Grapes in the crusher and burgers on the grill
The grapes I ordered arrived on Sunday (10/14/07). I brought home a 24-gallon fermenter with 100 lb (45.4 kg) of crushed Merlot grapes and two 5-gallon (19 liter) carboys, each with about three gallons (11+ liters) of Chardonnay juice. The boxed grapes arrived in a truck, and I participated in crushing and pressing them.
I rolled up my sleeves (note to self, next time wear a short sleeved shirt) and got my hands sticky. I switched out catch buckets, scooped crushed grapes out of the crusher, loaded the press, hand cranked the crusher, and poured juice into the carboys – it was exhilarating! I didn’t have to do all that. They were well staffed and would have crushed, scooped, pressed, and poured for me. I like making wine. If I wanted to pay someone else to do it, I could just go to the store and buy some very nice wine. I wasn’t really all that tired after all that, but I was hungry. So I really appreciated the hamburgers and hot dogs they were grilling up on site. It was a nice lunch that turned the whole thing into an event.
Measuring sugar and acid
After I got the crushed Merlot grapes and the Chardonnay juice home, it was time for measurements. For that, I needed a clear sample. I lowered a clean ladle into the Merlot grapes, so that juice slowly flowed into it over the edges. After a few times, I had about a cup (240 ml), which I let settle for an hour. The Chardonnay was in two carboys, free run juice in one and pressed juice in the other. I drew samples, about a cup, from both with a wine thief and let them settle along with the merlot. This is when I added the pectic enzyme.
Settling for an hour isn’t going to produce perfectly clear juice, but a lot of sediment did fall to the bottom and the juice I poured off was a lot clearer than the what I started with. I think the Merlot and the pressed Chardonnay juice were clear enough to get good measurements from. The free-run Chardonnay was too cloudy, even after settling, so I didn’t use that sample.
There Merlot, as I measured it, was at 25 Brix, pH = 3.63, TA = 7 g/L
The grower reported 24 Brix, pH = 3.56, TA = 5.1 g/L
For the Chardonnay, I got 26 Brix, pH = 3.15, TA = 11 g/L
That compares with the grower’s 24.7 Brix, pH = 3.27, TA = 7.7 g/L
In both cases, I saw slightly more sugar than the grower. I think this is because my samples still had a lot of suspended solids in them and that the actual amount of sugar is probably a little less than what the grower reported. I measured higher pH and higher TA in the Merlot. That may mean a higher proportion of malic acid and therefore slightly under ripe grapes. I recorded a higher TA for the Chardonnay too, but my pH reading was lower. So my juice was more acidic, but there was no divergence as there was with the Merlot.
Pitching the yeast
There was nothing in those measurements that bothered me, so after giving the pectic enzyme three hours to do it’s work I pitched the yeast. I used Red Star’s Premier Cuvee, a neutral reliable yeast. I prepared a starter on Friday (10/12/07) by reconsituting a can of frozen grape concentrate. I could have just used sugar and water, as I described in August. By Sunday afternoon, I had 1.5 quarts (1.4 liters) of fermenting grape juice. I gave it a good shake and added about two cups to the Merlot and one cup to each carboy of Chardonnay.
Those yeast were fermenting up a storm the next day. After they do their work, it’ll be time to rack the Chardonnay and press the Merlot. That will mean a trip back to the homebrew shop, to use their press, in about a week.
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