Thursday, 14 January 2010

The wine is bottled

I'm running behind on this blog. But then I always was! In any case, just prior to leaving Spain for Christmas with the family, I racked out the bentonite and bottled the remaining wine. I've now managed to get gravity racking down to a 'T': I use a piece of tube to syphon the wine from the tank into my large tub, clean out the tank and then manhandle the tub so its slightly higher than the bottom of the tank, and syphon it back in. Working on your own, it's a laborious process.

Then came the bottling. A very simple affair that consists of rinsing the clean wine bottles with a splash of the wine before filling and corking. Ninety bottles and a sore arm later, I was done. And that was it. After so much work (and believe me, it is a lot of work) the feeling of pride was quite something.

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Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Adding Bentonite

Luckily, a friend of mine did my bentonite tests for me. Otherwise, this envolves multiple samples, a small oven and lots of patience. It came out at 0.8 which basically means that the lowest does of bentonite I can get away with is 0.8grams per litre of wine.

While fining and stabilising the wine (which includes sorting out the proteins in the wine so that it wont get a 'protein cloud' during storage), Bentonite has the unfortunate side-effect of stripping it of some of its fruit profile and flavour. Verdejo is a relatively protein-rich grape so I'm quite lucky that the results came out at 0.8 (I was banking on around 1 or 1.2).

So 64 grams of 'Bento' as its known (for 80 litres of remaining wine) was soaked in 640ml of water for 12 hours before being chucked into the wine on Friday). After a good stir, it's happily filtering through the wine.

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Monday, 26 October 2009

Racking the fine lees and how regional politics interferes with my wine

Yesterday, two days too late for my liking, I racked the fine lees. Using my trusty tube, gravity and my 250l tub, i siphoned off the wine until I got to the lees. Tipping the dribbling, ochre-coloured slop (and five oak chips) at the bottom of my tank into the drain, the tank was hosed out and the tartrate crystals scrubbed of the sides before the wine was bucketed back in with a few grams of potassium metabisulphate. I now have clear juice and I'm ready to fine it with the aid of some bentonite given me by a friend in Rueda.

The reason I had to postpone the racking is thus: Two days ago, our little village received a visit from the regional health and safety inspector.

Now, the village sits on an aquifer, which provides untreated, beautiful, clean, soft water from the ground. No one has died from it and we all have wonderfully soft hair. But in order to ensure that the village passed the health and safety tests, the water would have to have chlorine in it. So the villagers put chlorine in it.

My little winery uses this water and, as any winemaker will know, even a tiny amount of chlorine in contact with wine opens the door to TCA (cork taint). Great.

So I had to wait two days for the chlorine to pass out of the water system before I could use the water to wash out my tank. Local government, eh...

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Sunday, 18 October 2009

Stirring the lees

Nearly two weeks have passed since the two ferments were blended. Despite the addition of sulphur at that point (to ward off oxidation and stop any further fermentation), it appears that the wine was reluctant to finish until it was done. In the two days that followed, I was finding wine on top of the lid of the fermenter.

In the last 12 days, the wine has remained on lees. A white winemaker friend of mine in Rueda told me there was no need to add any sulphur post-ferment as the lees will protect the wine from oxidation. At regular intervals (about once every five days) I've given the wine a stir with a large household whisk. Not ideal, but the best I've got.

I'm expecting that yesterday's stir will be the last. Now I have to prepare myself for more racking, and get the bentonite.

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Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The two ferments are blended

With both the stainless steel and the dustbin ferments reaching 995 on the specific gravity meter (the indication that the sugar is pretty much gone and the alcohol is there), the two were 'blended' yesterday.

The dustbin ferment (including its five oak chips) was tipped into the variable capacity tank to spend some time on lees. Now it's a question of waiting and stirring and tasting.

In the meantime, I ran some tests on the wine at a nearby winery. The pH is at a healthy 3.27 (pretty much exactly how I wanted it) although I am slightly worried that the stainless ferment was harvested a little early and is, in winetasting parlance, a little 'linear'. I'm hoping time on lees and the riper dustbin ferment will balance and round it out.

A free sulphur test (see Jekyll & Hyde-type lab picture above) put the sulphur at 16ppm (parts per million). A little on the low side. To bring it up to around 30ppm, 4.5g of potassium metabisulphate was added. Hopefully that should help keep the oxidation away.

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Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The ferments

The two 'cuvées' were innoculated about a week ago. The wait for the stainless steel tank to get under way was getting too fraught with worry, so in went the yeast.

Both are now going strong, with the stainless steel tank nearly done and the dustbin proving that plastic, like concrete, is actually pretty good for fermenting wine (its temperature has remained at a constant and rather cool 19 degrees Celsius, compared to the stainless steel which got up to around 22 degrees a few days ago).

The daily routine consists merely of having to measure temperature and specific gravity (with the use of a hydrometer). It all gets noted in a little red book.

