Archive for October, 2015

Analysis and update: Mourvedre, Cabernet, and Sangiovese Rosato

Last grapes standing during crush 2015
That’s two Mourvedres in the corner, the Sangiovese Rose along the far wall, and the sealed Cab Sauv in the foreground. Here’s what’s still percolating down in the winery, and what the heck we’re doing about it:

Mourvèdre

After a rocky start — a wild ride of wine nutrient issues — it’s smelling lovely and almost done: this morning, about 3 brix on one, and 3.7 brix on the other. My guess is that it’ll be ready to press Tuesday, maybe Wednesday.

Because we split this ferment into two smaller vessels, there was less thermal mass, and therefore the MV didn’t reach the temperature it usually does. This year, I’m experimenting with cooler, longer ferments for all our grapes (to emphasize fragrance all around, the theory goes), but this has been exceptionally cool, only barely getting into the 70s. So a couple days ago, I wrapped them with an electric blanket and applied some gentle temperature, the goal being to get it at least into the upper 70s so we get at least a tad more body and richness. So far so good: this morning, we’re at 75.

I don’t think we want to let this one go completely dry — until the cap falls, that is, extracting every last bit of skin contact we can — because to me, the MV is all about fragrance and balance. But I’ll be tasting it over the next few days to keep an eye on it.

Sangiovese Rosato

Man does this smell lovely. It’s almost done, too — maybe 2.2 brix. Unlike the reds, though, I don’t want to let this one go completely dry in the open-topped fermenter it’s currently in — too much possible oxygen exposure as the ferment dies down and produces less and less CO2 to protect itself.

So probably tomorrow I’ll be racking it off into carboys to finish its ferment in a more controlled environment.

Cabernet Sauvignon

The deal is sealed! I’ve had it gassed and sealed with bungees for a few days now, but the bungees don’t give a complete seal. So yesterday we opened it up to check it — and it was still fermenting a bit! We punched it down and tasted it, and already the tannins are rising, nice and chalky/chocolately. But then we regassed it with argon, and we formally sealed it up with duct-tape.

So now we wait for a bit. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the last time we did this we pressed approx 40 days after sealing. Counting from the first day I sealed this sucker, that would be November 15. We’ll be checking it before then, though. I’d say the first check should probably happen 3 weeks out, or around October 27.

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The Manchurian juice: whole berries in the Grenache

When we pressed the Grenache a few days ago, all seemed well. It tasted fantastic, and had surprisingly excellent structure. This will be a mighty fine wine, even cry beaujolais-like as James said: wonderful, joyful fruit but with just the rright amount of tannic backbone.

We had more whole berries at crush than usual, though. And that was okay: a whole berry ferment would only accentuate the lovely fresh fruitiness that’s the hallmark of this with for us. When we went to press, that meant that, paradoxically, the wine got sweeter them more we pressed as those whole berries now surrendered their hidden treasure – treasure a few days behind the rest of the must because the berry walls insulated the internal juice from everything outside it.

But then two days later, by the time we racked it off its gross less, the Grenache was stinking up the joint: hydrogen disulfide, and its delightfully nauseating rotten egg fragrance. Which was totally odd: there wasn’t even a hint of H2S when we pressed. What the hectare?

Here’s my theory:

Almost all of our wines from eastern Washington come in nutrient-deficient – its the heat mostly, but undoubtedly the soil profile. Since yeast react to nutrient deficient food sources by producing H2S (in addition to CO2 and alcohol), I always add nutrient for those microscope critters at set periods through the ferment, and this almost always takes care of it. Now and again, the grapes are especially nutrient deficient (like our Mourvedre this year), so you need to add more nutrient across a broader spectrum of the ferment. But even there, nutrient always takes care of it.

Except here. Why nutrient didn’t do the trick on the Grenache is, I think, the same reason our wine got sweeter when we pressed: we had a bunch of whole berries which were relatively sealed off from the outside world. And because they were sealed (more or less), the nutrient I added during the course of fermentation didn’t penetrate, leaving the yeast inside the berries to make do with still-nutrient-deficient juice. That therefore meant H2S production inside the berries, but probably also a slower, weaker fermentation inside them. So when we pressed those whole berries, we got little of bombs unfinished ferment, and soon enough, H2S.

Luckily, because you need stressed yeast at least in the beginning stages of H2S, once we racked the wine off the gross lees (which are largely spent yeast), the problem went away. But we’ll definitely want to keep an eye (and nose) on it…

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Shooting the moon with the Cabernet Sauvignon

I’ve been mulling this over, and just now had a chance to game it out with James as we tasted the Cab: we’re going to shoot the moon.

Okay, so what is this crazy talk? We actually tried this in 2009 with a Cab and it turned out great. You basically let the ferment finish, and the cap fall back into the wine, but then you seal it up for 30-45 days. At the end, you have a totally different wine, and one that’s extremely supple and velvety. If you’ve familiar with Sean Thackery’s wines, he does almost all of his wines this way.

As you might guess, the longer a wine sits in contact with the skins, the more tannin is going to leach out into it. This is accelerated by the fact that, at the end of fermentation, you’ve got the skins soaking in a solvent — 13-14% alcohol.

So usually, the idea is to press before too much tannin — and particularly seed tannin — soaks into the wine. But for some reason, if you let it sit in an airtight container for a good long while, it’ll get more and more tannic until one day — and it really happens that fast, a day or so — the hard, short-chain tannins link up into longer chain tannins. Which is science-talk for velvety, silky loveliness.

But you’ve really got to go for it: once you decide you’re going to commit to collecting all the hearts, you better get all of them or you’re toast.

So obviously, something this insane isn’t without its risks: you’ve got to keep air out of there, no foolin’, for the duration. At the same time, you’ve got to be tasting the wine every couple of days, because once the miracle happens, you’ve got to press right away or it’ll start getting tannic again.

But luckily, as I said, we’ve done this once before so I feel slightly more secure about gambling a ton of cabernet on it. And plus, what could go wrong, am I right? Heh..

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