other buyers here were hand picking out the good looking clusters, and leaving the rest, interesting! So I became a little more discerning on what I grabbed. I filled up four of my bins, had them weighed, and he had a crusher/destemmer right there for a small (very reasonable!) $20 fee. I dropped all my grapes in the top and they came out crushed. It was a lot of work throwing around that much grapes, but it only took about 10 minutes. This was a much nicer experience than previous years. It was cheaper, I didn’t have to move the crusher/destemmer, I didn’t really have to move my grapes to get to the crusher/destemmer, and I didn’t have to clean it, $20 well spent! I paid up, loaded up my car and drove home. I purchased some yeast and brought it up to my apartment kitchen. I dosed it with S02 (.5 tsp, I think), and then took a nap! I will add the yeast at the 24 hour mark.

Mourvèdre Stats
Brix: 24.2 (my measurement, with new refractometer)
pH: Unknown
Additions: .5 tsp of SO2 split between the two containers, targeting 30ppm (added immediately).
Yeast: D21 (30g, likely too much), added at the 24 hour mark.
Yeast Nutrients: None

September 22, 2020
I’m back at Oak Barrel after two years out in Livermore. I think the Livermore quality is better, and cheaper, but I wanted more variety, so I picked this. I’m paying $1.20 plus 5¢ to have it crushed per pound. I dropped my fleet of containers off at the shop the day before and picked them up today. I borrowed my mom’s car, and the transport was even easier than I thought. All but one of the tubs fit in the car pretty easily (I went back for a second trip to grab the one tub), and Leah and I could pretty much carry a full one without a ton of effort. We elevator’ed them up and scooped them into the big fermentors. I siphoned off 6 gallons of juice, which was pretty hard. It was so thick, and milkshake-y, that it didn’t really flow. I ended up using a measuring cup to fill up the carboy directly. I added the SO2. I had a ton of dirty tubs, but the cleaned pretty easily in the shower. It was a lot of work, and I’m tired, but none of the work was impossibly difficult. I’m pleased it went well.

Brix Problems
The sugar content was pretty high on this, which is giving me nightmares back to the 2017 Zinfandel. If the sugar is too high, it will kill the yeast and will result in a stuck fermentation. I need to avoid this. This is disappointing, since I’m paying a pretty high price for this from Oak Barrel, and this happened the last time I bought grapes from them. Officially, Oak Barrel said that the brix was 26.9. My low fidelity hydrometer showed that it wasn’t quite that high, but more in the low 26 range. The solution is to add water, something I did in 2017 and still got the stuck fermentation. Using a Pearson Square, I found that I should add 2.6 gal to lower it by one brix. Oak Barrel recommended a half gal per 100#, so 5 gal. As I thought my sugar was a tad lower, I decided to add 3. I bought spring water from the store, and poured one gallon into each fermentor. I would have loved to take a brix reading, but the water was concentrated at the top, and I couldn’t fully mix it in with the entire batch. My naive reading was 21 or so, but I think (hope) that’s just because it’s so watery at the top. I’m going to say that the brix was 25 … and cross my fingers.

Yeast Rehydration
Given my worries about a stuck fermentation, I rehydrated the yeast to improve their heath and give me better odds. I filled three drinking glasses with hot water and a splash of cold water to get it to about 105F. I then split up the yeast and poured them into the glasses and stirred it up. The glasses were 2/3 full at this point. I waited 15 minutes, then I put some of the juice in the cups. This had the dual benefit of giving the yeast something to eat to further get them up to speed, and lowering the temperature to decrease the temperature difference between the yeast mixture and the must. After another 15 minutes, I pitched the yeast into the must.

Barbera Stats
Brix: 25 (see above section)
pH: 3.45
TA: .88
Additions: a “heaping” .5 tsp of SO2 to each bin immediately after getting home. .25 tsp SO2 to Rose.
Yeast: BDX added at the 24 hour mark
Rose Yeast: RC 212 added at 24 hour mark

September 23 – Day 1 Yeast pitched around 3pm
September 24 – Day 2 A little yeast nutrients sprinkled on Mourvèdre. Barbera Brix 21.5.
September 25 – Day 3 Barbera Brix 14. Mourvèdre Brix 10 Rose Brix ?. I added 1oz of Fermaid K to the Barbera.
September 26 – Day 4 Barbera Brix 11. Mourvèdre Brix 9 Rose Brix ?.
September 27 – Day 5 Barbera Brix 10. Mourvèdre Brix 10 Rose Brix 7.


Quick Note about brix I was using my new refractometer to measure Brix (it is a lot easier). But it turns out it’s only really useful in binary solutions, e.g. sugar and water. When a third compound, ethanol, appears, it doesn’t give accurate results. So the above Brix readings aren’t accurate. I moved to using my reliable hydrometer below.


September 28 – Day 6 Barbera Brix 2. Mourvèdre Brix 1 Rose Brix -1. I added 1oz of Fermaid K to the Barbera.
September 29 – Day 7 Barbera Brix 2. Mourvèdre Brix 1.
September 30 – Day 8 Barbera Brix 1. Mourvèdre Brix 1.

October 1 – Press
With Covid being around, Leah and I couldn’t make this a party like usual. So we had to do the pressing all ourselves. I picked up the press from Oak Barrel and got started around 6(?) or so. This year, I was much more aggressive about siphoning. I would siphon one fermentor into a keg and at some point the levels would equal and it wouldn’t go any more. I would then siphon that same siphon into a carboy and it would trickle out a lot more. All in all, from the three bins, I pretty much filled 3 kegs with just siphoning alone! And what I pressed really only amounted to just one keg, it was pretty dry at that point.

I’ve got the pressing down pretty well. One full fermentor can fully fit in the press at a time. This makes it neat and easy, three fermentors equals three pressings. I did the pressing, and Leah collected the wine. We did a pretty good job, we’re experienced, but we still made a mess. After the three Barbera fermentors, we pressed the Mourvèdre. I didn’t bother siphoning that since those smaller containers were easier to move, and no sense separating it if there is only one keg’s worth anyway. I ended both the Barbera and Mourvèdre with half a carboy each, so in the interest of making things easy. I just blended them together now (I don’t really have 6 one gallon vessels). I also racked the 6 gallons of Rose fermenting in the bucket into a 5 gallon carboy (there was a lot of wasted lees at the bottom). At this point, I have:
#1 Barbera – Free++
#2 Barbera – Free+
#4 Barbera – Free
#5 Barbera – Press
#6 Mourvèdre
carboy (6gal) 50/50 split of Mourvèdre and Barbera
carboy (5gal) of Barbera Rose.

I also checked the brix now if full liquid form. I’m feel pretty good that it fully fermented. I think I can read -1 Brix on all wine, and tasting it was very sweet at all. Hurray!

October 20 – First Racking
I did the first racking of the gross lees today and it went very smoothly. Having an extra carboy is very useful to use the least amount of effort:
#2 Barbera – Free+ => #3
#1 Barbera – Free++ => #2
#6 Mourvèdre => #1
#5 Barbera – Press => #6
#4 Barbera – Free => #5

I then topped #3 and #2 with the other Free in #5. Then I topped the rest with the 50/50 carboy. And I collected all the dregs of all vessels into another carboy. At this point, I have all full kegs, and one very dirty carboy. In a few days that carboy will settle and I’ll rack the top of it into another carboy that fits.

I also added 40ppm SO2 to all vessels.

2019 Vintage – Cabernet

Onward to vintage number 5! Here’s the plan: All the previous wine club members opted to defer 17 bottles of last year’s Merlot. And that is currently sitting in 2 kegs in the wine room. I’m getting Cabernet Sauvignon this year. And I’m going to blend that with last year’s Merlot. This should result in around a 60% 2019 Cabernet and 37% 2018 Merlot (and 3% 2018 Cabernet) cuvée. Thatcher Bay sells a less heralded Cabernet grape (but for more expensive than their Merlot), so I’m purchasing that. I’ll do same process as last year, pick up grapes at the vineyard, and then crush/destem them myself.