Despite the almost all-consuming effort that it took to crush, press and rack the juice at the beginning of the process, the demands (on time as well as physical effort) are now considerably less.

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Sunday, 13 September 2009

More grapes

100kg harvested today - much easier harvesting with two people. And then the same routine of crushing and scooping and tipping into the stainless steel tank (trying to filter out pips and skins on the way). Oh, and making sure I'm adding my sulphur and keeping everything under Carbon Dioxide.

There's not much else to add to yesterday's roundup other than to say I'm at 100 litres and could still do with another 100, at least. It's quite disheartening to put in so much work and still have more to do. The additional problem is how I'm going to harvest the rest of the grapes, crush them, etc, and keep up my day job in a (commercial) winery during the week. There is the option of harvesting before work and crushing after it but, to be honest, you've got to be a bit of a masochist to want to do that.

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Saturday, 12 September 2009

The first grapes are harvested and pressed

The first grapes are in. At 8am this morning, after a heavy night of tasting French wines and cheeses, table football with the mayor and the coup de grâce of G&T back at the clubhouse, yours truly donned the walking boots, pocketed the secateurs and went out into Luis' dad's vineyard.

At that hour, the village is partly shrouded in mist, and the temperature hangs on at the 10 degrees Celsius mark. Perfect.

After two hours and five picking boxes of Verdejo (and one accidental bunch of Malvasia), I was ready to call it a morning. More than ready, in fact. The grapes were weighed on the scales of a nearby winery (which told me that I had brought in a miserable 70kg) and then left to stand in my little bodega while I took a quick breather and a cup of tea.

The realisation that hand destemming, while pretty cool (and done by the ultra-stylish Pingus), was the most labour-intensive, morale-sapping exercise resulted in the dumping of the four remaining cases my large 250 litre tub (a recent acquisition, unblogged - sorry). The tub and stainless steel tank had both had a little dry ice dumped in them to give a carbon dioxide blanket for the grapes.

After a good clean of the Wellington boots, in I went. Barefoot treading was too risky for me - my feet are not the most attractively aromatic, and I was scared of contamination. There is a particularly enjoyable feeling to the sound of squelching grapes beneath your (Wellington-clad) feet. I also added two grams of potassium metabisulfate into the must.

And then, out came the plastic jug and the colander (yes, a normal household colander) and I began transferring the juice from the tub to the tank, filtering out the skins and pips as best I could. Not an enjoyable, or clean, exercise either.

With 30 litres of juice in the tank, I chucked down the bucket and cursed wine drinkers everywhere. Yes, 70kg for 30 litres. How I wish I had bought a press (not just for the added extraction of juice, but for the added ease).

A further two grams of sulphur, a couple of 'glacons' of dry ice bubbling away in the juice (looking like the test tubes in a Dr Jekyll lab from a '50s film), and the top of the tank was put in place.

Once everything was washed or, in the case of the bloody heavy marc: chucked away, I sat down and had a cup of tea. The same again tomorrow, only much more grapes. About 250kg more grapes, to be precise.

Had I not come close to breaking point earlier, when scooping out the last of the juice from the tub, I would be contemplating defeat now. But I'm not. I'm off to a party in the village.

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Monday, 7 September 2009

The grapes, the samples and the Baumé

After a weekend off, I took the time at lunch to have a look at the grapes in the vineyard and take some samples for testing. I've identified two potentially different sites: one is by the pilgrim trail, dropping down the slope in a westerly direction, the other is on the southern side of the vineyard, by the trees.

Accordingly, I've taken two seperate samples of grapes from each area, making sure to pick grapes from bunches around the vines and from different vines. Also making sure I pick the Verdejo and not the Malvasia, which I reckon I've got the hang of now.

The grapes are popped into a plastic bag in which, on return, they are split and the resulting juice poured onto a handheld refractometer.

My theory of two different sites was proved correct. The 'normal' site shows a Baumé of 11.5 (21 Brix) and the area by the trees gives me 11.1 Baumé, or 21 Brix.

With normal maturity between 10 and 12.5 Baumé (according to Rankine), I'd have said I could wait a while. But then I was kindly given the use of a pH meter.

The readings for the 'normal' and 'tree' sites were pH 3.21 and pH 3.16 respectively. Considering I want to keep my wine as fresh as I can, and that pH should range between 3.0 and 3.4, I'd say I'm about ready to go with the harvest.

The only thing I need to do now is get my hands on a press, some tubs and buckets, some pipes, a few picking boxes, some Potassium Metabisulfite and some CO2. As soon as I have all of that, I'm out picking.

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Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The vineyard

So this is it! The deal is done. I've okayed 300kgs (more if necessary) of Verdejo with Luis' dad. Luis drove us up to see the vineyard this afternoon. And what a site. It's just next to the Camino de Santiago (Ruta de la Plata). It's a beautiful vineyard with old vines, and an amazing view across the plains to the hills in the distance and back towards the village of Villanueva de Campeán.

