Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This Is The End, My Friends... The End

Mid-May 2009 Provina closed its doors, and the principals started to wind down the company. Despite the serious development put into it, the quality of the WinePod, and its power as a research tool, in the current economy Provina was not able to find enough buyers for the Pod or to close a new investment round, and just ran out of money.

I want to thank the dedicated and talented individuals with Provina who trusted me to help them develop and support their product. It was an honor to work with you, and I hope we will be able to do so again in the future.

I also want to thank the enthusiastic WinePod users who trusted me to help them push through the sometimes challenging learning curve required to produce quality wines. So long as your Pods function and you have grapes to work with, don't hesitate to contact me with your questions.

In the future I may still have a few WinePod Experiences to post to this blog -- check back when you have the chance.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

New Opportunity For Experiments

ProVina delivered five WinePods to my winery. The plan is for me to do comparison fermentations to test hypotheses and validate protocols.

First up will be a comparison fermentation using our Annadel Estate Pinot Noir. I'm starting of easy – dipping must from my production T-bins to fill three Pods: one will be the control, the second will undergo an extended cold soak, and the third will be a submerged-cap ferment.

The control will have a "normal" temperature profile and number of punchdowns. The submerged-cap will have the same temperature profile, but I will use the press to hold the skins below the level of the fermenting juice.

Years ago Tom Mackie (now at St. Francis Winery) did his master's at UC Davis on submerged cap ferments. Bottom line: if this were a great method to ferment everyone would be doing it. It's not – it has a tendency to produce reduced (sulfide) characters and different phenolic extraction profiles compared to wines made traditionally. I want to validate that I can make a palatable wine anyway – some WinePod users need the option of fermenting without having to be there on a regular schedule for punchdowns.

I'm interested in the extended cold soak as well. In my opinion "cold soak" of Pinot is a faddish practice based on misinterpretation of the ordinary progression of ferments in red Burgundies. In Burgundy most fruit comes in cold at harvest – typically in the 40's F. Traditional practice is to wait for the ferment to start on its own. This often takes up to a week or more, hence the fruit gets a "cold soak" before fermentation starts.

I know of wineries that expend a huge amount of effort and refrigeration tonnage to chill Pinot musts for weeks before initiating fermentation. Does this really make a better wine? If so, is it enough better to justify the expense and risk? This single Pod ferment won't provide a definitive answer, but it will add to my growing body of observation.

I want to thank Greg Snell and the rest of the good people at ProVina for entrusting me with this many Pods – and trusting that I will make good use of them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

No Movement Of Chard Malo

Last Friday Vinquiry analyzed the latest sample of the Sangiacomo Chardonnay: 1.32 g/L. This suggests 1) astonishingly good reproducibility of the lab analysis, and 2) that the malo has not moved at all in two weeks. The alternative interpretation – that the analysis is crap and the ferment is moving by some unknon amount – is untenable.

So today I plan to bomb the wine with a huge over-inoculation of bacteria. It's either that, or sulfur the wine and sterile-filter it to bottle when the time comes – which is not the goal I had in mind.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chardonnay Malo Moving Slowly

The Sangiacomo Chardonnay in the Pod is smelling and tasting wonderful, but the malolactic fermentation is moving too slowly for my comfort.

I picked up a 2.5 gram pack of the Enoferm Alpha ML culture from Vinquiry, prepped it and pitched it into the Chardonnay on 8/06/2008. I have maintained the Pod temperature at 70° F.

Several days ago (8/18) I sampled the Chardonnay for malic analysis, which returned 1.33 g/L, a drop of only 0.18 g/L (±) in almost two weeks.

The alcohol is not sky-high (14.6%-14.7%) and the temperature is conducive. I can't imagine the pH is under 3.4 but I guess I should measure it to be sure. Anyway, I was hoping to be ready to add SO2 this week. Patience…

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chardonnay Ready For Malolactic

This morning the Pod was reading -3° Brix at 70° F on the Chardonnay. I pulled a sample and took it to Vinquiry for analysis. Results:

Alcohol14.67% (v/v)
Malic Acid1.51g/L

This confirms that the wine is bone-dry and ready for inoculation with malolactic. If I have any culture in my stash I will add it tomorrow.

I was talking with Greg Snell today and he asked if I had learned anything important so far regarding fermenting Chardonnay in the Pod. What I have learned about this specific juice is DO NOT TRY TO FERMENT IT UNINOCULATED.

I have had a pre-fermentation juice sample in my refrigerator since July 12 and it is not showing even the barest hint of the onset of fermentation. This is the most stable juice I have encountered in over 20 years. I have no explanation for it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Chardonnay At Or Near Dryness

Last Wednesday the Chardonnay ferment was showing 8° Brix, and Thursday down to 5° Brix. I was out of town Friday through Sunday on a family trip – something I could not have done if this were a RED ferment! – and came in this morning to find the Pod reading -1° Brix.

Smells great. Still making some CO2. I raised the setpoint to 70° F in anticipation of adding the malolactic inoculum in a day or so, after I confirm that the sugar is gone.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chardonnay DAP Addition

Yesterday morning the Chardonnay in the Pod was reading 17° Brix at 65° F and showing a nice 2-inch head of foam. I added 30 grams of DAP (0.53 g/L) to supplement the purported low nutrient status of the juice as delivered.

The aroma of the ferment was fine before the addition, but turned even sweeter immediately after. The foam also dissipated. At noon today the readings were 11° Brix at 65° F.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Slow Start To Chard Ferment

I just thought this was a cool picture...
The yeast is starting to produce some gas, and the bubbles are rising so straight in the Pod that the features of the press basket (not needed for white but necessary to positively locate the Brix sensor) are outlined. I'm easily amused.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Chardonnay: Second Inoculation

Yesterday I prepped 16 grams (28 g/hL) of Uvaferm 43 from the WinePod Consumables Kit to add to the Chardonnay juice. After five days, the CY3079 had not started the ferment.

In a commercial setting I would have checked yeast viability under the microscope and perhaps waited a little longer if the cells looked good. This was standard operating procedure when I was at Sonoma-Cutrer. But not many of us WinePodders have a quality microscope and methylene blue available. I don't even have a microscope at the winery, since commercially I only make reds (where problems with start of fermentation are – almost – never encountered).

Anyway, the CY3079 I used was from an opened pack nearly 10 months old and stored at 65° F. It may have lost viability, and I made a mistake by not proofing it with some sugar before I pitched.

The Uvaferm was certainly fresher. I prepped it without GoFerm as I had already added the maximum recommended dose with the CY inoculum.

I did proof this yeast prep with juice on the off chance that the juice itself contained something inhibitory. I can't say the Uvaferm boiled over, but it did foam – a little. I'm hoping to see a start to fermentation by this morning.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Racking Red Wines

Yesterday I racked two of the red wines and added SO2 to a third.

2007 Rancho Sarco Cabernet
The Rancho Sarco Cab went to a 20 L medium-toast Vernou French oak barrel and a 5 gallon carboy back on February 11. Since then I have topped it and maintained the SO2 more or less regularly.

The wine tastes and smells great: varietal, with a jammy edge and oak that is present but not overwhelming. It might be that this Cab could spend more time in barrel, but it is showing well now and I would like to get it in the bottle soon so Provina can show samples to interested parties. I racked it from barrel and carboy to a clean SS keg, and then to two clean 5 gallon carboys fit with fermentation locks. I hope to bottle it before the end of the month.

2007 Napa River Ranch Cabernet
The Napa River Ranch Cab went to a 20 L medium-plus-toast Vernou French oak barrel and a 5 gallon carboy back on March 11.

This wine has for several months shown a very closed-in aroma, with a bit of reduction – not sulfide, but a kind of post-fermentaion funk that is hard to describe but easy to recognize with experience. Back when I first put it to barrel I noted that it had not settled clear in the Pod. At the time I suggested that this was because I had not added any Lallzyme at the beginning of the ferment.

I believe that the undeveloped aroma is also a consequence of leaving out the enzyme. The Lallzyme preparations are predominantly cellulases and hemicellulases, but like all commercial enzme preparations there is some side-activity. Lallzyme shows a small glycosidase activity, which slightly – but noticibly – speeds the release of aromatic compounds.

Regardless of whether or not leaving out the enzyme was a good idea, the wine needed the racking I gave it yesterday. I also felt it would benefit from a bump in SO2.

I racked the wine from barrel and carboy to a SS keg, onto 2.5 grams of Efferbaktol granules dissolved in 50 mL of water – this gives about a 25 ppm addition of SO2.

A quick note on additions of sulfur dioxide: the wine always has some potential to bind some fraction of the added SO2. As a rule of thumb, I expect to actually see the free SO2 bump by about half of the calculated addition.

After stirring the wine in keg and settling a few minutes, I racked it to a 5 gallon carboy and the 20 L medium-toast barrel I had racked the Rancho Sarco Cab out of. I just like the aroma of the medium-toast barrel more than that of the medium-plus-toast barrel.

After the rack and add the aroma of the wine improved. The Napa River Ranch Cab is less jammy than the Rancho Sarco, and more fruity. It is lighter and leaner, with a marked "Rutherford dust" character.

2007 Roberts Road Pinot Noir
In my commercial winemaking I put Pinot Noir to barrel after the barest minimum of settling, and then never rack it until bottling. I'm hoping to get away with the same approach with the WinePod Pinot.

I pressed this Roberts Road Pinot and moved the wine to a 30 L medium-plus-toast Vernou French oak barrel and 3 gallon carboy on March 26. Recall the wine had some residual sugar at this point, and was re-inoculated in barrel on April 7. I confirmed that the wine was dry on May 2 and inoculated for ML on May 15.

