Michael’s winemaking notes part 2 – my sweet, stuck syrah

April update….

In my last update, I was retesting the SG, pH, and TA of all my wines and making sure that all of my equipment was truly clean for the season. Well I found out that my syrah had not finished with the primary fermentation; it was “stuck”. I have syrah in three different containers, the specific gravity (SG) readings were, Tank #1 1.010, Tank #2 1.001 and #3 1.006. This is a big spread from the same batch of grapes.

So why was the syrah stuck? I think the main reasons are that the brix were too high, at about 27. I should have watered the wine down to 24. In addition, I was out of town and was not monitoring and feeding the yeast, as I should have been. I quickly made a few calls to confirm what my next step should be, and all agreed that I needed to do a restart.  I have never done a restart before so I went to Winemaker Magazine.com and to Scott Labs.com to find the best procedure. Scott Labs had a good print out for the step-by-step procedure. Both web sites said the same thing but Scott Labs was easier to follow.

I will just give a quick overview of what I did. I am not giving amounts, because they are based on volume of the wine. So my numbers are based on my volumes. First, I added yeast hulls to help remove toxins from the wine 24 to 48 hours before the restart. When yeast struggles to finish due to bad conditions, they produce unwanted compounds in the wine.  After the 48 hours I racked it off the lees. Next, add half as much yeast hulls and start hydrating the yeast. The recommended strain for this is Uvaferm 43.  This is where you need to read the steps carefully because this yeast is going into a low sugar, high alcohol environment and you do not want to overfeed the yeast. The next step is a slow process designed to prevent the yeast from going into shock in this high alcohol low sugar environment.. I mixed a small amount of wine into the yeast and waited 20 min. Then I added 5% of the wine volume and an equal volume of water into the restart bucket and added yeast starter. Wait 30 min add 10% of wine volume, wait 30 min add 20%, and wait 30 min repeat this until all the wine is in the new fermenter. The wine should be warm, about 70° F or more; the range for this yeast is 56-95°F.

I had no clue how long this was going to take or how long it should take. There is no big foaming head, just a few small bubbles each day. However, this is how it went for me and the temperature was about 65-75°F. Make sure to correct for temperature with the hydrometer. Warmer wine is less dense than cold wine and most hydrometers are calibrated to 60° F.

#1 start 1.010, 1 wk,1.008, 2wk 1.007 3wk 1.005

#2 start 1.001, 1wk 0.999, 2wk 0.999, 3wk 0.999

#3 start 1.006, 1wk 1.004, 2wk 1.004, 3wk 1.001


Tank #2 got to dry”0.999″,but there is most likely still residual sugar in the wine,  so I quickly put it back into the tank to protect from oxygen.  But what to do about the other two batches of wine? Well, I was planning on making a Cab-Syrah-Merlot blend anyway so I thought, why not now? I had a small blending party to get some input on what percentages to do and this is what we came up with, tank #1 69% Syrah 15% Merlot and 16% Cab Sav. Batch #3 70% Syrah 13%Merlot 17% Cab Sav. Both the Syrah and Cab Sav are 2014 and the Merlot is from 2013. I blended the wines hoping that the blend would drop the SG some more and give it more acid, but wanted to wait a week to give it time to work things out while I was out of town. One week later, it was time to check on the wine and to my surprise, the two blended batches of wine were bubbling away. “It’s fermenting again!

I had to wait a few more weeks for the bubbling to stop. I now have the results for tank #1 and batch #3. Tank #1 the SG is now 0.995 and a pH of 3.79.  I am adding 50 ppm SO2 and adding tartaric acid in small doses until the pH and taste is where I want them. Batch #3 the SG is now 0.994 with a pH of 3.81, I will do the same as I did with tank #1 with the SO2 and acid.

I am not sure what the future will be for tank #2. I need to buy a clinitest to test how much residual sugar is still in the wine.  I may bottle some of it as an almost off dry wine and save the rest for blending with next year’s grapes. If I do that, I will add it before new grapes are done fermenting so that any sugar in the syrah can be converted.

Michael’s winemaking notes part 1

What’s Been Going On In Michael’s Winery? (January update)

At the end of January I was doing some cleaning and rearranging in the winery to make the area more open when I found out that two of my primary fermenters had an odor. Over time one small spot of wine juice can spoil and lead to problems the next fall. Some dust and dirt will wash out easily but not moldy spots. So I cleaned all of my primaries with Oxyclean and StarSan again and made sure to check under the lip and all corners.

I inoculated my red wines with a malolactic bacteria back in October and have been testing the progress with a chromatography test kit from More Wine. The wine in the steel tanks is done with the malolactic fermentation (MLF) but the wine in the glass carboys is not. The wine that is finished with MLF was sulfited to 50 ppm and I added argon gas to stabilize the wine and will rack soon.

So why wasn’t the wine in the glass carboys done? Well, I had last year’s wine that needed to be bottled up on the countertop and the new wine on the floor. With the big cold snap the wine got cold due to the fact that I had not finished insulating the winery. The cold from the cement floor and the fact that cold air sinks were the difference. The wine was too cold to complete the MLF process like the tanks could. I now have two heaters in the winery and I finished insulating the walls.

Last year’s wine is now bottled and the new wine is up on the countertop where it is much warmer. Hopefully the new conditions will get the carboys to finish with MLF so I can start racking and sulfiting the wines and can get to other projects in the winery/shop this winter.  I just retested the specific gravity (now that more solids have dropped out), pH, TA, to see if things have changed after MLF or for any other reason.

We’re still here!

Hi everyone,

its been a while since I posted, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy with the winemaking.  Michael’s been busy with testing and making sure the wines are behaving themselves.  He’s had an interesting experience with the syrah this year, which we’ll post about separately.

Currently we’ve got some nice batches of pinot gris, viognier, sauvignon blanc, and plum going for whites.   All but the plum should be ready to bottle and enjoy soon – just in time for nice weather!   For reds we’ve got syrah, malbec, cab sav, and agria.  Due to the issues with the syrah (to be discussed later), we ended up blending most of the syrah with merlot and cab sav.   They’re turning out tasty, but likely will need another year to mature.  FYI the funky foil bubble wrap is to keep the light off the glass carboys.

2014 wines as of April 2015
2014 wines as of April 2015
2014 reds April 2015
2014 reds April 2015

We were lucky to have 3 tanks on loan from friends.  We will be buying one of them from our friend Dawne, who’s going more to barrels.  Its our 10th wedding anniversay – and aluminum or tin are the traditional gifts – but we’re going to stretch it a bit. Of course the gift for 11 years is steel, so Michael will likely use that as an excuse to get another one.

Tanks of yum
Tanks of yum

Michael’s also been busy with organizing the shop to make it more winery friendly. The plastic sheeting is to keep it warmer through the winter.

The leaves are starting to come out on the vines, getting us thinking about grapes for next year!

Pinot Gris April 2015
Pinot Gris April 2015

More to come soon!