In September of this year (2012), Julianne Nola and I embarked on a little adventure: making zinfandel wine. This is that story, told primarily in photos.
2012 zinfandel grapes, nearly ready to harvest. These aren't from the same vineyard where our grapes came from, but they're similar of course. By comparison to cabernet sauvignon, for example, zinfandel grapes are large. They're also inconsistent in size and ripening. Notice that some of the berries near the top of the cluster are starting to "raisin."
Home winemaking supplies. We purchased most of these supplies from Napa Fermentation Supplies, a wonderful resource for both home winemakers and pros.
Each of these macro bins holds a half ton of grapes. The grapes were split among a dozen or so people, each person getting enough to make 5 or 10 gallons of wine.
The grapes came from the vineyards of Amador Cellars in the Sierra foothills. They were picked on September 29, 2012. Notice the raisining that has affected some of the grapes. This is not a bad thing; it's typical of zinfandel grapes. But it does affect the wine by raising the brix (sugar level) and ultimately the alcohol level.
Neal Shleffar, a member of Sacramento Home Winemakers, unloads grapes from the macro bin into a small bucket where they're weighed before going into the destemmer/crusher. (Neal is currently in the initial stages of creating his own label.)
The destemmer/crusher, bright and shiny, ready for action. The crush happened on September 29, 2012 at the home of Henry Wilkinson, another SHW member, who graciously offered his driveway as a "crush pad."
Sanitation, we learned, is very important in winemaking. Everything was cleaned with a mixture of SO2 and water. Bleach, by the way, is a big no-no, not to be used anywhere near winemaking equipment. Even chlorinated water is to be avoided.
And so it begins.
Winemaking is kind of a messy, sticky process, as it turns out.
Roughly 13 gallons (125 lbs.) of grape must, direct from the destemmer/crusher. The must is a combination of grape pulp, skins, seeds, stems, an occasional leaf, and juice. It's quite sweet, like concord grape juice.
Bill Staehlin, current vice president of SHW, demonstrating the process of measuring brix in the must. (What is brix?). After pressing, the brix measured 24.5 degrees. However, as the raisins absorbed water and released their sugars, the brix climbed to 28.5 degrees. At that point, we added water to bring the brix back down to 26 degrees.
The Hyde-Nola winery. Or, as the partner in this winery (my girlfriend) says, the Nola-Hyde winery. At this point the grapes, skins, etc., are macerating. It's a cold soak intended to extract color and flavor from the skins for a couple days prior to fermentation. In the must are 3 frozen bottles of water that cooled the must and kept it from getting above 80 degrees.
After a two days of maceration, we "pitched" the yeast and fermentation began.
Using frozen water bottles when necessary, we kept the temperature of the fermenting must to around 65 degrees. (The red object is a floating thermometer.) We wanted a long, cool fermentation.
Every day we checked the brix with our hydrometer. As this photo shows, the brix at this point (8 days after pitching the yeast) was just under 10 degrees.
We tasted our wine at every opportunity. It's been fascinating seeing it evolve and change from sweet grape juice to actual, almost drinkable wine.
On Tuesday, October 26 at 6 a.m., 19 days after crush, we pressed our wine. The wine hadn't quite finished primary fermentation. We measured the brix at 1.5 degrees.
The "cake" is what's left after you press the must. It's composed of a grape skins, stems, and a lot of seeds. A surprising amount. We didn't press very hard. The free-run juice is supposed to be the best. We did taste the free-run juice side by side with some pressed juice, and we did indeed feel that the free-run had a deeper flavor.
After the pressing, the wine immediately went into a five-gallon carboy and a one-gallon jar (which I believe originally held some delicious Carlo Rossi Burgundy).
One day after pressing, we inoculated the wine with Viniflora CH16, a bacteria that converts malic acid into lactic acid. The wine then went into a dark cool closet to sit for 14 days while the bacteria did its thing. The conversion of malic acid into lactic acid (aka malolactic fermentation) gives the wine body, texture, and complexity.
This was our not-so-elegant racking operation. Racking is a process of separating the wine from its lees, the layer of sediment that settles out of the wine as it sits. This was our first racking, and I wouldn't say it was exactly flawless. It won't be our last either, so hopefully we'll get better at it. We're planning to rack again in another 6 to 8 weeks.
The story is not over, of course. The wine is not bad, but it's very young. Also, it could really benefit from the addition of some oak. More about that later.
This process started a month ago, and now the wine needs to age and develop over the next 18 months. Stay tuned.