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Joe’s Wine Making Adventure – Installment 3: A Pressing Process

To see the previous installment of Joe’s Wine Making Adventure click here.

After crushing the grapes there are still things to do before the juice is ready to be transferred to holding containers for the long haul to winehood.  Here are some progress notes on Joe’s journey, from kick starting the fermentation to minding the store to finally pressing out the juice.  We still have a way to go, but I’ve tried some of the early product and can confirm it is alcoholic, and when allowed time to clear it actually tasted like wine.  I’d say that’s encouraging.

Here are Joe’s notes running up to the press (slightly edited!):

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The yeast are alive

I awoke this morning excited to initiate the conversion of the sweet must (term used for the crushed grapes containing the skins, seeds, some stems, and juice) into a fine wine.  (Gotta love his confidence!) The must had been macerating for a

Yeast aplenty

Yeast aplenty

little over a day in order to increase the extraction of phenols and other flavor and color enhancing compounds from the grape skins in the primary fermenter.  After giving the must a good stir to ensure all the skins were wet and a quick check of its temperature, I simply opened the yeast packets and sprinkled them over the surface.  The hope was that this would inoculate the must with the desirable yeast strain giving it a chance to thrive before other native yeast strains in the air snuck into the fermenter.  I closed the cover and off to work I went hoping to find evidence of yeast activity when I returned.  To my joy, I got that pleasant aroma of yeast when I removed the cover upon returning from work.  The aroma was akin to rising dough when one punches it down as it proofs, sweet and nutty.  Looking at the must, there were definite clusters of bubbly white yeast blooming.  I thought to myself we are off to converting the sugars to wine!!!  I gently stirred in the new yeast blooms to fully inoculate the must.

Stirring stirring stirring:

These past several days have been more rhythmic with the must requiring regular attention.  The must needs to be stirred 3 times per day to ensure good extraction of compounds from the skins and yeast health.  The skins are pushed to the top by the carbon dioxide generated from the fermentation process and form a mass there.  It is amazing how much carbon dioxide is generated during this process.  Every time I stir in the semi dried skins lots of bubbles are exposed.  These are not the tiny bubbles songs are written about, more along the size of marbles or grapes.  The aroma is rather

Measuring Specific Gravity with the Hydrometer

Measuring Specific Gravity with the Hydrometer

strong.  I continued to stir for 7 days before having to leave for a business trip.  The family stepped up the chore of stirring the wine and checking the specific gravity while I was away.  The specific gravity is relatively easy to measure, take a cup of must free of pumice (solids that are comprised of grape pulp, yeast, and skins) and pour into a graduated cylinder (about a inch and a half diameter glass cylinder that is roughly 12 inches tall).  Then you simply float a hydrometer (glass bulb like instrument with a calibrated weight inside a known volume).  The hydrometer floats in the must at different levels depending on the amount of alcohol in the must.  A sample of alcohol would weigh less than water and sugary water weighs more than straight water.  We are simply measuring this change from a specific gravity greater than 1 (initial high sugar content of must) to less than 1 as the sugar is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide.  Well unfortunately my trip got extended and the must specific gravity dropped to below one two days into my trip.  Not to worry (keeping fingers crossed), extending the maceration is actually done by high end winemakers to extract more flavors, although they can chill and or inject carbon dioxide to the must to prevent spoilage.  The family continued to stir the must for three more days while I was away.  I think the text I received was “hurry back, must is getting juicy”.  This meant the cap was sinking and no longer was there much carbon dioxide being generated to protect the wine from air and spoilage.

Pressing times:

One thing I learned in the crushing and fermentation process is the grapes do not wait or align themselves with one’s schedule.  You must simply align your schedule to them.  This meant that I needed to press immediately, even though I was exhausted from taking a red eye back from the west coast.  After work and cub scout meeting it was time to quickly clean all the equipment that would come in contact with the must using a strong solution of Oxy clean followed by a rinse of potassium metabisulfite (kills any bacteria or yeast to prevent spoilage)  Well it was 9:00 at night and I was ready to press.  My son was eager to help, and the extra set of hands was welcomed.   We loaded up the wooden wine press basket with half the must and set the wooden pressing blocks in the press.  Immediately the free run wine poured out of the press into the bucket.  A quick sample though let me know  that it would need lots of aging before it was acceptable.  The

Pressed and in the holding tanks.

Pressed and in the holding tanks.

young wine was tart to the mouth with nutty undertones, most likely from the suspended yeast.  The press made quick work of extracting the juice from the skins; in fact the ratcheting action of the press was therapeutic after a long week.  After no more juice was flowing and the ratcheting action of the press was meeting a fair amount of resistance we disassembled the press to remove the skins.  They were amazingly dry, forming a dense cake like sponge at the bottom of the press.  After removing this cake, we quickly loaded up the press with the remaining must and let the free run wine flow.  The first batch was strained into the awaiting 5 gallon glass carboy where it would start its long journey of aging.  The first half went smoothly, but the pumice at the bottom quickly clogged the funnel filter making it difficult to strain.  We resorted to using cheese cloth to separate as much of the pumice as possible.  The pressing of the second batch went just as smooth, and when we were done we had 2 five gallon carboys filled with our young wine.  We also had one and a half gallons filled with a heavy amount of pumice.  Air locks were installed and filled with Vodka to prevent microbes from getting into our wine while letting the carbon dioxide generated from the remaining fermentation escape.  The whole pressing process from initial cleaning to the final hosing down when done took 4 hours to complete.  The filled carboys were put aside to settle and finish fermenting before the next stage of Malolactic fermentation, which is the process of converting the harsher Malolactic acid into carbon dioxide and milder lactic acid.  More to follow in next posting.

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This is Joe's wine after a day on my counter - it looks like the real thing!

This is Joe’s wine after a day on my counter – it looks like the real thing!

So now we have alcoholic grape juice which is spending some quality time in glass and hoping to become real wine.  I think it has a decent chance.  When I tried a sample of Joe’s pressed juice it was very tart, had almost a pinky purple color and a very bubble gum like flavor.  It was also very cloudy with lots of solid particles floating around.  After a day on my kitchen counter it had cleared nicely and the juice was red and clear.  Another taste revealed an acidic wine with some good flavors and even some length to it.  I’m thinking that if Joe can capture this and get a good Malolactic fermentation to take the edge off the acidity he might have something here.  He’s also going to have more than originally planned, but I suspect that is the topic for the next blog.

You can see the next installment by clicking here. the Fire Breathing Dragon!

Until next time, a votre santé!

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