October 25 – Harvest Day


This was by far the latest harvest date I’ve done. I was somewhat nervous it was taking so long! I picked up 787 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon at Thatcher Bay. Fortunately, my dad and brother showed up to help with some muscle. Scott told me to show up around 11am, and we transferred the pre-picked grapes into our storage totes pretty quickly. We loaded up the car and drove back to Berkeley. Colin, my Dad, and Uncle Rich showed up to help there. I got the crusher/destemmer from Oak Barrel and brought it back. In our haste, we forgot an extension cord (and a shovel for cleanup). But we dodged a bullet finding an outlet on the root above my parking space.

We rested the machine on full totes and put an empty one in the center to collect the crushed grapes. Rather than collected the must there, we carried up crushed grapes and poured them into the larger fermenters. I thought more numerous, less heavy loads was optimal, but damn, that was a lot of weight to carry around. We crushed the grapes from 1:30pm – 3:30pm or so. Colin brought some apples (see below!) and we tried to crush them, but we might have broke a shear pin in the process. We cleaned up (a pain) and returned the machine back to Oak Barrel. It wasn’t totally clean and they made us clean it in the parking lot. After, I pulled 2 gallon from each of the three fermentors into a bucket to make some Rosé.

Bonus Wine – Apple
Colin had a ton of apples this year and wanted to make some apple wine. As is the Silla way, he got even more apples from local stores that they were going to toss. All in all, he brought 153 pounds of apples! He cut them up, removing any bad bits. And we blended all the apples. I thought the blending was a little unnecessary, but we did it anyway. It took 5-6 hours to do all this; we were done at 9pm. It was a long day. We boiled 6 gallons of water, along with 20 pounds of sugar, and poured that over the blended apples. We had two different storage totes, and they had initial Brix of 22 and 20, and perhaps 28 gallons of must. We added 2oz of Citric Acid, 1oz of Wine Tannin, 2oz of Pectic Enzyme, and 1tsp of SO2. I added three packets of Lalvin EC 1118 yeast 24 hours later (Saturday noon).

Grape Stats
Brix: 25 my measurement, so not super precise
pH: UNKNOWN
Additions: 1tsp of SO2 into each bin targeting 30ppm (added immediately).
Yeast: D80 (60g, 24 hour mark, two large packets), D47 for rose (small packet, 24 hour mark)
Yeast Nutrients: 2oz split among Cabernet, Rose and Apples. Half on day 2, half on day 5.

October 25 – Day 1 Grape pickup, crushing, SO2 added, punching 3x per day begins
October 26 – Day 2 Yeast pitched around noon
October 27 – Day 3 Brix 24, rose 25, apples were 17/15 – Added yeast nutrients
October 28 – Day 4 Brix 17/16/15, apples 16/15
October 30 – Day 6 Brix 9/10/8, apples 11/12, rose 15 – Added yeast nutrients
November 1 – Day 8 Brix 3/3/4, apples 7/11, rose 11
November 3 – Day 10 Brix 1/0/1, rose 7

November 5 – Day 12 – Press Day
The wine fermented a bit faster than years past. My parents, Colin, Rich and Seth came over and we pressed all the wine. I learned a slight improvement; after filling the press container, I could hand press the top down and fill it with more grapes. As a result, I was able to do this in 3 pressings, rather than 4. After, Colin hand pressed his apples, since it was too small to fill the press. Also, the apples aren’t done fermenting, but they are still bubbling! All in all, I was again very fortunate that I completely filled the vessels I had available. I’m waiting for my luck to run out, but it hasn’t happened yet!

November 9 – First Racking
I’m out of kegs, so I had to get a little creative with my racking plans. I took the press run keg and put it into carboys: 2 full clean, 1 half full clean, and then another that I poured the dregs into. I then put keg 2 into 3, and then 1 into 2. I poured the dregs into the original carboy, and used that half carboy to top off the other kegs. This left me with 3 full carboys (1 very dirty, 2 clean) and 2 full kegs. I’ll put the carboys in the last keg in a few days after the dirty one settles. At that time, I’ll have:

#1 Press run
#2 Free run
#3 Free run*
#4 2018 Merlot – French
#5 2018 Merlot – American
#6 Apple Wine

One thing to note: I fully filled 3 kegs at pressing, so I have no smaller vessels to top off. I added 4 bottles of 2017 Zin (the not fully fermented one) into the dirty carboy. The hope is that either (a) 4 bottles blended with hundreds of bottles won’t have any impact and/or (b) the active yeast environment will actually ferment the residual sugar in the Zin.

March 12 – Apple Wine and Rosé Bottling
Colin came over and we racked his apple wine, and the rosé. I dosed both of them with 40ppm SO2. I had prior purchased 4 cases of clear bottles for Colin, and some corks, so we were ready to go. The setup was a bit painful, but once we got going, we probably did the whole thing in 1.5 hours of actual filling. Colin and I split up the wine, and allocated a bit for the rest of the club. Additionally, I did an SO2 reading on the rest of the wine. I checked a new Cabernet (#2) and it was at about 35ppm, and one of the older Merlots (#5) and it was seemingly around 10ppm. So I added 30ppm to the new Cabernet and 40ppm to the old Merlot. That should set things for a while until the next racking.

May 2 – Second Racking
I thought this was my third racking, but I suppose it was only my second. Oops!

This racking brought a new challenge. I wanted to do the normal lees removal, but I also want to blend the ’18 Merlot with the ’19 Cab. With 2 kegs of Merlot, and 3 kegs of Cab, that means that I should put 6 gallons of Merlot with 9 gallons of Cab, to get equal blending. Also, the old Cab was previously “clean” since it was racked a bunch last year, so I didn’t bother emptying those and collecting the dregs, I just removed 9 gal of Cab, and put in 9 gal of Merlot. So this is what I have now:

#1 Empty
#2 Press – blend of oak (collected in 3 carboys)
#3 Free – American
#4 Free – French
#5 Press – American
#6 Free* – French

Also, the previous Cab was oaked, so the new blend has 40% of the oak in it, so I only need to add oak sufficient for 60% (9 gal) of each keg. So I added 4oz (sufficient for 10 gal) of oak into each keg. I blindly added 20 SO2 to all.

September 27 – Bottling Party
Things are a little different this year with Covid. As bottling is a pretty hard requirement to end the vintage. I decided not to have the bottling party at my place, but do it at my parents’ instead; they have a lot more space than us. But the main obstacle to doing that is getting all the kegs over there! I decided to bottle one keg’s worth myself with Leah a couple weeks prior; no sense in transporting that if it ends up here anyway. And we had two members unable to make it, so I kept another keg at my place to bottle myself and deliver later. That means I had to get 3 kegs to Orinda. My dad helped and drove here with my mom’s car and transporting them wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought. We did this a week before the party and were set to go when the day arrived.

At the bottling party, I immediately dosed the kegs with ~30ppm of SO2. So that gave it an hour to fully spread around which I hope was good enough. We set up seating in the empty garage, and the keg/bottling station near the drain in the driveway. We put a tarp under it to prevent staining the driveway as well. The three kegs were the above 2, 4 and 5, so there were French, American and blended oak options. This allowed people to go through the bottling and get a case of different oak and label their wine accordingly. I haven’t done that in years past. It was also noteworthy as everybody deferred some wine from the previous year to blend with this year, so everybody got 36 bottles! We tasted it at the party, it was pretty good! Leah says our best one yet. There were also no bubbles or carbonation in the final bottled wine, which has been a problem in years past.

All in all, I had a lot of worries about this day. Moving the heavy heavy kegs to Orinda could have sucked. I could have forgot a key tool at home. The heat in Orinda could have been really bad. We could have been lax on our social distancing and become sick! Fortunately, none of those worries can to pass. The entire day went pretty well. Another great year done! On to the next!

