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).

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.

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:
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”:
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.
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:

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:
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.


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 …..

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