I confirmed that the malolactic fermentation was complete (0.07 g/L) on July 8, and yesterday I added 7.5 g Efferbaktol granules (75 ppm SO2) distributed proportionally between the 30 L barrel and the 3 gallon carboy.

BTW - no evidence of fermentation in the Sangiocomo Chardonnay yet.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Off And Running With The Chard

This evening I sanitized the Pod and transferred the Chard juice from the pails. The juice was very clear and well-settled, and showed no evidence of fermentation.

I poured from the pails pretty carefully, leaving behind most of the settled lees. The lees smelled and tasted OK, but since I have not handled this juice from the crusher, and am not sure how much reductive or oxidative potential they have, I decided to leave most of them behind.

Fifteen gallons of juice fills the Pod pretty well – I didn't put a tape measure on it but it looks like there is 5"-6" of headspace. We will see later if this is a problem.

Excessively clarified juice does not ferment well – clear juice fermentations frequently make more sulfide and have a greater tendency to stick than turbid juices. Yeast perform better when they have some suspended solids to glom on to.

I have dealt successfully with overly-clarifed juice in the commercial setting by adding back Bentonite, colloidal silica and yeast hulls, singly or together. I decided to keep this ferment simple, so I added just yeast hulls at a rate of 3 lb./1000 gal, 20 grams total.

According to the Brehm website, no SO2 was added at crushing or pressing, so I added 40 ppm, using 7 grams of Efferbaktol granules. Also, the juice tasted a bit flat so I added 0.3 g/L of tartaric acid (17 grams).

At this point the juice read 23.7° Brix – the Pod readings were 24° Brix at 62° F. I turned on temparature control with both setpoints at 65° F.

With everything ready to go, I suspended 17 grams of GoFerm (30 g/hL) in 200 mL of water at 104° F. I rehydrated 17 g of CY3079 yeast for 20 minutes in this suspension befoe pitching it into the juice.

I chose CY3079 because it was selected to perform well in barrel ferments – first and foremost, the fermentation does not foam. This is important, because there is not a lot of headspace in the Pod.

CY3079 doesn't produce much SO2 during fermentation (some yeast do) and is friendlier to malolactic bacteria than some other white wine yeasts. This selection also develops a more pronounced "leesy" character in the wine during aging than nearly any other yeast selection.

The down-side is that CY3079 is prone to sticking, so I plan to feed this fermentation (the Brehm website listing for this juice notes that it is low in available nitrogen – YAN). This yeast also does not produce a "fruity" wine.

So now I wait. I will feed at 20° and 12° Brix, and inoculate for malolactic at dryness. Not much else to do with a white ferment.

2007 Carneros Chardonnay

That's right – Chardonnay, from the 37-year-old vines on the Sangiacomo's Home Ranch. I'm excited to see if I can produce a high-quality white wine in the Pod.

We sourced 15 gallons of frozen juice from Peter Brehm. I received the pails on Thursday. They were partially thawed yesterday when I transported them to the winery.

When I cut the stretch wrap off the pails I could see some sediment through the sides. I decided to let the juice settle a little before I rack it into the Pod.

Today or tomorrow I will rack the juice off the lees into the Pod, add SO2, water and a little acid, and inoculate. I tentatively plan to conduct the ferment at 65° through malolactic, and then rack into barrels for aging.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pre-Emptive Minimalism

This is a follow-up to my last post on Hands-On Winemaking. Last September I put up a post on my Westwood blog where I attempted to define my personal winegrowing philosophy as "Pre-Emptive Minimalism".

In a nutshell, following this approach means to 1) do nothing I don't have to, and 2)to do nothing that forces me to do extra work later. In the context of the last post I would call this "Interventionist Minimalism" in contrast to minimal intervention.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hands-On Winemaking

My friend Greg Snell recently posted to his blog about "non-interventionist" winemaking and the WinePod. I will take this opportunity to weigh in on the subject.

What on earth does someone mean when they talk about "non-interventionist winemaking"? Where did this term come from? I'm not the first person to ask these questions. Check out Eric Asimov's piece in the NY times from October 2006. I think it may be that the term first arose in the film "Mondovino" which, for dramatic effect, built its narrative around the differences between the "...old world and new, simple peasants and billionaires, and between the local and artisanal styles of wine production and the multinational and mass-produced ones."

Award-winning New Zealand winemaker and writer Drew Tuckwell put it as succinctly as such a vague and useless concept might possibly be clarified: "Non interventionist winemaking is not easy to explain. There are no defined or common rules. It is essentially a very natural form of winemaking ... where, in general terms, winemakers resist the use of modern technology and simply allow the wines to express the terroir of the vineyard." (1) Emphasis mine.

My sainted Dallas-bred grandmother had a term for this kind of marketing-speak: "horse-puckey".

The craft of winemaking is the transformation of grapes with alchemist skill. For centuries the French have applied the terms "elevage" and "affinage" to the winemaking process. The winemaker facilitates the birth of the wine, and then raises it and refines it into something which, if not always transcendent and sublime, is at least palatable. I believe the most apt analogy for winemaking is child-rearing. I for one don't believe that child rearing can be at all non-interventionist. And neither can winemaking be.

I shall step on a slightly taller soapbox to proclaim: I believe that ALL wines – artisanal and mass-produced alike – are valid expressions of the grape, and of the winemaker's craft. There is no way to define a cutoff between these arbitrary classifications; wines are produced along a technological contiuum.

On the other hand, all wines are not created equal. There are distinctions between the aromas and tastes of wines made by hand and those produced by machine that are no more arbitrary or subtle than the differences between, say, Redwood Hill Farm crottin and processed American cheese spread, or Boont Amber Ale and Bud. But there is no doubt that the makers of the crottin and the ale are interventionist to a fault in crafting their products. So are ALL winemakers worthy of the title.

For contrast, let me paint a scenario of the least-interventionist winemaking I can imagine. Find some grapes – they must be wild, or escapees from cultivation, un-pruned and otherwise un-farmed. Pay no attention to the mildew, bird damage and rot. Taste them to see if they are ripe, and try to forget that professionals with decades of experience sometimes misjudge ripeness by taste. Pick them anyway.

Put these natural wonders in a garbage pail in the garage – don't worry if the pail is clean or not, or how hot or cold the space is. Intervene to the extent of crushing the grapes by foot. Step away at this point, intervention complete – the grapes will ferment. But at least go so far as to cover the pail before turning out the lights. Come back in a month or so, lift the pail and make a small hole in the bottom for the liquid to drain out. Intervene again to push on the mass inside the pail to press as much liquid out as possible. Collect, taste and savor.

I can say from personal experience that the results will not be palatable.

I can also say that there is not a capital-poor winemaker worth the title that has not wished for a centrifuge (for clarification), a spinning cone (for alcohol reduction), or for ion-exchange (to remove volatile acidity) at some point in their career. In my opinion, any winemaker that can say they are "non-interventionist" with a straight face, or at least without a little lurch of self-loathing in the pit of the stomach, is a charlatan or worse – delusional.

Given the choice between a garbage pail and the WinePod, I'll take the Pod thanks. I can make better wine in the WinePod. Doesn't make me a mass-producer – the wines are still hand-made. Just don't call me "non-interventionist".

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Catching Up With The Roberts Road Pinot

The Sangiacomo Roberts Road Pinot lot finally completed alcoholic fermentation after the re-inoculation on 4/7.


My personal cutoff for "doneness" on alcoholic fermentation is 1.00 g/L, though I prefer to see on the order of 1/10th that number before I inoculate for malolactic – which is sort of what I did.

On 5/15/08 I inoculated the Pinot in barrel and carboy with 2.5 grams of Enoferm Alpha malolactic culture, prepared according to directions.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Finishing Off The Syrah Fermentation

May was a very busy month for me and I was not able to devote the time I wanted to maintaining this blog. It is time to catch up and so this is likely to be a long post.

I pressed off the Annadel Syrah on 5/1/08 after a full 30 days of maceration at elevated temperature (73° F) – if there was a question in anyone's mind, it was my intention to see how far I could push this protocol.

Jumping ahead a little, in my opinion the wine turned out very well, analytically and organoleptically. So since I didn't "break it" with a full month of maceration I can't say that I have pushed the procedure to its absolute limit. But what I learned is that I can be more sanguine about recommending longer maceration in the Pod – at least up to this now-defined point, and with these grapes.

I pressed the Syrah as I have the other lots: first with automatic pressing on the "heavy" setting (present on this Pod beta unit – likely not on shipping units) until done, then on manual every minute, then every 2 minutes, then every 5 minutes, until the press shuts off immediately on startup. Also as before, I racked the wine from the Pod into buckets, cleaned the Pod, and racked the wine back in. The yield was about 11 gallons. I set the temperature of the Pod to 65° F.

I pulled a sample for the lab; results of the analysis:

Malic Acid0.13g/L
Volatile Acidity0.38g/L

My personal threshold for malolactic "doneness" is 0.30 g/L so this wine is done enough. The V.A. has crept up a tiny bit since the end of alcoholic fermentation (from 0.26 g/L – almost within analytical error) supporting that the long extension of maceration didn't oxidize the wine appreciably. From a philosophical standpoint the pH is higher than I want it to be, though the wine does not taste fat, soapy, or bitter.

On 5/4/08 I set the temperature of the Pod to 60° F. The next day I stirred in 20 grams of tartaric acid (0.5 g/L) and 5 grams of Efferbaktol granules (about 48 ppm of SO2).