2018 Vintage – Merlot

The apartment is still a mess from the bottling we did just 4 days prior, but so begins another year of wine making. I decided to go with the Merlot again this year, using the same vineyard that I’ve used twice before, Thatcher Bay Vineyard. The difference is that I’m using this as my primary wine, not my secondary bonus batch. And a big catch with that is that I need to crush the grapes myself.

I’ve been planning this for a while, and the key to this is using my Mom’s car, and filling them with as many storage bins as I could. I have four, and I asked my parents to purchase 9 more of these, and 5 smaller 32 gallon ones. I was targeting being able to fill 1000 lbs of grapes both in these bins and in the car …. I hope my math is right.

October 4th – Harvest Day
I got to call from the vineyard, the grapes are going to be available on this day. I arranged the car with my parents, and drove over there to swap cars. Bonus this year, my cousin Mike is in town and he decided to go with me for some muscle. I intended on using the front seat for two bins, but it turns out everything fit in the back area anyway. So we got to the vineyard around 9:30am and Scott already had a pallet of picked grapes (1048 lbs) ready for me to take. All I had to do was scoop the grapes out of the bin and drop them in my bins, which went pretty fast.

Mike and I loaded them carefully into the car, and we were left with one empty bin and 2 buckets. We then went into the vineyard and filled those up with slightly underripe cab with the intention of blending it. This picking sucked, it took longer to pick 102 lbs, than the transfer the 1048 lbs of Merlot. But we finished, paid up, and drove back to my apartment.

We dropped the bins in my parking spot and went to Oak Barrel to pick up the rented crusher destemmer, which was pretty large and heavy. My dad met us back in my garage and the three of us proceeded to figure out what to do. The bottom of the crusher destemmer is where the crushed grapes drop out of, and we found the square bins caught everything much better than the round fermenters. So we’d fill those up and then transfer them to the larger fermentors from there. The stems were spit out of one end, and it was amazing how fast they were processed, especially juxtaposed against my experience of manually destemming them in years prior. The crusher destemmer was messy, and random berries were flying all over the place. At one point, we missed catching the output, and I picked up the berries and juice from the ground of my parking space, but I just took the top layer. All in all, the crushing took less than an hour, it was really fast. The cleanup was almost as long. My dad helped a ton by hosing off the bins in my backyard while Mike and I carried all the must upstairs. We then cleaned the crusher destemmer which wasn’t super terrible. We drove the equipment back to the shop, and I siphoned off 6 gallons of juice to make rose and pitched yeast there.

Bonus Wine – Sauvignon Blanc
I almost forgot, Oak Barrel offered Sauvignon Blanc this year, and had some extra that they didn’t sell. Homer gave me a very good price on it, $50 for a 6 gallon carboy (it’s probably worth $130). They came on September 10, and I picked it up on the 15th. The yeast was already pitched and it was already fermenting. I gave it a week, and it fermented completely to around -1.5 (phew!). I racked it into a clean carboy and it’ll sit for 3-6 months. It was sampled at the previous bottling party and people seemed to like it!

Grape Stats
Brix: 24 (mixed between co-fermented Merlot and Cab, also number is rough due to my measurement)
pH: 3.61 (TBV measurement)
Additions: 1 tsp of S02 per fermentor (and a little for the bin) to hopefully get to 30ppm (added immediately)
Yeast: BDX (60g, 24 hour mark), D47 for rose (small pack)
Yeast Nutrients: Oak Barrel yeast nutrients

October 4 – Day 1 Grape pickup, crushing, SO2 added, punching 3x per day begins
October 5 – Day 2 Yeast pitched after work
October 6 – Day 3 Brix reading from above was around 23, I’m adding 1 to account for fermentation to get my starting Brix. Half of yeast nutrients.
October 8 – Day 5 Brix of 17
October 9 – Day 6 Other half of yeast nutrients
October 10 – Day 7 Brix of 12/13/12
October 11 – Day 8 Brix of 7
October 12 – Day 9 Brix of 6/7/7
October 13 – Day 10 Brix of 4/5.5/5
October 15 – Day 12 Brix of 0/1/1
October 17 – Day 14 – Pressing Day.
We originally scheduled to press the prior Sunday, but the Brix wasn’t low enough, and the guys at Oak Barrel talked me out of it. Heading to Florida on Thursday morning, this was the very latest that we could do it. The Brix read around 0, so we are getting pretty dry. I picked up the press from Oak Barrel and drove it home and got to work. Fortunately, Leah got home quite a bit before me, and started with the siphoning. From just one of the tubs, she was able to almost fill an entire keg! We got similar results through the evening siphoning the three tubs into three almost full kegs, for really no work.

My goal for the night was four kegs, one carboy, and one 1 gallon bottle. But we went well past that. After filling four kegs and decreasingly sized containers, it was apparent that we’d be able to fill the ever elusive fifth keg. And we poured all the smaller contains into it. So I ended up with 5 kegs total. I sprinkled some malolactic bacteria in the kegs and closed them up. Then I cleaned up with some help, and drove the press back to Oak Barrel. A further win was that we were able to get ride of all the solid pomace waste. It really seemed that there was more liquid, and less solid in this years pressing.

At this point, we have five kegs:
#1 -> Free Run
#2 -> Free Run
#3 -> Free Run
#4 -> Press Run
#5 -> Press Run

October 27 – Racking I waited a week or two, and am now racking the gross lees. I’m in bit of a pickle in the sense that I don’t have one carboy to collect the dregs to settle. It’s makes things surprisingly harder. But I settled on a multi-step solution that isn’t too much of a pain. Step 1 I racked the “top” of #5 into a 6 gal carboy, and the rest into #6. I then cleaned and racked every keg into the next higher one. And I poured the dregs of everything into #6. I then used the 6 gal carboy to top all the kegs. This was the normal difficult “3 hour” racking, and resulted in kegs 2-5 being “clean” and 6 being “extra dirty”. Step 2 A few days later, I racked #6 into 3 different carboys, with the last being the dregs. Step 3 . I let the carboys settle, and then racked them back into a cleaned and sanitized #6 taking care to “leave” the lees on the bottom. I was surprised that there wasn’t a ton of lees at the bottom. I topped off #6 with three bottles (1 merlot, 2 syrah) of older wine, so presumably, that is all the volume of lees that I removed from the entire situation. So effectively, I racked:
#1 -> #2 – Free Run
#2 -> #3 – Free Run
#3 -> #4 – Free Run
#4 -> #5 – Press Run
#5 -> #6 – Press Run

Additionally, I measured the SO2, and found they were about 10-15ppm. So I added ~40ppm to all, and packed them back into the second bedroom for long term storage. I am now done for a few months.

Rose Update: I tasted some rose a couple weeks ago, and found it was sweet to the taste. (This was well after the main wine was fully dry). I measured it then and it was around 1B. I measured it again today and it was 0B. Hopefully it will get to fully dry, and it’s just going slowly. If it doesn’t, at least I only have 5 gal of it!

February 23 – Rose and Sauvignon Blanc Bottling
Today was the day for the non-core Merlot bottling. The SB has been hazy in recent months, and I’ve taken steps to remedy that, to little affect. I tried to cold crash it. I emptied my fridge, and took out the shelving and cabinets and put the carboys in there. This was actually a lot easier, and not as inconvenient as I thought. I left it for a week, hoping to settle out particles, but I couldn’t tell a difference. Second, I added bentonite; this seemed the least aggressive and gross thing to do. I rehydrated the bentonite and tried to stir it and let it sit for a couple hours. I then poured it into the SB and rose. It seemed like a lot to pour in there. I then gave them another weekend of cold crashing. As it got to today, it didn’t look a ton different, but I wanted to be done with these. It came to 25 bottles of each. I labeled them, and put them away to give out at the wine party in a couple months. Hopefully they taste good!

