Villa Sophia Cab 2008: The Beginnings

This weekend the grapes for my second "real" batch of wine were delivered to Mountain Homebrew and Wine Supply. Last years vintage, Villa Sophia "La Gruccia" was a success in that it didn't turn to vinegar and that over time it is definitely mellowing out, but I wouldn't say it was a fantastic wine. This year I'm a bit more hopeful and have some ideas for how to modify my process to produce a better wine.

Saturday, October 25:

Picked up grapes from Mountain Homebrew. I order 150 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon, a full 50 pounds more than last year which should give me a yield of around 70 to 80 bottles of wine. At Mountain Homebrew they give you your grapes and they have a crusher/stemmer on site for you to...wait for it...crush and stem your grapes. Last year the stemmer didn't function too well and I had to separate out a lot of stems by hand. This year the results were much better. Maybe I look like less of a rookie this year. The stemmer/crusher is the metal machine in front of the door:
The guy on the left is doing the "wine carry" shuffle.

I had to buy an extra 24 gallon fermentation drum as there is no way to move the 150 pounds in one fermentation drum. Here are the grapes (the must) all loaded up and ready to escape to from the East Side:

Once home I decided to combine the two loads into one fermentation bucket. There is some risk that I won't have enough space as the fermentation proceeds, but I decided that I should have enough space. Here they are in the wine making room, aka our unfinished basement:
And here is a shot of grapes
Yes indeed there are stems and junk in there as well. The must will eventually clean itself up in a series of stages until it becomes (hopefully) a fine wine.

After getting the grapes the first thing to do was to measure the Brix of the juice. Brix is a measurement of the dissolved solids to water mass ratio of the wine. Most of the disolved solids in this case are sugars. The Brix is measured using a hydrometer. A hydrometer measures the density of the liquid versus the density of water. The typical starting Brix of a the grape juice is a around 21-25. The Brix for my grapes was measured to be 22.5:
As the fermentation proceeds the sugar will be converted to alcohol. This will lower the Brix of the juice and at the same time the must will increase in heat.

I also measured the acidity of the wine:
Looks like a solid 3.4 to me.

The next step I took after these basic measurements was to protect my wine. In particular I added potasium metabisulfate (K2S2O5) Potasium metabisulfite forms sulfur dioxide in the wine and helps in keeping down nasty bugs which can destroy the wine. My goal this year is to keep the sulfites as low as possible as I think last year I used a bit too much.

Sunday, October 26

After adding the metabisulfite and mixing it up all good, I waited until Sunday to begin the fermentation. This year I chose a Lalvin yeast, Bourgovin RC 212
To add the yeast one simply heats up some water to around 96 degrees F add the yeast to the water, let this concoction sit for about thirty minutes and then add it in to the mixture. Since my grapes were fairly chilly (about 62 F), I slowly lowered the temperature of the yeast concoction before adding it in to the must. I dumped the yeast in and stirred them around just a slight bit (not much.) Then after a few hours away I came back and gave the must a whole good stirring.

Monday October 27 to Wednesday October 29th:

After all that fun, unfortunately for the fun of wine making, I had to leave to visit Cal and Stanford, so the Mrs. Pontiff took over care of the wine. This basically involves measuring temperature/Brix and also "punching down." As the must beings to ferment, a thick cap of grapes forms at the top and one needs to stir up the wine. While the fermentation occurs one can actually hear the a bubbling sound as the carbon dioxide escapes (fermentation converts sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide.)

After a few days I can say the fermentation process is proceeding very nicely. Here is what's happened so far:
Monday: morning temp 62, evening temp 65, Brix 23
Tuesday: morning temp 70, evening temp 75, Brix 17 (foam)
Wednesday: morning temp 82, evening temp 82, Brix 10
Here is picture taken on my phone this morning before punching down:

So the wine making is in full progress now. What does that mean? A purple arm, for one thing. And the smells of fermentation. And time to think about what the name of this years wine will be. A leading contender for the name comes from the fact that an arbor in our front yard with a gigantic purple flowering monster collapsed and had to be torn out. Such a loss may be celebrated with the name "Purple Monster."

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70 bottles is a lot of wine; it had better turn out well! Are you going to have space? What do you estimate the cost per bottle to be?

By Anonymous (not verified) on 30 Oct 2008 #permalink

Yeah, 70 is a lot!

The grapes cost about $280, the yeasts, yeast food, malo bacteria, etc runs to about $50, so the total cost of these materials per bottle is about $4.71. Of course last year I bought a lot of equipment (fermenting buckets, carboys, a wine press.)

Sorry for nitpicking: its sulfites (and metabisulfite). Sulfites have a nasty sharp irritating odor + flavor - just like lemon or lime juice concentrate that comes in a bottle (with massive dose of sulfite to keep it shelf-stable). Its not poisonous but some people are quite sensitive to sulfites. So go easy on it. Also, I don't know if you are going to do malolactic fermentation on your cabernet - too much sulfites would spoil it. (You should also avoid sorbate when doing ML-fermentation also).

Wine turning into vinegar - it is acetobacteria that ferment alcohol and they are aerobic - if you keep the air out they can't make any acetic acid.

Have you tried to drink the young wine while its stil semi-sweet, yeasty, fruity and bubbly? When cooled the taste is great - but its pretty insidious, one gets plastered before realizing. Maybe if you are going to call your product 'Purple Monster' the young version can be
called 'Grapes of Wrath'

Doh. Thanks milkshake. Indeed as I was writing the post I kept thinking "say sulfite" but obviously I failed. I fixed those.

Yes I was planning on doing a malolactic fermentation. Everything I read gives me contradictions on when I should do it, but I was planning on doing it once my primary fermentation had settled down.

I've tasted the young wine. But I didn't try enough to find out how dangerous it was!

Malolactic fermentation is good for decent-grade tannic reds like cabernet, to take off some of the fruity nose, to round off the harsh tartness and to add complexity - but it must not be overdone (otherwise it produces too much I-can't-believe-its-butter flavor). ML is done after the primary fermentation when the yeast settles. The pH control is important before starting ML but make sure that you dont use citrate or citric acid for adjusting pH.
If you are using wine-making kits, don't put in sorbate or citric acid/citrate additives - otherwise malolactic fermentation is likely to produce unpleasant off-flavors.

It is important to stop it at some point, by adding a small amount of sulfite (40-50 ppm). The ML is quite slow and capricious and the right point is hard to guess, wine companies do lab analysis to determine the extent. Maybe you can leave a half portion of your wine without ML, both for the taste comparison and also to mix it with the other half (in case you overdo it).

Best luck with your experiments - and keep a detailed notebook.

Wow, this is totally fascinating. It's like running a chem lab experiment in your basement, and then you get to drink it!! How cool is that?

Well, let us know when it's all done. We'll be happy to be the tasting guinea pigs :D