The Syrah settled in the Pod at 60° F for nearly two weeks. On 5/16/08 I racked the wine to glass carboys (7, 2 and 1 gallon) with the extra going into two 750 mL bottles. Total yield of clear wine after racking was 10.4 gallons.

In my commercial wine production I have found that Syrah benefits from spending some time in tank after the first racking, before going to barrels. It is my intention to leave this WinePod Syrah in glass for a while before I put it into wood.

Another thing I wanted to do with this Syrah ferment was collect seeds to illustrate the changes that occur during extended maceration.

Syrah seeds at different times in the fermentClick on the image above for larger 800 px image

I collected the seeds on the left from inside berries on the day I filled the Pod. They are uniformly brown – and I assure you they are crunchy – as expected for properly-ripened fruit.

The seeds in the middle were pulled from inside berries at the end of the yeast fermentation. Notice that they are darker and redder, but not uniformly colored.

The seeds on the right were removed from berries in the press cake after taking it out of the Pod. Notice how they have turned darker, and though not all of them are exactly the same dark shade the color is uniform on each. These are the visual qualities I look for in the seeds on completion of extended maceration.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Syrah - All Is Well

Extended maceration continues at 73° F on the Annadel Syrah. The Pod is reading -5° Brix suggesting that the sensor is stuck to the bottom of the tank. Malolactic fermentation is producing enough carbon dioxide at this time to keep the cap floating. Yesterday I popped two more gas cartridges under the Pod lid anyway – one of them was unmarked and turned out to be CO2.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Syrah Cap Back Up

Yesterday when I checked the Syrah I found that the malolactic ferment was producing enough gas to bring the cap back up. I gave the must a mix (#14) and then shot some nitrogen into the headspace using two of the gas cartridges supplied with the Pod.

These cartridges each supply 1.8 g of N2. Dredging up some freshman general chemistry from memory, this comes to about 1.44 liters of gas (at STP) per cartridge.

I have not made an exact measurement but I'm guessing the headspace is more like 4-5 gallons, meaning it would take about 12 cartridges to purge this volume with nitrogen.

If the cap falls again before the tannins have softened I will probably fit the variable-capacity lid to the Pod.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Inoculated 2007 Syrah for Malolactic

Following my temperature plan I dropped the lower setpoint on the ferment to 73° F by Saturday the 12th (punch #11). The must reading was -3° Brix.

At punch #12 on Monday the 14th I observed the second must reading at -3° Brix, so I pulled a sample for analysis and recovered some seeds which I will use in my photographic comparison after I press this lot off.

Results of the analysis of the Syrah sample:

Alcohol14.72% (v/v)
Titratable Acidity6.56g/L
Malic Acid1.56g/L
Volatile Acidity0.26g/L

This confirms that the wine is bone-dry.

Since the wine is dry, today I prepared 2.5 g of Enoferm Alpha malolactic culture according to directions and inoculated the must at punch #13. It is still my plan to extend the maceration until April 30th – the wine is tasting quite tannic at the moment – but the cap has already lost much of its buoyancy. It may regain some if the malolactic fermentation produces a little CO2 (in my experience sometimes it does, sometimes not) but with this ferment I am thinking I will be sparging the headspace with inert gas before I get to pressing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Syrah Ferment Peak

Yesterday evening the must readings were 15° Brix at 81° F. At punch #7 I added another 15 g of DAP dissolved in 150 mL warm water and increased the lower setpoint to 86° F.

This morning the Pod was showing 6° Brix at 85° F. I made the third and final 15 g DAP addition at the punchdown. I plan to start dropping the temperature at this evening's punch.

Knock on wood – this fermentation is textbook (so far). Total DAP addition was the maximum allowable 1 g/L, and the must has smelled really good all along, with only hints of sulfide.

I want to note that this ferment has not once threatened to overflow the Pod. The Lallzyme products are a mix of cellulases and hemicellulases (with very low glycosidase side activity – important to maintain the color and aromatic potential of a red wine) which hydrolyze the grape cell walls and do a good job of breaking down the cap.

At this time I am planning to bring the temperature down to 73° F by Saturday the 12th. This is the temperature where I expect to maintain this lot through extended maceration. Sometime in the week of the 14th I will test for residual sugar – when it is below the 1 g/L threshold I will inoculate for malolactic. I hope to press on the 30th.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Annadel Syrah Ferment Taking Off

After inoculating the must Monday morning, the cap was barely up Tuesday morning – not solid, sort of half-hearted. It was a little firmer at the afternoon punchdown (punch #5). I raised the setpoints at each visit – the lower from 69° to 72° F, and from 72° to 78° F in the afternoon.

Note that I have settled on a span of 3°F for determining the upper setpoint – I will only be reporting the lower setpoint going forward. The must read 24° Brix at both punchdowns.

This morning the cap was solid and the Pod was reporting 20° Brix at 77° F. I dissolved/suspended 8 g Fermaid K (19 g/hL or 1.6#/M – note that the maximum addition rate for this product is 2#/M) and 15 g DAP (0.33 g/L) in about 200 mL warm water and added this at the punch. This is the first of three planned DAP additions. Upped the setpoint to 80° F.

Though I peaked the Pinot fermentation at 92° F my plan for the Syrah is to peak this ferment at 86° F as I did for the two Cabernet lots.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Annadel Syrah Inoculation

When I arrived at the winery this morning the Pod readings were 25° Brix at 65° F. I intended to raise the setpoints a small amount but mis-read my own chart and punched in the setpoints I had planned to hit in the afternoon: 69° and 72° F. Eh. No big deal.

I prepped 13 g of GoFerm in 200 mL distilled water at 104° F, and stirred in 11 g of Uvaferm 43 yeast. I waited 20 minutes and then "proofed" the yeast prep with about a gram of sucrose dissolved in a little warm water.

After the yeast prep started to bubble I pitched it into the Syrah, mixed for the third time, and put the lid back on.

Roberts Road Pinot Re-Inoculation

Since the Pinot in barrel is only fermenting sugar at a rate less than 1 g/L/week I decided to help things along.

First, I topped the wine with 1.75 liters of water. This should take the alcohol from 15.1% to 14.2%.

Then I weighed out 63 g of RC212, the yeast I used to ferment the must in the first place. This rate of yeast addition is about 150 g/hL or six times the normal recommended rate. In my experience the rate of addition for re-inoculation needs to be at least 100 g/hL. A rate of 200 g/hl is overkill for all but the most stubborn stuck ferments. I dissolved the RC212 in 630 mL of distilled water at 104° F and waited 20 minutes.

I might otherwise have used Uvaferm 43, the absolute "best" yeast for restarting a stuck ferment, but I didn't have 63 g of Uva43, and this wine is just "barely stuck".

After 20 minutes I stirred into the yeast mixture 2 g sucrose (table sugar) dissolved in a small volume of hot water. This is important. The sugar addition brought the yeast mixture to 3 g/L – about the same as the wine. The rehydrated yeast started to bubble moderately.

While the yeast was rehydrating I pulled about 920 mL wine from the 30 L barrel and 340 mL from the 11 L carboy (1260 mL total). I poured half this volume into a clean 1/2-gallon jug and set it in a warm water bath to raise the temperature of the wine.

When the wine had warmed to 80° F, and the yeast mixture cooled to 90° F, I poured most of the yeast prep into the jug and put a fermentation lock on top. The mixture started to bubble immediately.

I transferred the remaining 630 mL of wine to the leftover yeast prep, stirred, and poured into a clean 750 mL screw-top bottle. This mixture also started producing bubbles immediately.

So far so good.

I took both the jug and the bottle with me to the office, and left them in my car to keep them warm. In retrospect I should have exercised a little more caution with where I placed them in the car. When I returned 6 hours later both were in the sun and warmer than I wanted. I would have been happiest if they had stayed at 80° F but both were measuring 100° F when I got back to the winery. Both were still producing bubbles, so my hope is that the yeast weren't completely killed.

Nota bene: alcohol plus high temperature equals dead yeast.

Anyway, I pitched the yeast prep from the 1/2-gallon jug into both the barrel and the carboy to top, and both started to show some signs of bubbles rising to the surface. I will take a sample to the lab in a few days to see if this restart was successful.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Syrah Additions

Yesterday when I checked the Pod it was reading 25° Brix at 51° F. I increased the setpoints to 58° and 61° F. I have never seen any positive effect of pre-fermentation maceration on Syrah, so I plan to increase the temperature on a regular slope.

Today the must readings were 25° Brix at 58° F. Color and aroma of the juice were lovely. I made an addition of 1.8 g Lallzyme EX, giving an addition rate of about 3 g/100 kg of fruit – the maximum recommended rate for this particular enzyme product. I have found that the addition of enzyme is most important when fermenting in the Pod to help avoid overflowing the tank.

After I added the Lallzyme I set the temparature control points to 63° and 66° F and mixed. Then I made tannin additions.

I prepared a solution of 10 g Laffort VR Supra (Quebracho), 4 g Vialatte Sublitan Vinif (grape seed), and 2 g Vialatte Oenotan (oak) in one liter of water, and mixed it thoroughly into the must.

Next I prepared a solution of 25 g tartaric acid in one liter of water and mixed it into the must as well. As with the three ferments that have gone before, I feel this 0.5 g/L pre-fermentation addition of tartaric is a good starting point to end up with a "reasonable" post-fermentation pH.

Post-mixing I measured the dissolved solids with a digital refractometer and found that the must was reading 25.1° Brix after incorporating about 3.5 liters of water with these various additions.

Before closing up the Pod for the day I squeezed the seeds out of a number of berries, rinsed them and dried them by rubbing between paper towel to remove attached pulp. Then I photographed them before putting them into a labeled baggie. The plan is to compare the appearance of seeds before fermentation, at dryness, and at the end of extended maceration.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Pinot Fermenting In Barrel?