March 8 – Racking #2 I racked all the Merlot tonight. The logistics were a bit easier than last time, thanks in part to that experience. I put 2, 3, 4, 5 all into the keg one below it, and topped off with the next one in line. As usual, I poured the dregs of all into a carboy. When I got to #6, it was used for topping off previous ones; I then filled two 5gal carboys, and poured the rest into the “dregs” carboy. This all worked out pretty well from a space point of view. It seems that one keg can go into three 5 gal carboys (arrowhead jugs from work). I had to squeeze a bit to clear the headspace. Now, I wait a few days and (a) put the two clean carboys into #5, (b) siphon carefully the settled “dregs” carboy and (c) top off the keg with Syrah, presumably the amount of lees left in the dirty carboy. This was a two step process, easier than what I did last October.

I measured the SO2 in two kegs, and they came to be about 20ppm, so I added 30ppm SO2 to all of them. I also tried to solve my carbonation problem. I racked using the pump, and I ran it on full blast. I had the out end somewhat splash in the container it was in. And I put the in and out in the same container and ran the pump. The point of all this, of course, is to agitate the wine to release the gas. All the while, I could see tiny bubbles flowing in the out end, and they would quickly converge if the motor was turned off. Suffice to say that I got some gas out, but I have no clue if it was 1% of 99% …. the gas just keeps coming!

Now one week later, I racked the 3 carboys into the #5, and needed to top it off with 3 bottles of Syrah (so 3 bottles of loss from lees). There is one problem, the SO2 reading is still coming out as 20ppm, where it should be 50. I don’t know what to make of that. I also oaked the kegs, and added 10 ppm SO2 (because of the oak addition).

#2 -> #1 – Free Run – French
#3 -> #2 – Free Run – American
#4 -> #3 – Free Run – 50/50 French American
#5 -> #4 – Press Run – French
#6 -> #5 – Press Run – American (after collecting in carboys)

August 18 – Bottle Party
Another successful bottle party. Everybody (except two members) showed up, and we bottled three kegs worth. I bottled my own on that day too. Everybody opted for the “next year” blending, so they took home 19 bottles. Kegs #3 and #5 remain for next vintage blending. I filled up a carboy, and put it aside and Steve, Lily, Seth and Veronique bottled theirs a couple weeks later.

2017 Vintage – Zinfandel

Welcome to another year of winemaking! This year, I had a major scheduling conflict with my buddy Zach’s wedding at the end of September. Because of that, I wanted to select a varietal that would be early in September, so as not to conflict. So I selected Zinfandel. That turned out to be the latest varietal picked this year. It was delivered on the very day that we flew out. Fortunately, I talked Oak Barrel into holding onto the grapes for 4 days before I picked it up when I got back. They (supposedly) did the enzyme additions, pitched the yeast, and punched the cap at least twice a day.

Grape Stats
Brix: 25.3 (per the website, but they said it was actually 29)
pH: 3.92
TA: .57
Yeast: 1st Tub BDX, 2nd Tub BM45, 3rd Tub BDX/BM45 mixture
Additions: SO2, Lallzyme EX-V, OptiRed , yeast, Yeast Nutrients. All additions done by Oak Barrel, so unsure of timing
Dilution: 3 gallons of water, per tub, plus 3oz of Tartaric Acid (both due to high sugar content).

Port
On Day 6, I scooped out 6 gallons of must into a bucket. I did my best to take the liquids and solids at the same consistency as the must. I don’t want the port to be too heavy on liquid (and be light on tannins from the skins and seeds), or to heavy on solids, and not yield as much. I would guess there is 6 gallons of must, 1 gallon of solids and 5 gallons of liquid. It was 13 Brix at the time and started at 29. I added 1.5 liters of 150 proof Everclear. I think I screwed up my “gallons” vs “liters” (I needed 1.5 gallons, not 1.5 liters). So the Port might be 12.6 abv, not 23.4. I might consider adding alcohol to this later.

September 28 – Day 1 1000lbs of Zinfandel was delivered to Oak Barrel. SO2 was added.
September 29 – Day 2 Enzymes were added, and yeast was pitched
October 2 – Day 5 I picked up the must from Oak Barrel. I rented a Ziptruck and went to Oak Barrel. They had the tubs on a fork lift and dropped them in the bed of the truck. I drove home and Ben was waiting for me there (thanks!). The tubs weighed 333lbs each, so we did a controlled drop of them off the bed of the truck. Then we picked them up a few inches and put them on a dolly. From there, getting them in our apartment was pretty simple. I brought extra tubs to put half the must in to make moving them easier, but that was unnecessary. Moving the tubs, with two people was manageable. I returned the truck, and then picked up two 750ml Everclear bottles for the Port. Brix was 15 this night.
October 3 – Day 6 Morning, the brix was 13. I did the Port recipe (see above) in the morning. I did the water addition above this night. I mixed the 3oz of Tartaric Acid with the water, in a big bucket, and poured it in. I used hot water from the tap, since the water sitting in the hot water tank would have killed all the bacteria. Hopefully this doesn’t kill the yeast! I would suspect each tub has 20 gallons of liquid must, and I added 3 gallons of water, so it was diluted by 13%. Free wine!
October 4 – Day 7 Brix was 8/10/9 after work.
October 5 – Day 8 Brix was 8/8/6 before work.
October 6 – Day 9 Brix was 7/8/6 before work.
October 7 – Day 10 Brix was 6/6/6 before work.
October 8 – Day 11 Brix was 5/5/4 before work.
October 9 – Day 12 Brix was 5/5/5 before work. The fermentation is apparently stuck :-/ After work, I went to OakBarrel and purchased 60g of Uvaferm 43 yeast ($15), which, I’m told, is the best champagne yeast to restart stuck fermentations. I concocted 6 starters, in growlers with: 1/2 full of must, added water to 2/3 full, 6tbsp of sugar, and 10g of yeast. I built one “double” in my gallon growler. I covered them with plastic (and one airlock) and am crossing my fingers they take off in about 24 hours.

IMG_1394
October 12 – Day 14 – Pressing After a discussion with my wine consultant, Beth, and an availability of bunch of friends. I decided to press tonight. The Brix is still a problem, but I figure I can move the juice/wine into the aging vessels now, and then take my time to solve the Brix problem later without risking the wine getting spoiled by the air contact. Incidentally, the Brix is now around 2/3, so ideally the previous yeast starter works and gets me to fully dry with no additional work. I rented a press after work and brought it home and set it up. I was joined by Leah, Ben and Lindsey, Shae, M&D, Rich and Brittany. We took turns pressing the wine and finished around 9:30 or so. The yield was slightly disappointing. I figured to have 4 full kegs plus maybe one carboy of zinfandel plus the 5 gallons of port. But here is what we ended up with:
IMG_1402
I have 3 kegs (15.5), 2 carboys (6), 1 gal growler and 1/2 gal growler, for a total of 60 gallons. A few gallons will be lost with subsequent rackings (lees and sediment). Additionally, the port didn’t quite fit into the 5 gallon carboy, so I added a little Zinfandel, and squeezed it shut. Hopefully, I’ll get some ethanol to add later and make the volume work a little better.

We cleaned up, Brittany stayed late to help which was nice. And Leah and I were showered and in bed at 11:15. A lot of work was done tonight, thanks to everybody that came over, and thanks to Leah for “helping”:
IMG_1404
October 24 At this point, the Brix hasn’t moved in quite some time, so I’m going to try to jump start it with another yeast starter. After the previous one failed, I’m going with Oak Barrel’s plan, using apple juice. I pitched another 60g of Uvaferm 43 yeast into 1 gallon of apple juice, and added another 30% of water. It started fizzing within an hour or so.
IMG_1412
October 25 At the ~12 hour mark of the yeast starter, I added another 30% of wine to get the yeast accustomed higher levels of alcohol. After work, at the 24 hour mark. I pitched the starters into the wine, and crossed my fingers.
October 26 – I can hear the bubbling in the kegs, and the airlocks bubbles went from 16s down to 8s apart. The Brix reading is still close to 2, however.
October 27 – I did the first racking. Here is the schedule:
1 -> 4 #free run
2 -> 5 #free run
3 -> 6 #press run
2 carboys -> 2 carboys
I poured the ~1 gal containers into keg 6, to mix the yeast around so everybody would ferment. I collected all the dregs into one of the carboys, and will rack that away in a couple of days.

