Saturday, October 22, 2011

Winemaking 2011

Leave it to me to select a problematic vintage to decide to make wine again.
Up to August, the Finger Lakes region looked quite on track for a decent 2011 vintage. I had already decided that this would be my return year to dabbling with the nectar, and so I anticipated some fine Gewurztraminer and Riesling from my own hands.

September and October had different plans.

I had already placed my order with Fallbright Winemaker’s Shop before the rains came—and stayed. Being an honorable gent, I did not cancel, but I knew full well what was about to take place; the rain was not only torrential, it came down all too frequently, leaving room for only a few sunny days between rains.

The Gewurztraminer was scheduled for an October first harvest, and Fallbright just about stuck to that schedule, but the juice had to remain in cold storage for a while longer, as the proprietor of the business hurt himself while working the harvest. I picked up the juice on October fifth, not too late.

As suspected, the stats were not so good: 20 Brix; 3.55 pH; 5.55 grams total acidity per liter. The problem, as I saw it, is that the high pH and low acidity would require high alcohol in the finished wine, for both mouth-feel and stability. But you can’t get high alcohol from 20 Brix. Luckily, flavor was solid, as was the marvelous aroma of that grape variety, like a rose garden that had been sprayed with essence of ginger.

I went to work. Didn’t like doing it, but I brought the Brix up to 22 (potential for 12% alcohol); then, I added 1 gram per liter of tartaric acid. I figured that after fermentation, I’d take some readings—or maybe I’d just use my taste buds, to see how good I really am—and then either adjust with a little more acidity or not.

Last week, the Gewurztraminer was at 1% sugar—fermentation is getting close to shutting down. The aroma is yeasty, no H2S detected, and it also is flowery—the color is like popsicle.

Riesling was to be picked on October twenty-second. The rain that kept—keeps—coming down moved that schedule to October 14, and it was almost too late. Botrytis rot had set in, and the lack of sunshine to promote photosynthesis had halted sugar development at 18.5 Brix.

Once again, didn’t like to do it, but I added enough sugar to get the juice to 20 Brix, for a nice 11% potential alcohol. With a pH at 3.0 and total acidity at 7.8 grams per liter, I did nothing to the acid—I don’t at all like lowering acidity, as the methods available generally change the flavor profile too much for my liking, and this juice has great flavor—of lemons and tangerines, to be exact.

The way I start a fermentation is to draw off a volume of juice into which I make the sugar and/or acid adjustments. I bring that volume up to 18 degrees center grade and then add the selected yeast inoculant. Usually, the juice that’s left in the carboy starts to ferment from ambient yeast; I don’t mind that; the inoculant will take over. In both cases, I’ve inoculated with a yeast that withstands cool fermentation, which is normally a slow fermentation that highlights the variety’s flavor and aromatics.

Because of the Riesling stats, I have been thinking that instead of adding any more acid to the Gewurztraminer, it might be better for me to draw off about 10% of each wine later on and blend what I draw from the Gewurztraminer into the Riesling and vice versa. In fact, I will try that route—unless something happens along the way to change my mind.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
October 2011. All rights reserved.