In a word, no. Not fast enough, anyway. Yesterday I pulled a sample from the barrel and took it in for analysis. I was hoping for that magic number of less than 1.00 g/L glucose + fructose. The lab came back this morning with 3.05 g/L, a drop of only 0.9 g/L in almost a week. It is time for me to think about re-inoculating.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Next Ferment: Annadel Syrah

This past Tuesday I received a delivery of 3 pails of Syrah from the well-known Annadel Estate Vineyard. Well-known by me anyway. Full disclosure: I grew these grapes. These are INRA clone 877 on 101-14 rootstock, planted in 2002.

Today the pails were thawed enough to transfer the fruit to the Pod, which I had thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after pressing the Roberts Road Pinot. I dissolved 7 grams of Efferbaktol granules in one liter of water and poured 250 mL of this solution on top of the fruit in each pail.

I also made up a solution of yeast extracts: 8 g of Booster Rouge and 8 g of OptiRed suspended in another liter of water. As I poured each pail of grapes into the Pod, I followed it with about 330 mL of this suspension. Finally, I poured the last 250 mL of the Efferbaktol solution on top of the fruit in the Pod and put the lid on.

The Efferbaktol should have added about 65 ppm of SO2 to the must. The addition rates for the yeast extract products were 19 g/hL each (the maximum recommended rate for each of these products is 30 g/hL).

The Pod was reading 25° Brix at 46° F. I set the temperature control points to 50° and 53° F.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Roberts Road Pinot Analysis

Results of the analysis of the post-pressing Pinot sample:

Alcohol15.13% (v/v)
Titratable Acidity5.88g/L
Malic Acid1.33g/L
Volatile Acidity0.43g/L

This confirms that I did not add enough water before the start of fermentation. The alcohol is too high – some people may like wines over 15% but I find them unbalanced and fatiguing to drink – but more alarming is that the wine is not bone-dry.

My operational threshold for "dry" is 1.00 g/L (0.1% w/v, or as Vinquiry reports, 100 mg/100 mL). Some experts are OK with twice that value. But from the standpoint of assuring the most stable, most spoilage-resistant wine the only acceptable value is really "none detected". In practice, I am happy and relaxed if the residual glucose + fructose is less than 0.20 mg/L (20 mg/100 mL).

Clearly this wine is not there yet. Some guys would pitch for malolactic anyway. Not me. I want to wait for the wine to get below that 1.00 g/L threshold to make sure the bacteria produce a minimal amount of volatile acidity.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

2007 Roberts Road Pinot Pressed

Yesterday I pressed off the Roberts Road Pinot. The Pod readings were -3° Brix and 65° F. The cap was still up and I did not mix it before starting, other than putting a hole through it with my hand to pull out the Brix sensor before installing the press ram.

The pressing went routinely. As before, I set the unit to heavy press and then switched to manual mode on completion of the auto program. In maunual pressing mode I took the ram to maximum pressure 1) every 30 seconds for 16 cycles, then 2) every 60 seconds for 9 cycles, then 3) every 5 minutes for 7 cycles.

The last two 5-minute cycles the motor tripped out immediatley, indicating I had pushed the ram down as far as it was going to go without really long waiting between cycles. This is improved performance compared to my prior pressing of the Napa River Ranch Cabernet. I attribute the difference to using enzyme on the Pinot.

Yield was about 10.8 gallons. This time I don't know exactly what the final volume was because I did not rack the wine back into the Pod after pressing, where it is easier to measure. I filled a 3-gallon carboy, filled a 30 L (7.9 gal) Vernou M+ toast barrel to within 3/4" of the bunghole, and collected about 2/3-gal of heavy lees for settling.

In my commercial production I usually press Pinot Noir to tank and then move immediately to barrels before extensive settling. I believe that the presence of the extra lees in the barrel result in increased aromatic complexity and improved mouthfeel.

Today I will take a sample to the lab for analysis. Once I confirm that the alcoholic fermentation is complete I will inoculate for malolactic in the barrel and carboy.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Inflection Point

Friday morning I worried over whether or not the fermentation would stick. I got my answer Friday afternoon, where the must readings were 0° Brix at 79° F before punchdown #11. The graph above shows a clear inflection point from the morning reading to the afternoon.

This sort of curve inflection indicates a second yeast population picking up as the first population slows – I have observed this inflection before when re-inoculating a sticky ferm. It appears to me that the RC212 inoculum – added at 9.5 days – took a while to pick up, but did. I also noticed that the hints of sulfide aroma I had observed in the morning were completely gone, so I did not add any DAP after all.

Friday afternoon I lowered the setpoints again, to 74° and 77° F. I made only one punch (#12) on Saturday, where the readings were -2° Brix and 73° F. Once again I dropped the setpoints, to 68° and 71° F. I also put the lid on the Pod, since the fermentation is effectively complete.

At punch #13 today, the must read -3° Brix and 68° F. I made the final adjustment to the temperature setpoints, to 66° and 69° F, where they will stay through pressing.

I am still on track to press on Wednesday the 26th as I originally planned, after 14 punchdowns and 16 days of cuvaison. Yesterday I started prepping the barrel with the first fill, and today I gave it the second filling with hot water.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Past The Peak

Wednesday night when I checked the Pinot ferment there was no evidence of Kloeckera activity (no aroma of ethyl acetate) so I went forward with my plan to inoculate the must. I rehydrated 11 grams of RC212 yeast (25 g/hL) in a mix of 200 mL distilled water plus 13 grams of GoFerm nutrient (30 g/hL) at 104° F for 20 minutes.

I added a pinch of table sugar to proof the yeast prep. To my mild dismay the inoculum foamed only very slightly. I pitched it into the must anyway with punchdown number 7, though I would have been more sanguine if the inoculum had foamed extensively. After the punch the must was down to 23° Brix at 82° F; I moved the setpoints to 88° and 91° F.

When I checked the Pod early yesterday morning the must had overflowed slightly – perhaps a fistfull of pommace and 250 mL of liquid had gone over the side. It never ceases to amaze how much of a cleanup mess is created by such a small loss.

The Pod was reading 12° Brix at 91° F. For the first time in my WinePod experience, the cooling came on during punchdown #8. I moved the setpoints to 91° and 95° F. At the afternoon punchdown (#9) the must was reading 7° Brix at 92° F and the cooling did not come on until I dropped the setpoints to 83° and 86° F.

This morning at punch #10 the Pod was registering 4° Brix at 83° F, so according to plan I further lowered the setpoints to 78° and 81° F.

So I am past the most stressful (for me) part of the ferment. The yeast may be stressed a little – there has been a whiff of sulfide at the last couple of punchdowns. If it seems that the sulfide is still present at this afternoon's punch I will probably make a very small DAP add – maybe 0.1 g/L – even though I normally prefer not to add DAP so late in the ferment.

The only worry I have left is whether the ferment is going to stick or not. The slope of the sugar curve looks fine this morning – at this time the slope suggests that it is not going to stick – but the next data point is critical. I will be reassured if the reading this afternoon is between 3° and 2° Brix. If I see a reading of 1° Brix by noon on Saturday I will be confident.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cap Up This Morning

Yesterday afternoon I mixed the must – which was reading 25° Brix at 69° F – and increased the setpoints to 76° and 79° F. When I mixed the must (#5) I observed the first hints of incipient fermentation – a bit of foam at the edges of the tank.

This morning the cap is fully up at 75° F, though the Pod has not yet registered a drop in sugar. The ferment does not smell at all of ethyl acetate (yet).

According to plan I increased the temperature setpoints again to 81° and 84° F. I also threw in a punchdown (#6). In the Cabernet ferments I left the lid on the Pod throughout. Today I left the lid off the Pinot, and won't put it back on until the ferment is complete.

Chances are that unless I smell ethyl acetate I will inoculate with the RC212 yeast this evening. But if there is evidence of Kloeckera activity I will wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Waiting For Fermentation

Yesterday evening I raised the temperature setpoints on the Pod to 64° and 67° F as planned, and gave the must a mix (punchdown #4). This morning – still no evidence of fermentation. Increased the setpoints again, to 69° and 72° F.

I'm prepared for the possibility that the ferment won't take off on its own. While I would prefer that it did, I have made great Pinot before that did not start fermenting spontaneously.

I did not have either of the Pinot yeasts I was deciding between in my commercial cache, so yesterday afternoon I picked up a brick of RC212 from Vinquiry. I decided on this yeast over the Assmanshausen (AMH), as the RC212 implants and starts fermenting quickly. By contrast, AMH exhibits a 3-5 day lag before it starts fermenting. Since I am already half way through my planned cuvaison I would rather use the yeast that kicks in fast.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Adding Heat To Start Fermentation

This morning all was fine with the Pod – no evidence of fermentation or spoilage. In fact the aromas above the must had very positive elements of cinnamon, leather and tobacco.

I pushed the temperature setpoints to 60° and 65° F. Then I sat down with my laptop and plotted out my plan for temperature adjustments and punchdowns. If all goes according to plan I will press on Wednesday 3/26. We shall see.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pinot Cold Soak Continues

The temperature of the must is holding at about 53° F and there is no evidence that the cap is starting to rise, nor do I smell any spoilage aromas. Tomorrow morning I will start to ramp up the Pod temperature to kick off fermentation.

This cold soak is the most dangerous thing I will attempt in this Pinot trial – dangerous with respect to its potential for ruining the must. I'm doing it to see if I can get away with it in the Pod (and so far I'm happy to say things look good) because I'm sure some other users are going to want to cold soak their Pinot.

