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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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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Monday, 31 August 2009

The difference between Verdejo and Malvasia

A deal of sorts was struck over Whiskey and Coke in the village fiesta this weekend. Luis' father owns several hectares of white grapes around the village. He reckons I can take 400kg of Verdejo. Price to be decided later...

I've also organised to harvest as and when I please, which is great. The subclause here, however, is that I'll be harvesting the lot myself. And this means very early starts, picking before sunrise until about 9 or 10am, because I want to bring the grapes in cool. Although I did consider picking in the day and leaving the grapes in picking boxes overnight to cool and get some more flavour from the skins, this presents the danger of oxidation. So the current plans is that I'm going to crush/press the grapes into large tubs and leave under a blanket of CO2 overnight.

Luis did, though, raise one problem with the harvesting: the Verdejo and Malvasia vines are totally interspersed.

'In a row, there might be, say, a Verdejo, then two Malvasia vines, then a Verdejo, then some more Malvasia,' he said. 'You're going to have to be able to tell the difference.'

Other than the obvious conclusion that much of the white wine here must be unashamedly co-fermented, this means I'm going to have to brush up on my ampelography(classification of vines). Although a white winemaker friend told me that the Malvasia would be easy to spot because, by the time of harvest, its berries would be almost brown, I still want to be sure I know what I'm picking up.

And ampelography would be another string to the bow, right?

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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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