The lees were different this year. In years past, I would collect the lees and wait for them to settle in a few days. I would see a clear separation of wine and lees. I would then retake the wine on top, rather that just dumping it all down the drain. I put the slurry in some glass growlers, with no headspace, and checked them out the next day. I burped them to check for pressure and found they were very pressurized. After a couple burps, the top blew off:

IMG_1413
This was really really dumb. I had no headspace so no air to absorb the pressure. I could have easily exploded the glass itself, which would have been really a mess. Next time, collect this in something unsealed, with, at least, a tiny bit of headspace.
October 31 – I’m still having problems fully fermenting my wine. Rather than do another round of a yeast starter, I’m trying another approach, heating the wine. The thought being that the yeast will be more active in wine that is warmer than the ambient 65&2103;. I got a space heater a couple nights ago and tried different arrangements to warm the wine. It had an automatic shutoff if the heater itself got too hot (probably for the best). I found this configuration was the best to warm things up:
IMG_1417
I was running this for ~6 hours last night, and it might have been a little too efficient. When I went to bed and shut it down, the airlock of the one the heater was directly facing was red, so the wine was bubbling into the airlock. The metal keg was warm to the touch. I kept the blanket on overnight.

In the morning, I was expecting all the heat to have dissipated, and I would put the heat back on. The keg was still warm, so I took some measurements. The keg the heater was facing was still 96&2103;! a whole 9 hours after the heat was applied. I’m unsure what the temp was last night, but I would think higher. The other two kegs were around 85&2103; in the morning. I hope I didn’t kill the yeast, or worse, cook the wine. The good news is that the Brix has lowered, to 1/0/1 for the three kegs, again with a target of -2. Anecdotally, I was observing the bubbles out of the airlock, and found it around 40-60 seconds per bubble. When the heat was applied earlier, I found it was going at once every 6 seconds. So that’s a clear indicator that the heat helped increase activity. The lesson: Apply heat towards the end of fermentation to ensure fermentation completes, but don’t overdo it!

April 15th

It’s been a while since my last update, and I think missed a previous racking update. (I think!) I did the main gross lees racking and one fine lees racking, and today I just did the third and final racking. I was hoping that my Brix problem would magically solve itself over the past few months of inactivity. I was wrong, the Brix is around 1 for all vessels. I did taste it as it wasn’t a sickeningly sweet as I was fearful of, but you can taste the sweetness. Another problem that I’m trying to solve is the carbonation. I did a couple to address this. I used the pump to do the racking and I ran it on full blast. And after a particular transfer was done, I put the input and output hoses in the same vessel and cranked it up. Periodically I would stop it and you can see the tiny bubbles in the tubing, evidence that this helps remove the CO2. I also put my “wine stoppers” in the bungs and pumped the air out to make a vacuum. I could hear the bubbles “fizzing” when I removed the air. Both of these seemed to help, but the problem is that I have no notion of progress or completeness. I certainly removed CO2, but I don’t know if I got 1% or 99%.

I took SO2 readings after the racking and found they were all around 10-15 which is lower than I’ve ever seem. I added ~40 to each to get up to a more comfortable number. I actually ran out of SO2 and didn’t fully get the carboys up. So, currently I have:
#2 Zinfandel Free Run
#3 Zinfandel Free Run
#4 Zinfandel Press
2 carboys of Zinfandel
1 carboy of Port

At this point, all the work is done except for the oaking. I’ll buy oak soon and throw it in soon.

August 30th Update

The bottling date of September 29th has been picked and everybody should be able to make it. And as we’re getting closer to the date, the sweetness of the wine has been bugging me more and more. So I decided to do another yeast starter to finally get the wine dry.

My approach was slightly different than previous attempts. I dosed the wine with yeast hulls 1-2 days before that given wine was inoculating with the yeast starter. I also gave each “doubling” step 2 days, rather than one. Finally, I racked more frequently, but less at a time, to ensure that the yeast starter only every doubled (i.e. I didn’t add 5 gallons of wine to 1 gallon of yeast starter).

I started with 60g of Lalvin EC-1118, 1 gallon of apple juice, and 1 gallon of water. I started this on August 11th.

IMG_2247

Here is my blueprint for the racking schedule. It took some thought to orchestrate this to ensure my “doubling” rule above, and to minimize “half” full contains risking oxidation. It wasn’t easy! (I topped the vessels with CO2 in 2-3 cases where static wine was exposed like this). I have two 6 gallon carbon on the left, and 4 15.5 gallon kegs on the right. Orange represented the yeast started, wine that has been exposed from a previous round to yeast. And blue represents the static wine needing to be fermented.

So what happened? I measured all the sugar levels and found they were between 0-0.5 Brix. So I didn’t do much :-/ It seemed initially, in the earlier rounds, the airlocks were bubbling very fast, but after each doubling they seemingly slowed their bubbling rate. It’s as if only the apple juice part was fermenting as it got more and more diluted with wine. They were low on SO2 (around 10ppm), so I added 40ppm to all. I’ll have to rack a week before bottling, and that will do it for this vintage.

September 29 – Bottling Day
After a struggle this year, it was time to put it all in the bottle. Ben bottled his wine a few months back before moving to Nashville, and Brittany bottled heres the previous Wednesday. Aside from them, everybody made it. The bottling was a success, filling everything with only minor spilling (and a broken glass by me!). The port didn’t go as planned. I intended on adding 2-3 fifths of everclear and grappa to up the abv to around 20%. But we added one bottle (to go along with the previous two I added to cease fermentation), and the group deemed it to harsh tasting to add more. So I ended up adding 3 750ml bottles of everclear which brought the end product to 15.1% abv. I’m hoping that the harshness mellows out in the coming months and years.

All in all, I kept about 9 cases of wine, which was somewhat sweet. And we drank about a case’s worth at the party. On to the next year …..

2016 Vintage – Fall Schedule

Welcome to another year of winemaking! After two successful (?) years under our belt, Leah and I are at it again. A few months back, we preordered 1000 pounds of Syrah from Amador, and are planning on getting a smaller batch of Merlot again if the timing works out. The past couple of years, the wine has been light in color and body, so I’m really going to try to fix that. It would seem that enzymes might help, though certain parties disagree, most notably Oak Barrel where I get the grapes.

Grape Stats:
Syrah Brix: 26.6
Syrah pH: 3.79
Syrah TA: .74
Syrah Yeast: BM45
Syrah Rosé Yeast: RC213
Syrah Additions: SO2, Lallzyme EX (4 hour mark), OptiRed (12 hour mark), BM45 yeast (24 hour mark), Yeast Nutrients ( 4 day and 7 day mark)
Merlot Brix: 24.5
Merlot pH: UNKNOWN
Merlot TA: UNKNOWN
Merlot Yeast: D254
Merlot Additions: SO2, Lallzyme EX (4 hour mark), OptiRed (12 hour mark), D254 yeast (24 hour mark), Yeast Nutrients ( 3 day and 6 day mark)
Read about yeast descriptions here.

September 28th – 1000 pounds of Syrah came at 6:30pm and we are handling the transportation better and better every year. Leah rented a truck, and Ben met us with a dolly. I brought the three big trash cans, two small buckets, and the four 16gal self storage bins that we have. As a result, the heaviest big was only 150 pounds, which is much more manageable than years past. A big thanks to Ben for showing up for the “not fun” stuff. Oak Barrel dosed them with sulfite getting to about 40ppm. We got all the grapes home and in the apartment in an hour or so and Leah returned the truck. Right after, I syphoned off 6gal of free run into a bucket which will be made into rosé. Later that night, I added 12g of Lallzyme EX to enhance the body.