I want to differentiate between a facilitated cold soak – one where the must is actively chilled as I am doing now – and a passive "cold soak" where the winemaker is simply waiting for the ferment to take off on its own.

I do not facilitate a cold soak in my commercial Pinot production. I have tasted many facilitated Pinot cold soak trials over the years, and while there are small differences I have not been able to conclude that the wines with extended pre-fermentation maceration at facilitated cold temperatures are any "better" than those where the ferment started on its own, in its own time. For me it is not worth the equipment cost, or the opportunity cost of tying up my Pinot fermenters for longer than necessary, to facilitate an extended cold soak.

What does make a difference is for the ferment to take off on its own – especially if the first yeast to dominate the ferment is a strain of Kloeckera. This yeast starts more quickly than Saccharomyces at lower temperatures, but Kloeckera will rarely ferment to even 12% ethanol. Saccharomyces must finish the ferment.

Things get interesting when Kloeckera takes off and makes ethyl acetate, which Saccharomyces can take up later in the ferment and incorporate into more complex aromatic compounds. In my experience, when the ferment takes off on Kloeckera the finished Pinot has more aromatic "lift" than when Kloeckera is not present.

Kloeckera is truly a "wild" yeast, and as far as I know has never been cultivated – so there is no way to guarantee that it will start any particular ferment. I am thankful when it is present. Whichever yeast starts my Pinots, I inoculate with a selected strain between 22° and 18° Brix to assure that the fermentation has the best chance to go to completion – and that Is what I plan to do in this Pod trial.

What I won't be doing is the post-fermentataion extended maceration that has been so successful for me in the last two Cabernet ferments. In my experience Pinot responds very poorly to post-fermentataion maceration. Most varietals lose a bit of color while developing a more stable lovely red, improved softer and broader tannic structure, and more complex aromas. Pinot loses a lot of color, what remains is more brown than red, and the wine loses aroma but gains harsh tannins that never seem to resolve or soften. Again, this is another example of how Pinot is just difficult and contrary.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Acid Addition To Pinot

We sampled all the available fruit lots for juice analysis a month ago. The lab results on the Roberts Road Pinot were:

Assimilable Nitrogen286mg/L
Disssolved Solids25.6°Brix
Titratable Acidity4.17g/L
Malic Acid1.65g/L
Buffer Capacity31.2mmol/pH unit

Today I added 21.6 grams of tartaric acid (0.5 g/L) dissolved in a liter of water with punchdown #3 (punch #2 was yesterday morning when I added 1.9 g Lallzyme EX or 3g/100kg of fruit). My experiences with the WinePod so far suggest that this half gram addition is a good starting point for arriving at a 3.6-3.7 finished pH. Must temperature was 56° F.

I took in a new sample from the Pod yesterday for analysis. Late today I received the results, for comparison to the sample analyzed earlier

Disssolved Solids26.7°Brix
Titratable Acidity4.59g/L
Malic Acid2.06g/L
Volatile Acidity0.06g/L

The Brix surprised me. I don't think I have andded enough water to ensure a reasonable finished alcohol level.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

2007 Roberts Road Pinot In The Pod

Yesterday was super busy at the winery, so I did not get the chance to put the Pinot I received Monday into the Pod until late afternoon.

The fruit was in perfect condition when I popped the lids off the pails. I dissolved 6 grams of Efferbaktol granules in one liter of water and poured 250 mL of the solution on top of the fruit in each. After I poured the fruit into the Pod I put the last 250 mL on top.

I used 6 g of Efferbaktol (approx. 70 ppm SO2 added) because I was a little nervous about the final V.A. level in the last ferment – the Napa River Ranch Cabernet – where I added just 5 grams (50 ppm SO2).

I am more concerned with pre-inoculation microbial protection with this lot, since I am doing a deliberate cold soak. Once the fruit was in the Pod it was reading 25° Brix at 53.5° F. I turned on automatic temperature control with setpoints at 50° and 52° F – this is the range I want to maintain during the pre-fermentation maceration.

My plan at this time is to give the must a mix once or twice between now and Monday morning, when I will raise the temperature to 60°-65° F to kick off the ferment. Since this is Pinot, once the temperature is up I will punch once a day and wait for the cap to rise on its own before inoculating.

I need to dig in my commercial stash for some yeast to use. In my experience Pinot sensory qualities are more dependent on yeast strain than other varietals. While I love Uvaferm 43 for most Pod ferments because it almost never sticks, I have not been keen on the finished sensory qualities of the very few Pinots where I have used this strain.

The choice of yeast is complicated by the clonal makeup of the Roberts Road Vineyard, which I believe is Swan clone and Dijon 667. I really like how RC212 does with the Dijon clones, but prefer Assmanshausen for the heritage selections like Swan.

You might read this and think "why not just mix the two." Note that it is very poor practice to mix yeast strains. Some yeasts produce "killer" factors that inhibit other strains, and even when K factors are not produced differences in growth kinetics mean that the slowest yeast in any group is unlikely to implant. Mixing strains can be done, but you really have to know your yeasts.

I'm debating on whether or not to add any Lallzyme. I don't use it in my commercial Pinot production because in my experience and opinion the wines yielded by enzyme-treated fruit are coarser on the back of the palate than those where enzyme is not used. I consider this to be specific to Pinot. In fact my experience with enzyme use in other red varietals is the opposite – enzyme-treated fruit produces wines that have a rounder and more integrated tannic structure. To me this is one of the many examples of how Pinot is just difficult and contrary.

That said, the difference between the sensory of Pinots produced with and without enzyme is really "angels dancing on the head of a pin" – important to my commercial production, but the Pod presents a different set of criteria. In my WinePod experiences so far, using enzyme has meant that the must did not overflow the top of the fermenter at the temparature peak, that the press yield was improved, and that the pressed wine clarified faster. These are important condiderations. I think I am going to add some enzyme this morning.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

2007 Napa River Ranch Cab To Barrel

This morning I racked the Napa River Ranch Cabernet out of the Pod and into the 20 L barrel I had prepped for it. The balance of the wine went to a 3 gallon carboy and two x 1 gallon jugs, with a bit of heavy lees left over to settle before I transfer the clear fraction to a 375 mL bottle.

I was originally planning to rack on Sunday, but the wine was not clear. Even this morning it is nowhere near as clear as the Rancho Sarco Cabernet was when I racked that wine out of the Pod. This difference may be due in part to the use of Lallzyme EXV in the earlier ferment, though there are other factors that could contribute.

The murky wine is not a problem per se, but I expect to eventually see thick lees in the Napa River Ranch Cab and so will want to rack it sooner than I plan to rack the Rancho Sarco.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Received Pinot Noir Fruit

Three pails of 2007 Roberts Road Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir showed up on my doorstep today. I'm excited about fermenting Pinot in the Pod, and frankly a bit apprehensive. Pinot is the least forgiving of all the varietals I have ever dealt with, and responds poorly to ham-fisted manipulation – punishes it, in fact. This means I have fewer tools at my disposal to produce a palatable wine.

Tomorrow I will rack the Napa River Ranch Cab out of the Pod and clean it up for the Pinot ferment. Just to be trendy, I am likely to get the Pinot into the Pod while it is still quite cold (probably on Wednesday) and give it a bit of deliberate "cold soak" before the ferment.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Ready For Racking

Today I added 5 grams of Efferbaktol granules (2 grams SO2, giving about 50 ppm) to the Napa River Ranch Cabernet in the Pod, and turned off the temperature control.

I changed the water in the new barrel I'm soaking up for this wine for the last time. I was a bit disappointed when a relatively large amount of wheat paste came out of the barrel in small chunks when I emptied the third fill. Wheat paste is used in the cooperage to seal the barrel heads into croze, and sometimes its use is a bit sloppy.

I don't have strong evidence that excess wheat paste in new barrels is problematic, but it is no secret that new barrels are more likely to grow Brettanomyces than old ones.

Another issue for some might be sensitivity to wheat gluten. Online literature citations suggest that wheat gluten can be used as a fining agent for wine (indicating that it precipitates well) and the FDA has recognized its use as GRAS, but gluten protein is soluble at pH 2.0 and may be at least slightly soluble at wine pH and alcohol content. TTB has proposed rulemaking for allergen labeling in concordance with the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 that would mandate listing on the packaging any wheat products used in wine processing.

For all these reasons, for the last five years I have been asking my barrel suppliers to use the minimum necessary paste to assemble my commercial cooperage.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Barrel Prep & ML Done!

Wednesday I started prepping another new 20 L French oak barrel for the Napa River Cabernet. As before for the Rancho Sarco Cabernet barrel, this one will get four changes of hot (150° F) water over as many days before I rack wine into it. Today I gave it its third fill, where I added a pound of kosher salt to the water as before.

I just received the results of the malic acid analysis from the sample I took to Vinquiry yesterday, and the fermentation is done (0.07 g/L). Tonight I will add SO2 to the wine in the Pod and turn off the temparature control. Sunday I will rack the Napa River Cabernet out of the Pod and into the barrel and carboys.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pressing the Napa River Ranch Cabernet

This morning I pressed off the 2007 Napa River Ranch Cabernet, after 25 days of cuvaison. I pretty much duplicated the protocol I followed to press the 2007 Rancho Sarco Cabernet last month.

The only difference this iteration was that I followed and documented a more rigorous pressing program. As before I started the pressing in automatic heavy press mode. Once this mode tripped off at max pressure I switched to manual press mode and went to full press every thirty seconds for ten cycles. I followed this with five trips to max pressure every 60 seconds for five cycles, and then five more cycles at 2 minute intervals. Last I went to max pressure every four minutes for ten cycles, giving a total manual program time of 62 minutes.

