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.


  1. Jelly-time is near!!! ;)

    Good to see you back in "Business" and even with all the troubles I sence a smile on your face.....

  2. Henrik,

    I sent you an email this morning.

    Anne says that when I return from the cellar after doing something with the wines there's a look on my face of peace.

  3. Thomas,

    Yes I got it. I will send you a PM tomorrow.

    Just mention your blogging for Malene. That startet a good talk about the wine industri and whats make it interesting. Making the wine and the battling with nature for making a good wine - and the people behind the wines....

  4. One thing I learned from contracting prostate cancer: you can't battle with nature.

    You must accept nature, and deal with what it hands you the best way that you can. That frame of mind lowers stress and opens creative thinking.

    Relative to what nature has handed me, the wines will be the best that I can do or the worst that I can do--it's up to me. I really love the challenge.

  5. OK, so what yeast did you use? And a little bit of chaptalisation never hurt anyone :)
    Good luck with the blending.

  6. Red Star Cotes des Blanc, which I believe used to be called Eperney II. Nice cool temperature, slow fermenting yeast that draws out aromatics and flavors.

    The Gewurztraminer has been fermenting for 20 days thus far--almost done. I figured that by adding tartaric and blending I can get the pH to about 3.35 or so: respectable.

    I can't do much to get the Riesling pH up, though and that finished wine will no doubt call for .75 to 1% RS.

  7. Hey there Dr. Frankenstein....
    Better not let certain commenters on other blogs see this.
    This is winemaking heresy, an abomination a perversion, I say!.....

    Any way, wanna trade a bottle of yours for a bottle of mine?

  8. Keep Mark away from me...

    Trade wine? Are we being premature here???

  9. I already have two in the bottle.... I'll add a third.

  10. Two in the bottle from 2011 vintage?

    If so, why?

  11. 2010 (red) wines, 2011 Nocino.

    By the way, a 20-day ferment and still not dry? How cold is your fermentation space? I've used CdB in my meads and cider and it zips right along. I never thought of it as a slow fermenter.

    BTW, your comment to Henrik about developing prostate CA would do well in the discussion we had on my little cranny of the ethernet...

  12. The temp fluctuates between 50-55 F.

    The yeast tolerates the temperature quite well, and after an initial two or three days of roaring activity,it goes into a nice rhythm. When the wine gets down to about 1%, the activity becomes a crawl.

    Last week, it took seven days for the yeast to gobble up .5% sugar. I've got one week left on the Gewurztraminer ferment.

    If you want aromatics and good fruit, slow, cool fermentation is the way to get there.

  13. I am running my Fiano ferment with VL3 in an ice bath ranging from 48-56 (widest swings at night when I'm asleep and can't change out the ice packs). The room ranges from 60-65. It's the best I can achieve.

    BTW, how do you like to preserve open packages of yeasts to maintain their viability for the longest possible time?

  14. " do you like to preserve open packages of yeasts to maintain their viability for the longest possible time?"

    I don't, but if I did, I'd keep them as cold as possible.

  15. I must say, for us mere consumers, this vintage has been fascinating to read about. It's been a crash course for one who skipped high school chemistry to learn what all the numbers mean and how they interact with one another.

    It's obviously a very challenging winemaking year regardless of geographic location. And I just loved your tale getting your Riesling and Gewurz on the road to fermentation.

    Keep us posted, Thomas!

  16. Marcia,

    Today, my wife says she heard me mumble as I proceeded down to the cellar, "let's go see what the two guys downstairs are doing."

    I don't remember mumbling it, but I don't deny that I might have said it. This stuff is personal.

    There are three things in my life that when I do each makes me feel like a whole person: write, play piano, and make wine.