September 29th – I went to Thatcher Bay Vineyards again this morning at 7am with four empty bins to get some more Merlot. They filled them up, but I carried them back to the car since I didn’t want to wait for the tractor to get back. I worked from home which was nice so I could just take them straight home. I unpacked them and took them to the patio. After working, I started to crush them. But this year wasn’t as fun as last year. There were more than a few earwigs in the grapes. I don’t remember these at all last year. I destemmed and Leah killed ’em. Leah then foot stomped the grapes and was a little apprehensive with the presumably hidden pinchers inside … I don’t blame her. She wrapped her feet in trash bags. After that, we moved the Merlot outside so that any survivors would flee. I added 120g of OptiRed and BM45 yeast to the Syrah from yesterday, two packets of RC213 yeast to the rosé, and dosed the fresh Merlot with ~40ppm of sulfite. I’ll be honest, the bugs were creepy and might make me stay away from destemming in future years.

September 30th – I added the yeast for the Merlot. I started punching the cap on this day as well.

October 1 – I moved the Merlot inside since there has been no signs of bugs left. The two bins were very cold from being outside, this might have retarded the fermentation process a bit.

October 2 – I added half of the 3oz of yeast nutrients to all musts.

October 5th – Brix reading, the Syrah was 10B.

October 6th – Brix reading, the Syrah was 5B, Rosé was 8B.

October 8th – Brix reading, the Syrah was 1B. I added the Malolactic bacteria to the Syrah and Merlot. This is the first time I’ve done it before the pressing.

October 9th – Pressing day, we started at 4pm. We did the pressing on a weekend this time, which made things a whole lot less stressful. Things went pretty swimmingly. We filled #1 and #2 with free run Syrah, #3 and #4 with press run Syrah, then a 6gal carboy with Syrah. Then we moved onto the Merlot filling #5, a 5gal carboy, a 1gal jug and a .5gal growler. I siphoned the rosé into a carboy to help protect it from the air for longer term aging. All told we have 96gal of wine (68gal Syrah, 22gal of Merlot, and 6gal of Rosé). Colin and Trevor did the bulk of the pressing, and Ben helped out a bunch too.

When pressing the wine both the Syrah and the Merlot looked really *really* darkly colored. This is very encouraging since that was one of my areas of concerns in previous years and something I wanted to correct. The Syrah has the Rosé taken from it (to increase concentration), while the Merlot did not. Since both were darker, I’m attributing this to the enzymes used.

I capped and airlock’ed the various containers and slowly cleaned up the apartment over the next few days. Note that I didn’t have an airlock for the last carboy, it built up pressure and exploded shooting drops of wine all over that side of the apartment, oops. I cleaned it up and switched it to an airlock.

That it for now. Now is time for patience. 3-ish rackings and 10 more months and this wine should be good to go.

Second Racking Update – February 4th
I forgot to write an update for the first racking, oops! It was probably done around mid November. I racked all the kegs around, and collected the dregs in a carboy and then siphoned that carboy a few days later. Pretty normal.

The second racking was on Feb 4th. I did a normal racking. I racked the kegs around, collected the dregs into a carboy for it to settle. There isn’t much in that carboy so the wine is mostly clear at this point. I tested the SO2 levels and found them around 40 or 50. I added ~20ppm to each just for safety. While they were open, I added French Oak. I got 9 4oz bags of French Oak, the good stuff. I soaked them in SO2 solution for a few minutes before dropping them in at the rate of 4oz per 10 gal. I also racked the Rosé. I did a rack-and-back into the same carboy and topped it off with the last remaining growler of Rosé. I collected the dregs and drank them that night. It is surprisingly good and crisp! Here was the racking plan:

#2 -> #1 – Free Run Syrah #50ppm
#3 -> #2 – Free Run Syrah #40ppm
#4 -> #3 – Press Run Syrah #45ppm
#5 -> #4 – Press Run Syrah #40ppm
#6 -> #5 – Merlot #40ppm
Rosé carboy -> Rosé carboy #50ppm
Syrah carboy #40ppm
Syrah Merlot 50/50 carboy #40ppm

Third Racking Update – May 20th
I just did the third and final racking, which took about 2 hours. I disassembled the “wine tower”, and did the 5 rackings of the kegs. I then topped off with the carboys, and dumped the dregs of the kegs I collected, into the carboys to settle. All told, with the wine pump, this took about 2 hours.
I also had a couple glasses of the Syrah with dinner that night … it was pretty young and a little harsh. I measured the SO2 of one carboy and saw that it apparently lost 20ppm, so I decided to add that amount to all the kegs. At this point, all the work is done; bottling is next in a few months.

#5 -> #6 – Merlot
#4 -> #5 – Press Run Syrah
#3 -> #4 – Press Run Syrah
#2 -> #3 – Free Run Syrah
#1 -> #2 – Free Run Syrah #40ppm

Bottling Day
We bottled all the wine on August 26 and 27. I rented the corker from Oak Barrel, and got ~450 corks and a bunch of bottles for those that didn’t have any. I measured the SO2 of the first two kegs, and they were both at 50ppm, so I didn’t add any SO2 to any of the kegs. I bottled 1 keg and 1 carboy, ~100 bottles, myself on Saturday and it was really physically taxing. Leah and I made lasagna that Saturday night as well. People arrived the next day and started bottling. We did the Syrah first (with people getting 30, 20, and 10 based on level). And then after that was done, we did the Merlot (with people getting 9, 6, and 3). There was a minor snafu when the Merlot was being siphoned into the Syrah as it was being filled. This created the accidental “spectrum” blend that certain people were interested in anyway. There were no major problems, holdups or spillages. I found that one person can fill 75 bottles (one keg) in 1:45. That rate can double with 2 people.

Summer Update 2016 – Bottling Party

Bottling Party

It’s almost been a year since the current batch of wine was made; so it’s time to start thinking of bottling it!  We’re going to be doing a bottling party on a weekend at the end of summer pretty similar to what we did last year (which I think all of you attended).  We’re on track for about 26-ish bottles per person (plus a surprise from me and Leah!).  So start collecting your empty bottles if you haven’t already.  You can buy them for about $1 each if you don’t have enough.

Please let me all (as in multiple) of the dates below that you are available.  Hopefully there will be a day that works for everybody, and we won’t have any problems.

August 6th – Saturday
August 7th – Sunday
August 20th – Saturday
August 21st – Sunday
August 27th – Saturday
August 28th – Sunday

It’s really important that you’re there to bottle.  All of the wine has to be bottled at once otherwise it might spoil.  There’s a total of 400 bottles of wine, so hopefully it goes as smoothly as it did last year.

Also, you will need to bring just over two cases of empty wine bottles, so start collecting and de-labeling your empties.  Give them a rinse right after you drink them, so the sediment doesn’t cake on the bottom.

 

Oak Barrel Party

There’s a really cool party that Oak Barrel (the store that supplies our grapes) puts on in the middle of the summer.  They invite all of their customers to come and bring a bottle or two of anything they’ve made.  Everybody tastes other people’s wine.  Leah and I went last year and it was really really cool.  It’ll be 1pm-4pm on July 16th.  Ohh and it’s free too.  Feel free to join Leah and I if that sounds like fun!

 

Next Year’s Vintage – 2016

Who is interested in doing this again next year?  If you’re interested, feel free to check out the grape list for this year.  The leading candidates are:

  • Syrah – Amador
  • Barbera – Amador
  • Cabernet Franc – Lodi 
What should we do?  Think about it and feel free to let me know your preference.
Looking forward to another successful year ….