I could have pressed more – I never got to the point in this pressing where the max pressure hit at motor startup – but got bored with it. Also suggesting there was more pressing to be done, the yield was only 10.6 gallons where the Rancho Sarco pressing yielded 10.9 gallons. The difference may have been due to more water added to the Rancho Sarco ferment with the various additions I made.

But the enzyme I used with the Rancho Sarco also may have had an effect, or effects. For certain the must in the prior ferment did not overflow the top of the Pod as it did with the Napa River fruit. And it is possible that using the enzyme allowed more efficient pressing of the Rancho Sarco must, since with a casual manual program I was able to fully compress the cake, where with this more determined pressing the cake remained spongy.
Bottom line – I believe that I want to use enzyme in my future Cabernet ferments in the WinePod (1.3 grams of Lallzyme EXV or 1.9 grams of Lallzyme EX). In fact, I would recommend Lallzyme for all red grapes except Pinot Noir (where, in my experience, enzyme use actually yields a more tannic wine).

After racking the wine out of the Pod into pails and returning it to the Pod to complete malolactic, I moved the temperature setpoints to 70° and 72° F.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bottled The 2006 Windsor Oaks Cabernet

Today I bottled the 2006 Windsor Oaks Chalk Hill Appellation Cabernet, which I fermented last July. The wine was fermented on French oak cubes and has been aging in a 7 gallon glass carboy since pressing.

Compared to wines aged in barrel, wines aged in glass don't receive the slow beneficial oxidation the barrel environment affords. In glass aging, oxygen is introduced into the wine when it is racked from carboy to carboy. This wine has had five rackings: the first after pressing, two racks during aging, one rack this morning, and then the final racking into bottle. I would not have racked a barrel-aged wine this often over 7 months – maybe twice.

Over the course of aging the wine I made three SO2 additions: one big one after the completion of malolactic, and two more small maintenance additions during aging. I checked the level of free SO2 in the wine this morning (using the aeration/oxidation apparatus I keep at the winery) and found that it was 29-30 ppm. I ordinarily want to bottle with a free SO2 of 25-30 ppm, so I chose not to make an addition today.

I don't get stressed out over SO2 really, as I have found that its use is at best an inexact science. The A/O measurement method has a real world precision of ±2-3 ppm, and nailing a precise addition is nearly impossible for a number of reasons. There is a school of thought that favors tying the desirable SO2 level to the wine pH, but I reject this approach for red wines in particular, as it discounts the protective effect of the wine tannins. I would sum up my attitude as "some SO2 is better than none, and too much is bad".

Provina president Greg Snell provided me with 375 mL bottles (rather than 750 mL) so he can have more samples to give away. To seal them I used a bag of high quality 2-inch corks leftover from a commercial bottling. These corks are a couple of years old, but the bag still smelled strongly of SO2 when I opened it, as if they had just been packed recently – I'm going to assume that the moisture content of the corks also has stayed reasonably constant (the moisture level in the corks needs to be 4%-6% for them to seal properly).

I put together a 3/8-inch copper pipe with a length of 3/8-inch Tygon tubing to make a racking hose, and this is what I used to transfer the wine from the carboy to the bottles. My goal was to leave about 1/8-inch of headspace between the top of the wine and the cork. I was not obsessive about an exact fill height, just eyeballing the level. As I expected, the corker drove some of the corks deeper than others – this, combined with the small variation in fill levels, meant that some bottles have no headspace at all.

Zero headspace is not a "best practice". The wine temperature is currently about 58° F. As it warms up, the bottles with no headspace are going to push out the cork – or leak. In an ideal world I would have warmed the wine up to 68°-70° F before bottling and maintained 1/8-1/4 inch headspace for the 375 mL bottle size. For a 750 mL bottle I would leave 1/4-1/2 inch headspace. I'm recommending that the samples with zero headspace get used first.

I chose not to worry about a couple of other things for this bottling: I did not wash or rinse the bottles, nor did I sparge them with inert gas before filling them. The former was a judgment call on my part – my calculation of the cost/benefit told me to not waste the time. The latter was more deliberate – I chose not to sparge because the wine could use some oxygen still.

My final yield was seventy 375 mL bottles. Note that I expect to get at least fifty 750 mL bottles (or one hundred 375 mL) from my more recent ferments, due to the improved pressing efficiency of the current version of the WinePod.

I did not set out to make a wine according to any particular style, but to simply do the best I could with the grapes and equipment to hand. IMO it turned out really well. The 2006 Windsor Oaks Cabernet ended up being a fruit-forward wine, with good varietal character, subtle oak and a great tannin/acid structure.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Sourcing Grapes for 2008

Today Provina president Greg Snell and I went to visit vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, looking for 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon for WinePod clients. It is shaping up to be an interesting year for grape contracts. Prices are up – way up. Where fruit went unsold the last couple of years, I have heard that 80% of the vineyards in Napa are already contracted for the year, before budbreak.

I am not clear why this is happening. The supply has not changed – at least I have not noticed North Coast vineyards being pulled or replanted any more than usual, and have no reason to believe that we are headed for a massive frost or other crop failure. So if supply is unchanged, rising prices must be due to rising costs of production and/or rising demand.

Certainly costs of production are up – way up. Labor costs are up. Workmans' comp costs have risen dramatically for the last 5 years. While I'm confident that the vast majority of North Coast vineyard managers employ only properly documented labor, the crackdown on undocumented immigrants has created fears of labor shortages and increased costs. Fuel costs are certainly up, as is the cost of capital. And since much vineyard capital equipment is imported, the weak dollar is also having an effect. But these costs have been going up for years, while grape prices have been steady, or even falling.

Which suggests that the main driver of the contract price jump is increased demand in 2008 – hard to believe in the current economic climate, but remember that grapes purchased this year won't impact the wine supply for 3-5 years. Apparently the smart guys out there are betting that we are now at or near the bottom of the business cycle.

Whatever the causes, 2008 grapes for the WinePod will cost more than the 2007 fruit, period – just as they will for commercial producers. I'm happy to say that the vineyards we contacted yesterday appear to be able to supply fruit of a high quality, worthy of the cost. We are still looking, but IMO we are going to have to make offers and have them accepted in the next couple of weeks.

And if this is what we are up against for Cabernet, I just can't wait to see what we will face when we look for Pinot Noir.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Added Malolactic Culture

Today I punched into the Napa River Ranch Cabernet: 2.5 grams of Enoferm Alpha freeze-dried malolactic culture, rehydrated according to the manufacturer's directions. The wine smells great; the texture on the palate is fairly tannic.

I have completed 14 of a planned 18 punchdowns. I am thinking that I will press this lot off on 03/04/08 to duplicate the total time of cuvaison from the Rancho Sarco Cabernet fermentation.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Inoculating For Malolactic

Vinquiry delivered the numbers today from the Napa River Cabernet sample I took to them yesterday:

Alcohol13.77% (v/v)
Malic Acid1.22g/L
Volatile Acidity0.76g/L

As I suspected the alcoholic fermentation is complete and it is time to inoculate for malolactic. The pH is close enough to where I want it (about 0.05 units higher than I predicted) for the time being. I will evaluate the pH and the texture on the palate after ML to see if a small acid addition might be in order.

The alcohol is correct for the initial Brix value of the must. The V.A. is higher than I expected. Some folks would panic at this number, but I'm not concerned. There is no evidence of spontaneous lactobacillus infection, nor was there any sensory or visual evidence of spoilage in the fruit before fermentation. In decreasing order of probability, the number is 1) perhaps a lab artifact, 2) evidence of yeast stress from the rapid temperature increase I subjected it to, or maybe from the low inoculation rate, or 3) due to slight bacterial activity that occurred because I used a lower SO2 rate on the must.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Big Things And Small Things

Today at 12:15 the Pod was reading 1° Brix at 75° F after the punch. Despite this reading I believe the alcoholic fermentation has gone to completion, which I will confirm tomorrow with a sample for lab analysis.

At the end of the Rancho Sarco Cabernet ferment I was seeing very low Brix readings from the Pod. The higher readings I'm seeing now could be due to the sensor re-calibration, and also to the lower initial Brix of this must. Speculation, until I get the lab results.

While work on the must is slow I thought I might digress into a discussion of what is important in this kind of winemaking, versus what qualifies as minutiae, or distractions – big things and small things.

First I need to define what "this kind of winemaking" is – what is the objective to be achieved. The WinePod system (the Pod, the WineCoach software and knowledge base, the grapes, the consumables kits and options, and the online community) is designed to enable enthusiasts to produce high-quality dry red wines which can be bottled without filtration. Some things are more critical to realizing this goal than others.

The Big Things

The number one biggest thing is the grapes. The most important determinants of whether the outcome will meet expectations are: the choice of varietal, the quality of the vineyard and the fruit it produces in any vintage, and how that fruit is handled before fermentation. Provina has done a great job of sourcing superior fruit, and in handling it properly to arrive at the end user's doorstep in top condition. The user has the choice of varietal and vineyard. Beyond that the key to a good outcome is for the user to thaw the fruit quickly – with the buckets closed – and to get it into the Pod with SO2 as quickly as possible.
NOTE: Some WinePod users are going to want to make "organic" wines without the use of SO2. While it is possible to do so, (assuming a source of organic grapes, which Provina does not currently supply) I don't recommend it for a number of reasons. Foremost is the chance for spoilage organisms to ruin the wine, which SO2 use mitigates. But even absent spoilage it is my firmly held opinion, based on long consulting experience, that wines made without SO2 are simply not as palatable as wines made with. That said, I don't want to discourage potential users from experimenting. I do think that those who won't use SO2 should examine their reasons, and ask themselves if they might have other chemical sensitivities that could impact how they use the Pod.
After the grapes, the next most important big thing is the choice of oak. First, the choice of whether to use it at all. Second, the choice of using barrels or some substitute. And third, whether to use French, European or American oak. Each one of these choices strongly impacts how the wine will turn out, and poor choices here can result in very poor outcomes. My advice is to err on the side of caution – if a little is good then less is better, not more.

