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Joe’s Wine Making Adventure – The Crush!

If you want to see the previous installment, click here.

Here we have the second installment in Joe’s Wine Making Adventure, and now it is getting serious.  Grapes are going to get (and actually have been) beaten to a pulp so the fermentation process can begin.  This is a great way to learn about wine making as we follow someone through it.  I’m expecting Chateau Latour type quality.

This is a very critical part of the process, so I’m going to let Joe get all technical on us.  For those interested in the actual mechanics of this (like me!) these are important details.  In Joe’s words:

“Well the crush is on!!!  Today was the much anticipated scheduled day to go to A.T Siravo to get the grapes.  I had pre

Cabernet grapes going into the crusher

Cabernet grapes going into the crusher

ordered 5 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.  This should make roughly 4 cases of wine.  The plan was to originally start with 2 cases of grapes, or enough to make about 2 cases of wine.  However, after quickly counting the number of friends and family who would need a bottle to try I realized I would need more.  Additionally, the plan was to have the kid’s stomp the grapes in the fermenter like the old days, which limited the number of cases of grapes I could crush.  Luckily, I was able to locate a crusher and destemer, which allowed for the increase of grapes. 

After picking up some last minute supplies, I was off to the grape wholesaler.  My first exposure was a neat stack of white grapes ready for pickup.  They looked smaller than the ones we snack on, with some crushed on the sides.  I was starting to realize that these sweet morsels were going to be different than what I have become accustomed to.  Tony wrote me up and had my 5 cases brought out from the cooler.  The total cost for the grapes was $215, which after some quick figuring should come out to around $6 per bottle.  It was quickly becoming apparent that one makes homemade wine for many other reasons than cost savings.  We loaded them into the back of the pickup, but before I could leave I had to sample a few.  The taste was different than what I was expecting. They were much smaller than expected, about the size of blueberries, in fact back at home my daughter kept referring to them as blueberries.  They were extremely sweet with small crunchy seeds, totally different than what I was expecting.

Upon arriving at home, I had to lightly clean the crusher and then sanitize everything that was going to come in contact with the grapes to minimize any native yeast cultures from starting to ferment.  These native cultures, could give an off taste to the wine, hence the desire to prevent them from getting established. The sanitizing process is actually quite simple; simply mix 3 tablespoons of Potassium metabisulfite into a gallon of water and wash down the item to be sanitized.  Besides the strong sulfur smell, which burns the nose and throat, there were no issues with the hands like in handling a strong alkaline or bleach cleaner.  This step was followed by a quick rinse and we were ready to start crushing.

I quickly enlisted the help of my son to operate the crusher while I opened the cases of grapes and loaded them into the crusher.  He was in his glory turning the crank which rotated the opposing serrated drums which were driven by two chains along with the center de-stemmer shaft.  The machine was definitely an antique mechanical wonder with the

The next Robert Mondavi?

The next Robert Mondavi?

sounds of loud gears and meshing chain.  This was music to my ears, being very much a mechanized type mechanical engineer. The work progressed smoothly with little effort to crush the grapes. The bulk of the stems were broken from the fruit and slowly made their way down the coarse screen before exiting the far end into the small pail my son had smartly placed to catch them.  We quickly worked our way through the 5 cases with him turning the crank while I loaded the hoper and helped press them into the hoper.  There was virtually no mold to be found, but the cases were packed with many clusters of small grapes.  Additionally, there was no raisin like grapes to be found.  These can be quiet problematic between what they harbor and during their rehydration and release process.  I realized that the original plan of hand desteming and crushing the grapes which were 50 deg F would have been laughable.  I picked out all remnants of leaves, vines, and other field matter I could see; but am sure a few slipped by.  We now had what is called must, which would be ready for fermenting after a few days of macerating to ensure the phenols and other compounds from the grape skins were released into the liquid.  We paused for a moment and enjoyed a few sips of the fresh juice together, which was sweet and refreshing. Based upon the amount of grapes, 4 grams of Potassium metabisulfite was dissolved in water and added to the must to kill any native yeast present.  This sterilization process is key to control the yeast culture and provide the day or two to safely macerate the must before inoculating with the desires yeast.  The plan was to reach a level of 50 ppm of sulfur dioxide, enough to sterilize the must but not too much to prevent the yeast when added from thriving nor the Malolactic fermenting yeast later from surviving.  Additionally, much of this sulfur dioxide would be consumed by a process known as binding as it grouped up with the non-liquid portion of the must.

After quickly washing down the crusher and putting the stems into the compost pile our work was just about done.  We took a sample of the liquid to measure the pH and sugar level. The amazing part was that there really was not much liquid present; also the grapes were relatively intact.  Reflecting on all that was read; this made sense since one does

The must!

The must!

not want to release the tannins from the seeds and stems that would occur if the crusher was to act more like a blender.  The specific gravity was determined to be 1.096 (alcohol potential of approximately 12%).  When we returned a few hours later, we checked the pH and found it to be 3.3. This is pretty much where it should be.  After enlisting the kids for a lesson in chemistry, we performed a titration by slowly adding sodium hydroxide (base) into the acidic wine while measuring the pH to determine the amount of Tartaric acid in the must.  The level was found to be 3.7 g/l, which is low but very much in line with what is expected from California grape stock.  The must was recovered and allowed to macerate for the night.”

So the process is underway and there is no turning back.  We’ll report on Joe’s progress and pass along the required steps in the wine making process as they unfold.  There might be some time between reports, as there is not much to talk about when the wine is sitting there fermenting.  I’m looking forward to tasting some of the barrel samples, or tub samples in this case!  This should be fun.

You can catch the next episode on this link, once it is up.

A votre sante!

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