 

Blackberry Port – 2016

Now that it’s berry season, I’ve decided to make a small batch of Blackberry Port.  They were selling for about $3.50 a pound the other day at Costco, which, I’m told, is a very good price for blackberries.  I did some research and settled on using Jack Keller’s recipe.  Here is what I did:

Day 0 – I got six 18oz packages of blackberries at Costco, 6.75 pounds.  I threw them in a mesh bag and mashed them in a big pot with a potato masher.  I was shooting for a starting Brix of 25.  So with some trial and error, I ended up dissolving 6 cups of sugar into 9 cups of water and poured it in.  I added 1.5 tsp of acid blend.  I covered and let it sit over night.  The liquid volume of this is just over 1 gallon at this point.

Day 1 (morning) – I added .5 tsp of Pectic Enzyme (apparently to dissolve the fibrous material in the berries)

Day 1 (night) – I pitched the yeast on top.  Every day after that I manually squeezed out the mesh bag of berry skins.

Day 4 – I took a Brix reading and it got to 8 Brix, which was a lot lower than I was expecting.  Apparently this ferments quicker than grapes.  I poured in 20oz of grappa to arrest the fermentation.  Presuming 90%abv of the grappa (a wild guess), using the Pearson Square, that means that this is now at 17.5% abv with 8 Brix worth of sugar remaining.  That should be enough to stop the fermentation, but I’ll likely have to add both grappa and sugar down the line.  Note that this tastes terrible at this point, yeasty, silty, hot alcohol (in a bad way), and not super sweet.

Day 6 – To extend the maceration period slightly, I let the mixture sit for 48 hours after the grappa addition.  I then squeezed out the bag one last time and poured the port into one 1 gallon container with airlock, and one sealed 1 liter Monkey Head bottle.  Now we wait ….  Rack and clarify.

Winter Update 2015

47 days after the pressing, I racked all of the wine on 11-14-2015. I had been observing the bubbles on the air lock (evidence of malolactic acid fermentation) and they seemed to be there for a good month following the pressing. I wanted to do this one week prior, but I accidently purchased the wrong chemicals, not potassium metabisulfite. I went to the store and exchanged it and was able to do the racking on the 15th.

The process was simple, clean a barrel, sanitize it, then rack a full barrel into it leaving the dregs at the bottom. Repeat 5 times. I let the racking cane rest on the bottom, so it’s possible that I took some lees with the racking, but those will be cleaned up next time. Here is the racking plan, and the new barrel assignments:
4 —> 6 Free Run+
5 —> 4 Press Run
2 —> 5 Free Run
3 —> 2 Press Run
1 —> 3 Merlot

Since all were only 95% full, I had to top them up with the carboy of cab I had as well (even in the merlot). I racked the port carboy into another carboy and added a growler to top it off. I added ~1/2 a quart of grappa as well. I added about 50-60ppm SO2 to everything. I figured at this point, time is on my side, so I don’t need to worry about going a bit too high.

Currently, I have:
4 kegs of Cab
4 gallon of Cab in carboy.
2 growlers of Cab
1 keg of Merlot
1 6 gallon carboy of port
3 monkey head of port
So … 67 gallon of Cab, 15.5 gallon of Merlot, 6.75 gallon of Port, or 89.25 gallons total.

One new and cool thing I did this year was collect all the waste, stuff that went straight down the drain last year. Since I have no visibility into what I’m racking, it could be half a gallon, or three, I just don’t know. I poured the dregs of all of the kegs into one 6 gallon carboy and it fit nicely. It looked light purple and crappy and I almost just tossed it. But after a few days it settled with a very hard line showing about 40% sediment, and 60% good looking wine. It was turbulently poured and not fully topped off for a couple days, so it might have lost a little quality. I’m keeping it separate for the time being, but I might use it to top off later, or just bottle it separately. The bottom line is that I got about 3 free gallons of wine that I would have otherwise dumped.

Also, I bought bung stoppers, so I can ditch the airlocks (too easily knocked off, water evaporates, can’t tip kegs, etc). I put them on, and then burped them 3 hours later and they sprayed wine all over the walls. I guess the racking caused some of the CO2 to become unstable and escape after the racking. Also, it doesn’t take a lot of pressure to cause that to explode. Maybe wait a month or so before switching to those ….

That’s it for now, do some rackings in the coming months, add oak, monitor SO2 and that’s it ….

Update 4-10-16
I did a racking today in about 3 hours.  It was my first use of my new pump.  The pump was certainly helpful, but I’m worried it’s too rough on the wine.  I’m trying to run it at the lowest setting available.
3 —> 1 Merlot
2 —> 3 Press Run
4 —> 2 Press Run
5 —> 4 Free Run
6 —> 5 Free Run+

I poured all the excess into a single carboy.  It settled for a few weeks and there’s a good inch of white sediment at the bottom which was effectively removed from the 5 kegs.  I also blindly added about 40ppm of SO2 to everything, that should bring the levels up pretty high to 120ppm minus whatever’s been consumed.

Update 6-11-16
I did a third racking today in about 3 hours.  I used the pump again and everything went pretty well except I overflowed/geysered one of the kegs (don’t tell Leah).  I still have the worry about the pump being rough and over aerating the wine.  I collected the dregs in a 5 gallon carboy again and it’s much cleaner; there isn’t any apparent sediment in it meaning nothing notable dropped out of the wine in since the last racking two months ago.  I think the wine is clean enough to bottle now.  I also did an SO2 test, with a new set of titration chemicals, and found the SO2 levels are around my guess of a ceiling for the max I’ve previous added.  I guess time (and the pump) did little to dissipate the SO2 … good to know.  The levels are high, so I won’t be adding any more SO2 to this batch of wine.  Here is the transfer schedule and SO2 levels.
5 —> 6 Free Run+ 135ppm
4 —> 5 Free Run 120ppm
3 —> 4 Press Run 130ppm
2 —> 3 Press Run 130ppm
1 —> 2 Merlot 110ppm

Bottling is 2 months out, all that’s left to do is to figure out what to do regarding blending. Until next time ….

Update 8-11-16
Leah and I did a double blind taste test a few days ago with 100% cab, 100% merlot and an 80/20 blend.  We successfully guessed each of the three wines, and actually preferred the merlot, blend and cab, in that order.  Since there is relatively so little of the Merlot, we decided to fully blend the two wins this year for an 80/20 ratio.

The blending was a little harder than I thought.  I cleaned and sanitized the empty key (#1), and two carboys and racking canes.  Then, for each of the cab kegs, I took out 3 gallons and put that in #1.  I then took out five different 3 gallons from the merlot keg (#2) and put it in the other kegs.  The last pull out of the merlot keg was about 5 gallons, so my measuring, I guess, was off a little bit.  So the 80/20 ratios might not be perfect.  Also, the random 5gal carboy I have has already been mixed around enough, so I’m just going to assume it’s blended.  I took an SO2 reading on #6 and it was 120ppm, which is negligibly lower than the weighted average of the previous readings (it and 20% Merlot). This is still quite high, so I’m not worried about contamination, and won’t add any new SO2.  Here are the new kegs:
6 Free Run+
5 Free Run
1 Half Free / Half Press
4 Press Run
3 Press Run

End of Fall 2015 Activities Update

All activities mentioned in the previous update are successfully completed.  To recap, on 9/17, I got raw Merlot grapes (240 lbs) from Livermore which Leah and I subsequently destemmed and crushed with great effort.  And on 9/18, we got 1,000 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon from El Dorado.  On the morning of the 23rd (day 5), I added some ethanol/brandy/grappa to about 80 pounds of the Cabernet to stop the fermentation process halfway, with the hope (fingers crossed) of making Port. The rest of the must fermented for 10 days, and then were pressed at around -1 Brix on 9-28.