After the choice of oak, assuring a complete fermentation is the next most important big thing. A stuck ferment – either alcoholic or malolactic – will degrade the quality of the wine regardless of the quality of the fruit or the wisdom of the oak choice. The keys here are for the end user to clean the equipment thoroughly to minimize the chance for microbial contamination, to feed the yeast properly, and to make sure the fermentation does not get too hot.
NOTE: Again, there will be users who will choose to eschew the use of the selected yeasts, nutrients and bacteria included in the kit. This should be discouraged. While it is possible to produce a palatable wine by employing "native" yeast and bacteria in the microbially rich commercial winery setting, the uninoculated approach is far less likely to succeed outside this environment. The WinePod user has far fewer options than are available to the commercial winemaker for dealing with an incompletely fermented wine. An example is sterile filtration, common commercially but available to very few WinePod users.
The last big thing is the choice of whether or not to add tannin and specialty yeast extract to the must before fermentation. I debated including this in the big thing category, and finally decided that it is an important choice. In my experience if one were to make, say, five Cabernets each from a different vineyard, the resulting wines would smell and taste more alike if tannins and specialty extracts were used than if they weren't. The wines made with these products are likely to be more uniformly palatable than the wines made without, however. Whether or not to use them becomes a philosophical decision.

The Small Things

Basically, I believe that anything not directly related to the four big things above is a small thing. For example, the choice of which specific tannin and specialty yeast extract products to use is much less important than the choice of whether to use them or not.

The choice of which yeast or bacteria strain to use is of much less significance than how they are prepared and what rates are used, in order to assure complete fermentations.

What specific nutrients to use (Fermaid, Superfood, or yeast extract, yeast hulls and Cerevit) is less important than assuring that adequate nutrition is present to ensure a complete fermentation. The larger question is how much DAP to use in conjunction with one or more of these other foods.

The actual temperatures of fermentation and rates of change are not as important as simply making sure the ferment is not too hot or too cold. The same can be said for frequency and total number of punchdowns, which in my opinion are primarily done for temparature control – not too many and not too few.

What protocol is used to clean the Pod is less important than assuring that the user does clean it.

Given the capabilities of the WinePod press, the difference between light, medium and heavy pressing are likely be very small in most cases.

An exception to the big/small dichotomy might be whether or not to do extended maceration. From my own experience I would never recommend that Pinot Noir be extended past normal fermenting to dryness. On the other hand, I believe that Bordeaux varietals produced by extended maceration are generally more palatable than those that aren't. Other red varietals fall somewhere between these extremes. Vineyard location factors in – low-yield, small berry, highly tannic fruit will produce a more palatable wine from extended maceration regardless of varietal.

Another exception might be fining. In my opinion fining is always remedial. My objective in commercial production is never to have to fine a wine. The questions of whether or not to fine a particular wine, what to use, how much and when require the application of professional expertise and so are best avoided altogether. I see part of my role as identifying protocols and methods to use with Provina-sourced grapes that result in wines that don't require fining. But there are going to be WinePod wines that will benefit from a bit of remediation. Over-oaking and oxidation can be somewhat ameliorated with a combination of milk and egg whites. Excessive harsh tannins can be removed with egg white and/or gelatin. How to provide the professional expertise to assist the WinePod user base in making fining decisions is an open question at this time.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fermentation Tailing Off

Yesterday at the 12:30 pm punch the Pod was reading 1° Brix at 77° F. I lowered the temperature control setpoints to 75° and 78° F, where they will stay through extended maceration.

Today at 1:45 pm the reading was 0° Brix at 74° F after the punch. The must is still gassy, the cap is very buoyant though not pushing the lid off the tank (has not been for the last three punchdowns), and there is a hint of late-fermentation sulfide in the aroma. Nothing to worry about.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

On The Downslope

This morning at the 9 am punch the must was 7° Brix at 85° F and had a very meaty smell – which is an indication of sulfide in my experience. I went ahead and added the last 10 g of DAP, bringing the total addition to 43 g or 1 g/L. I dropped the temperature control setpoints to 80° and 83° F.

At the evening (5:15 pm) punch the Pod was reading 4° Brix at 82° F. I further dropped the setpoints to 78° and 81° F. The smell was back to delicious.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Forcing An Early Peak

In yesterday's post I mentioned that the cap was up. I did not mention that the must was reading 24° Brix. At this morning's 10 am punchdown the cap was up about an inch over the top lip of the Pod, and the must was reading 17° Brix at 80° F. I believe some of this cap rise is due to the skins not breaking down as they did in the Rancho Sarco ferment – I chalk this up to leaving the enzyme out of this trial.

I added 22 g of DAP (0.50 g/L), 19 g of liquid yeast extract (0.45 g/L) and a tiny pinch of the vitamin formulation Cerevit. I added the latter two because I have no Fermaid K available in the winery. Fermaid is a formulation composed of yeast extract, DAP and vitamins – though I am committed to no extemporizing in this ferment I think I am still within bounds.

At the 3 pm punchdown I added 4 grams of potassium carbonate. The must was reading 14° Brix at 80° F after the punch.

At the 8:30 pm punchdown (number seven out of a planned 18) the must was reading 12° Brix at 80° F. I raised the setpoints to 85° and 88° F.

At the first punch tomorrow I will assess the ferment and decide whether or not to add the last 10 grams of DAP. The fermentation smells really great at this point – if it smell as good tomorrow I will skip the addition. Also, if the ferment has passed below 8° Brix (which is likely) that will also weigh against making the last add.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Additions & Inoculation

Yesterday morning I raised the Pod temperature setpoints to 70° and 73° F and added 12.9 grams each of Booster Rouge and OptiRed to the must (30 g/hL).

In the afternoon I prepped 8 grams of the Uvaferm 43 yeast in 104° F water plus 12.9 grams of Go-Ferm. Last ferment I over-inoculated; this time I under-inoculated: 8 g/43 L is 18.6 g/hL, and the recommended inoculation rate for these specialty yeasts is 25 g/hL. For the WinePod the yeast should be packaged in 11 gram sachets.

Twenty minutes after starting the yeast rehydration I added about a gram of sucrose to the inoculum to proof it, and then punched it into the must after I saw good foaming. After punching in the inoculum I raised the setpoints again, to 75° and 78° F.

Today the cap was up. I punched in 17 g tartaric acid (0.4 g/L) and 11 g DAP (0.25 g/L) and raised the setpoints again to 80° and 83° F. I am determined to get this ferment off to a quick start to make up for the under-inoculation.

I received juice analysis results back from the lab today:

Assimilable Nitrogen95mg/L
Disssolved Solids23.3°Brix
Titratable Acidity3.34g/L
Malic Acid1.16g/L
Buffer Capacity31.2mmol/pH unit

The available nitrogen is quite low – I will add the full allowable gram per liter of DAP to make up for it. The buffer capacity is something new for us. I'm waiting on the potassium analysis from the lab, in order to use this number along with the other juice parameters in a calculation of the correct acid addition to achieve a target pH. More on this tomorrow.

Regardless of what the calculation shows, based on my experience with the Rancho Sarco fruit in the last ferment it is my intention to add 4 grams of potassium carbonate to follow up on the acid addition I made today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Racked & Sulfured the 07 Rancho Sarco Cab

Today I racked the partial 7 gallon carboy to fill a 5 gallon carboy and a 375 mL bottle. I added 5 grams of Efferbaktol granules, split equally between the 20 L barrel and the 5 gallon (= 18.9 L) carboy – this is about a 50 ppm addition of SO2. I added approximately 200 ppm SO2 to the 375 mL bottle, which I will use for barrel topping wine during aging. The barrel I fitted with a solid bung, the carboy with a fermentation lock.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Second Trial: 2007 Napa River Ranch Cab

As I mentioned in Friday's post, I received three frozen pails of the 2007 Napa River Ranch fruit that morning. Yesterday, Provina founder Greg Snell came to Sonoma to install an upgraded logic board in the WinePod and bring me new software. We also made a fresh calibration on the Brix sensor.

It is my intention with this ferment to follow fairly closely the protocol I used to make the Rancho Sarco wine, in order to compare the potential of the two vineyards. It is also my goal with this trial to make no extemporaneous changes to the protocol that is available to potential WinePod users – I will be using only consumables from the kit, and testing the Wine Coach software. However, I will not be following the exact protocol suggested by the software – instead I will be validating the model and recommending changes and options.

Today I opened the pails of the Napa River Ranch fruit. Again, as with the Rancho Sarco fruit, there was no sensory evidence of yeast or bacterial fermentation, and no aroma of ethyl acetate or other oxidation flaw. The fruit looked sound, and there was no evidence of mold. Comparatively, the berry size of the NRR fruit was noticibly larger than that of the Rancho Sarco.

This time I added just 5 grams of Efferbaktol rather than the 10 grams I added to the last ferment. I dissolved the contents of the packet in 150 mL of warm water and poured 50 mL on top of the fruit in each pail. Then I transferred the contents of all three pails to the Pod. I used a liter of drinking water to rinse the three pails and transferred this rinse (with skins) to the Pod. Five grams of Efferbaktol provides the equivalent of 2 grams SO2, which calculates to a 46 ppm addition.