There remains the problem that Verdejo is planted next to Malvasia is planted next to Tempranillo, so I'll really have to be clear on the differences between the two before I go out to harvest. I've got a grip on it: the main pointer is that the Malvasia is ripe - about ready to pick - whereas the Verdejo has still a while to go. The leaves are pretty different (Verdejo is a fatter leaf, Malvasia has thinner 'fingers').

So we're ready.

Or are we? Luis' dad isn't selling, or making, any Malvasia this year, and next year is going to get rid of it. So they're there, sitting on the vines, getting ready to go to raisins. And if you were me, wouldn't you be tempted to do something with it?

And I've already thought about trying to make a Madeira-style wine but no, I can't be bothered to wait 50 years. But it would be nice to try something, right?

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Sunday, 30 August 2009

The tank

I've managed to acquire the first major bit of kit: a 300 litre stainless steel tank. It's variable capacity, or in Spanish: 'Siempre lleno' (always full). Hopefully it should do the trick for Verdejo, which is apparently quite prone to oxidation. Thus a 'floating lid' should be better than your average sturdy tank.

The lid is secured by an inflatable tube that goes around the rim and is pumped up in much the same way as a bicycle inner tube. It'll need a good clean, and I'll make a table for it to stand on.

In any case, the main piece of kit is now in my possession.

In other news, it's looking like the barrel that I had lined up for the wine isn't going to happen. It's a bit of a killer blow as my only other options are (a) to do the whole thing in stainless steel or (b) clean out a former red wine barrel as best as I can. I'm finding the latter option pretty hard to stomach because even if I get the barrel as clean as a Swiss toilet I'm damned sure the resultant wine will still have a tinge. And I'm not here to make Oeil de Perdrix, even if it's not for commercialisation.

So I'm still pondering the options.

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Saturday, 29 August 2009

winemaking books

Well, the next best thing to doing it is reading about here's what's on the bedside table at the moment:

Making Good Wineby Bryce Rankine. Pretty much a bible of winemaking. Is unlikely to have been read by anyone in the Old World and certainly has an Australian slant (black and white pictures of a young Brian Croser in Wellington boots standing by a tubular heat-exchanger are almost worth the book price alone).

For the rest of it, it covers everything, from Grape development and composition to Wine-handling operations and Bottling and packaging. It's also superbly practical. In short, it covers the lot.

It's pretty darned dry as far as the reading experience is concerned, and is quite obviously aimed at a special market (an Australian setting up a vineyard in the '90s), but for my money, it's the book to have.

Understanding Wine Technology: The Science of Wine Explainedby David Bird. The contender with Bryce Rankine for winemaking reference book par excellence. Written by the ever-friendly David Bird (he's English, but don't let that put you off), it covers pretty much everything and has more pictures than Rankine (and they're in colour), which is almost a deciding factor in this kind of book.

Personally, I find Bird easier to read than Rankine, if not only for avoiding the New Zealand/Australia slant which, while quaint, can get a bit annoying after 200 pages.

To be honest, either of these books does the business.

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Friday, 28 August 2009

Make your own wine: step one

Well, this is it. While it's easy enough to be a wine writer, a wine taster, and a wine critic, I've decided to go one step further and make my own.

So what are my parameters? Well, this was hashed out on a piece of paper in a Tapas bar in Galicia. A summary of the main points follows:

Grape: I want to make white wine and I'm in Spain - near Toro to be precise - and here I have two options: Verdejo or Malvasia. While I love the idea of making wine from a grape that goes into Madeira, I don't want to make Madeira. Also, I've only ever tasted one relatively decent bottle of Malvasia, and it was Swiss. So through a negative process of deduction I've ended up with Verdejo.

Luckily Verdejo ain't half bad - nice, aromatic wines with bright fruit and moderate acidity. However, it can have something I dislike in white wines: it tends to be quite glycerol-ly. So we'll try to avoid that. Now I need to negociate a price with one of the locals.

Space: once the local group of kids has finished using our small shed for their parties during fiesta, I've got a quite dark place to work in. Appropriately enough, it's on the 'Calle de las Bodegas'. It used to be a small winery (in this town, almost every family owns a ramshackle doorway in the Bodega [winery/cellar] street) but has been gutted. Luckily, the roof is new.

Style: Tough one this. Initially, I wanted to do everything in stainless steel - keep it all nice and clean and fresh. But a barrel came up. And you can't really turn that down. So I'm going for barrel fermented Verdejo. As for skin contact, that's yet to be decided and it will mainly depend on what kind of kit I'll have at my disposal. Aged in oak - no idea, but probably about six months.

All other considerations (bottling, labelling, type of cork, etc.) will be decided on later.

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