Fermentation Graph

Fermentation Graph

I had better scheduling expectations this year, and was able to provide better notice for help.  Ben, Dasha, Shae, Colin, Brittany, as well as out of town guests Mike and Michelle helped Leah and I.  It was a ton of work like last year, but I think we knew what we were doing.  We started around 6:30 and were done around 10:30pm, and then Brittany and I cleaned up until midnight or so.  Special thanks to Brittany for helping clean up late (though she was sleeping over, so likely didn’t have too much of a choice).

One snafu to note.  My side project muscat grapes were a disaster.  I only had ~20 pounds, but accidently pressed the grapes into the sanitation solution rendering both of them useless.  I had to chuck it, which was unfortunate.

The final tally is that the yield was considerably more than last year.  I have 15.5g of Merlot, 68.5g of Cab, and 8.5 of Port.  Of course, 5-10% of that is going to be discarded in the form of lees, but I’m cautiously optimistic that each member will get slightly more wine this year!

I pitched malolactic bacteria at the 24 hour mark after pressing.  The airlocks have been percolating ever since, so I’m hopeful that this is working so I really have no way to tell.  Apparently, it should take 3-4 weeks to run through all the malolactic acid.  At that point, I’ll rack all the wine, discard the gross lees, dose with 50ppm SO2, and then leave them.  Subsequent to that, there will be oaking, and perhaps 2 more rackings down the line.  And since there are two varietals, there are blending options as well, though I will likely blend all the Cab and Merlot together.  But that’s it.  The hard part is certainly over, now it’s mostly just a waiting game.

Punching the cap this year was harder with more bins to do.  Worrying that last year’s effort, and 3 day absence, caused the Zin not extract enough goodies from the skins and thus be underly colored and tannic, I put more oomph into it this year.  I also tried to scrap the bottom once a day or so to ensure full rotation of the liquid around the vessel.  Time will tell if that mattered or not.

I was able to effectively separate the free run from the press run for the Cabernet (kegs #2 and #4 are currently free run Cab).  That should ultimately leave 31-41g worth of free run (depending on blending options).  Those that helped the most recently, will get first dibs.

The following are some internal notes, observations and experiences to help in future pursuits.  Read at your own peril.

Merlot

9/17 – I went to the vineyard at 7am before work and picked up 240 pounds. I wanted 300, but settled on the lesser amount. The bins will filled to the top, and it was interesting that they settled another 30% down through the rest of the day.  Next time, fill higher than the lip of the bin. It was really a lot more work than I anticipated, and I was in the vineyard longer than I wanted too.  I paid $204 and was on my way.  The four, 17 gallon storage bins fit in my car reasonably well; I couldn’t do five, but I could have added a couple of buckets.

I brought all the bins up to the office at work to keep them cool (though it was cool outside), and then brought them down to my car when I left.  At home, I cleaned up a bit and started destemming.  I spent about 5 hours, and Leah pitched in 2, so 7 hours to get 240 pounds destemmed, yikes!  I strung some chicken wire on the surface of one of the bins, and rubbed the clusters on it and the grapes popped off.  Through the process I found that more and more clusters during the rubbing was best.  I got better at it, and at the end, I figure that I could do 100 pounds in 2 hours.  After the destemming, I crushed the grapes with my feet.  This was much easier (15 minutes?) and was really pretty fun.  I dosed the must with 50ppm SO2 and went to bed.  Long day.

9-18 I took a reading of the grapes and found the Brix to be 25.2, 3.7 pH, 7.8 g/L TA.  I split the 15g of BDX yeast and sprinkled it on top.  Brittany then helped and punched the cap down.

9-28 Pressed. Almost filled a keg, #1, topped it off with Cab. It’s likely ~95% Merlot.

Cabernet

9-18 Today was delivery day.  Leah reserved a truck which we picked up and drove to Oak Barrel.  I had previously given them my bins (3 big fermentors, 2 buckets, and 2 storage bins).  The extra capacity was key in decreasing the overall weight of any single container.  We put it in the truck and took it home.  Ben came over and brought a piano mover which was helpful.  We got the containers off the truck, and into the living room fairly easily.  Oak Barrel added the SO2, so that was it for that day.  The measurements are 24.5b, 3.22 pH, and .76 TA.

I consolidated some of the containers. I poured the storage bins into the big fermentors to save on space.  I then pitched the yeast, D80 (6g/100lbs), and did a punch down.

On day 5, I put ~40 pounds (~4g) each into two separate buckets.  The Brix was roughly half at 11 at the time.  I poured about .6 gallons of ethanol into each bucket.  This will raise the ABV significantly and effectively make the yeast ‘go to sleep’ and retain some desirable sweetness.  I was thinking I’d get 6.5g of output (5.3g of must, 1.2g of ethanol) which would yield 20% abv.  The final output was 8.5g implying the must part was actually 7.3g or so which means the current ABV is 18%.  I think when I weighed out the must, I unfairly took too many skins and not enough liquid.  As a result, I should add .3g more ethanol to the Port to get to my desired 20%.

9-28 Pressed. Got four 15.5 gal kegs, one 6 gal carboy, one growler (68.5 gal).  The Port created one 6 gal carboy, 3 growlers, 4 monkey heads (8.5 gal).

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2015 Vintage – Fall Schedule

For all the returning wine club members, I hope that you enjoyed the last year in our inaugural Zinfandel Vintage.  I also hope that you are patiently waiting for your bottles to age though I’m sure you’ve had one or two by now.  But that is the past, and our attention shifts to the future, and the next vintage, Cabernet Sauvignon.

I have arranged the purchase of another 1,000 pounds to play with this year.  Since we just had a really big bottling party a few weeks ago, Leah and I are not going to have an official welcome party.  Instead, we’re going to request that some of you come over for some of the work days, which is more fun anyway. Feel free to bring a +1.  There’s a lot of work to do, and Leah and I can’t do it by ourselves.  I understand that some of you live farther away, so these are optional.  Please only come if you want to.  Here is the schedule for the coming weeks. Keep in mind the dates are subject to change based but should be accurate within a day or so.

9/17 (estimate) – Merlot Crushing and Destemming
Since we have a few new members, I’m trying to get some more grapes.  I’m dealing with the farmer directly, which is difficult, so this part may not happen.  I’ve found that Merlot is a very common blending partner of Cab, so I’m going to get about 300lbs of Merlot grapes to blend with later.  For the Cab, I’m paying a small fee to get them crushed and destemmed. But the Merlot vineyard I found is not providing that service.  Soooooo, I need to (a) crush the grapes and then (b) destem them.  I’ve never done this, so this is going to be a new adventure. We’re going to do the classic Foot Stomping method, hopefully better than her.  I’m looking forward to this one!  If you come to this one, please cut your toenails prior, and prepare to scrub your feet.  SWMBO is going to have very strict cleanliness requirements before your feet go in the grapes.

9/18 (final) – Cabernet Sauvignon Delivery
The grapes are scheduled to arrive on the 18th.  Last year I did this by myself, and it really really sucked.  My order had way too much weight in too few containers (300lbs in each fermentor).  So I have a few more smaller containers this year, and hope to move them back to our apartment a little easier.  Leah and I are going to rent a Zipvan and pick them up at after 6pm or so.  This is by far the least fun job, and I might enlist Ben’s help here, if he’s willing.

9/29 (estimate) – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot Pressing
This is an estimate, the primary fermentation took ~10 days last year, and we’ll see how long it takes this year.  It might move up or down a day or two.  At this point, all the juice will have turned to wine, and we need to press the wine out of the grape skins. This job is probably the most laborious, and fortunately the most fun.  I really need volunteers for this one.  I had a lot of help last year, and everybody had a great time.  I’m going to rent the press for the evening, and we’ll press it all until it’s done.

 

That’s it, that is the schedule of events for the Fall.  Again, the dates are variable, and I’ll update this as they become more defined.  Everything will start roughly after work, around 7pm or so and will go until the work gets done.  We’re looking forward to seeing you many of you at these events.  I need the most help on the final pressing.

Keep in mind these are optional; come to work, come to hang out, and only come if you want 🙂