The Pod's temperature reading on the fruit was 54° F, the same as the ambient in the winery.

I suspended the 10 grams of VR Supra tannin (provided in the consumables kit) in 150 mL of warm water and added this to the fruit in the Pod. I followed this with the first punchdown to mix the must. VR Supra is a quebracho extract similar to the Vitanil AJ-11 from my commercial stash used on the last ferment. The 10 gram addition represents a rate of 25 g/hL (the recommended rate is 10-40 g/hL) compared to the total tannin addition of 15 g/hL in the Rancho Sarco ferment.

Note that this larger tannin addition may result in a slightly softer wine this time than what I achieved in the last ferment. This seems counterintuitive, but the extra tannin can combine with harsh and bitter seed tannins and render them softer.

The Pod was reading 25° Brix after the punch. I enabled automatic temperature control with the setpoints at 60° and 63° F.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Summary Of The 07 Rancho Sarco Cab Ferment

Today I racked the 2007 Rancho Sarco Cabernet out of the WinePod and into the 20L Vernou barrel and a 7-gallon carboy, marking the completion of the active winemaking phase of this lot.

When I drained the barrel this morning the water was again medium-brown. The smell of the wood in the barrel was markedly less than after the first soak. It is my hope that after making four hot water extractions of this wood, the amount of "oak" the barrel will impart to the wine will be moderated to some degree.

I used the 7-gallon carboy to receive the balance of the wine in the Pod, expecting that the volume might be a little greater than 5 gallons (my other carboy option). After I confirm that the malolactic ferment is complete I will add SO2 (as Efferbaktol) to the barrel and the carboy, settle the wine in the carboy and rack it to fill a 5-gallon vessel. Any remainder I will put into screw-cap bottles with extra SO2 to use as topping wine.

I ran a sample to the lab for a quick check on malic level and pH:

Malic Acid0.18g/L

The earlier carbonate addition raised the pH to nearly exactly where I had hoped – recall that pH 3.6 was my target. The malic level is below my personal "done" threshold of 0.20 g/L but I think I will wait a bit longer before I add SO2 to the wine.

Fermentation Summary

I essayed this ferment to test the current pre-production version of the WinePod, and to prove the quality of the Rancho Sarco Cabernet fruit. I feel I had a postive result on each count: the current version of the Pod is very much "ready for prime time" in my opinion, and the Rancho Sarco Cabernet can be made into a really outstanding wine in the Pod.

For the most part, how I conducted this ferment could be duplicated by anyone who owns a Pod. The few exceptions I included (using enzyme, some tannins not currently included in the consumable kit, and liquid yeast extract) should have made – at most – a minor difference to the outcome.

I was able to demonstrate how to use the Pod controls to mimic the temperature profile of a commercial ferment, and also to emulate the operation of a commercial vertical basket press. I would expect these functions to be automated options in future iterations of the WinePod firmware and software.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, should I ferment another lot of the 2007 Rancho Sarco Cab I would add 0.2 g/L of tartaric acid before the ferment rather than the 0.5 g/L that I added this go-around. In the future I may experiment with larger additions of tartaric and then of potassium carbonate, in sequence, to increase the buffer capacity of the juice expressed from previously-frozen fruit.

In a future ferment of this fruit I would also bump the total addition of nitrogen (as DAP) to at least 75 g/hL, and perhaps as much as the maximum allowable addition of 100 g/hL. These values represent actual DAP additions of 30-32 grams and 40-43 grams, respectively.

The resulting wine is something I would be proud to bottle commercially. The color is deep and of the proper hue. The aromas are rich and correct for the varietal and the location of the vineyard. The texture on the palate has wonderful grip and balance, and the finish and aftertaste are long and pleasant. The result here is perhaps better than I have ever achieved before in a small-scale red wine fermentation trial.

I would hope that someone with no prior winemaking experience could follow the protocol I have outlined here and obtain a similar result. That said I refuse to accept any personal liability for someone else's failure to make a wine of the same quality. As I have told my professional consulting clients over the years, there are tens of thousands of wrong ways to make wine, but maybe many hundreds of right ways.

I honestly don't know how much of what I achieved was a consequence of my own level of experience keeping me from making mistakes, or keeping the consequences of my mistakes to a minimum. But I am sure I have not even scratched the surface of possible failure modes.

But the bottom line is - with the WinePod and good grapes I believe that anyone COULD be a rockstar.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

More Barrel Preparation

Yesterday morning I drained the barrel from the first hot water fill, which I had left overnight. There was no apparent leakage from the barrel, confirming that the wood is fresh and the quality of construction is high. Also, the smell of the new wood is really outstanding – in my opinion Tonellerie Vernou has used first-quality wood to make these small barrels.

The water I drained form the barrel was very dark – almost black – suggesting that this first soak effectively removed a lot of easily extractable tannin and "oak" character.

I put about 1.5 pounds of kosher salt in the barrel and refilled it with 150° F water for the second soak. The salt treatment tightens the grain and is very effective at killing any undesirable organisms that may be present (although there is little chance any are, my personal proclivity is to be proactively cautious).

This salt water soak lasted eight hours. I drained the barrel again – this time the water was pale brown, like weak tea – and refilled it with hot water for overnight.

When I drained the barrel this morning the water was a medium-brown. I filled it for a fourth and final soak.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Barrel Prep & More Fruit!

Today I started to prep the small (20 liter) Vernou French oak barrel to rack the 2007 Rancho Sarco Cabernet into it. A standard-sized wine barrel is 228 liters. The small barrel has 2x to 2.5x more surface to volume than the standard barrel. Extraction is not a linear process, and so wine in the small barrel should extract oak at a rate that is some fraction of e2 to e2.5 faster than in the standard barrel.

Whatever the exact rate difference, compared to a standard 228L barrel the small 20L barrel can quickly over-oak a wine – well before the benefits of the slow and gentle oxidation the barrel environment imparts to the wine are realized. For this reason it is important to treat a new small barrel a little more harshly than I would do a standard barrel.

My ordinary new barrel soak-up regime for standard barrels is to give them a 3 minute wash with warm water through a high-pressure cleaning robot, followed by a 45 second rinse with ozone-saturated water, and then to let them sit bung in and upright overnight. With well-made barrels this is enough to ensure they are wine-tight 99% of the time or more.

With this small barrel I went quite a bit farther. After a quick rinse I filled the barrel with hot (150° F) water and let it sit overnight. I plan to drain it tomorrow and refill it at least twice more before moving wine into it.

Today I also received three pails of 2007 Napa River Ranch Cabernet for the next WinePod ferment.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Addition, Temperature Check

Today I added the potassium carbonate I mentioned in yesterday's post – 4 grams or approximately 0.1 g/L. If I were to do this ferment again I would not make the 0.5 g/L tartaric acid addition before the ferment. Instead I would prefer to add 0.2 g/L or 8 grams total.

I also checked the temperature of the wine in the Pod. Before and after stirring I measured the wine temperature at 71.5° F, or within one degree of the thermistor reading on the front panel. It feels warmer than that because the ambient in the winery is at least 15° F lower.

I expect to receive another fruit shipment tomorrow – Hall Napa River Ranch Cabernet this time – for a new ferment to start Monday. Over the weekend I will move the Rancho Sarco Cabernet out of the WinePod and into a small new French oak barrel (specially crafted for the Wine Pod by the respected Tonellerie Vernou) and a carboy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Today I lowered the temperature setpoints for the WinePod to 70° and 72° F. I am a little concerned that the wine seems to be warmer than the temperature reading – tomorrow I will stick a precision thermometer in it, and/or use a handheld precision IRT to check the surface temperature.

I took a sample of the wine to Vinquiry today for a malic assay. It came back 0.23 g/L, which is nearly done.

The wine tastes a bit tart and I am not completely happy with the low pH (at 3.5) so I also plan to add about 0.1 g/L potassium carbonate. This will increase the buffer strength of the wine, raise the pH – I'm predicting to near 3.6 – and round out the mouthfeel.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hassle-Free Pressing

When I went in to check the Pod today the cap was finally down:
I started to press at 3 pm (total of 25 days maceration). The press assembled easily: and I set it to "heavy" pressing. Once the automatic cycle reached its end, I switched to manual mode to continue pushing on the cake at the highest pressure. The way a press cake sets up, once the final pressure is first attained the cake expresses some juice, and the internal pressure decreases. We bring the pressure up to the setpoint again, the cake expresses some more juice, and the pressure decreases again, but just a little less than the time before. This cycle is repeated until there is no pressure drop between cycles. At the start of this process, the time between cycles could be as short as a minute. During the cycling this interval should gradually increase; my personal point of diminishing returns is ten minutes between the last two cycles. This is the program I approximated manually, though I did not time the intervals exactly nor count them rigorously (there were about 20).

I siphoned the wine out of the Pod through a colander and into buckets:
I tilted the Pod and scooped out another half-gallon. Then I set the press control to back out. I turned my back to do some cleanup and when I looked back at the Pod the inner tank was being lifted out of the outer shell. I should have held the tank down during this initial press reversal. I found that the tank needs to be held down again when the press plate catches the lifting dogs on the cake basket. After the motor had pulled the press cake loose from the bottom of the tank liner I removed the top bolt and lifted the cake out manually.

The cake was acceptably dense and dry:
I was not able to push the tank liner back into the shell completely by myself - this appers to be a 2-person job. After cleaning out the inside of the Pod I returned the wine and measured the volume to be 10.9 gallons (I calculated about 0.69 gallons per inch). I put the lid on and set the temperature contol points to 72° and 75° F.