Early grapes

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Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Thu Aug 31, 2017 15:22

My Wrotham pinot grapes have already turned black, with a sugar content of 14%. That's a whole month early! I harvested a neighbour's white grapes last week because they were starting to split and go mouldy. The sugar level was 16%! Most of the grapes weren't fit for presentation at the table and initially the juice was distinctly brown so I added some sulphite, but after a few days fermenting and skimming off it's now a more acceptable amber.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Sun Sep 10, 2017 09:50

The white brew has stuck at 1.030. This may be due to old yeast (bb 11/16) and low volume (4 litres). Adding nutrient didn't help, so I added some yeast sediment from a previous brew, which seems to have revived it.
Meanwhile my riesling grapes have reached a sugar level of 16%, which is remarkable for a late ripener that used to be considered unsuitable for the UK climate. The birds don't seem interested yet, but I have deployed the nets as a precaution.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Wed Sep 13, 2017 14:37

fermentation is rather sluggish so I made a starter bottle with Youngs high alcohol yeast and gradually added the wine to it in stages, doubling the volume each time over a 48 hour period. Fermentation is now much better at 1 bubble per 16 seconds, which is about right at this stage.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Thu Sep 28, 2017 13:12

That brew is now complete. Meanwhile I have been harvesting the Wrotham pinot (meunier). Previous attempts to make a red wine from it have been discouraging. The colour was fine but the flavour poor. Commercially it is mostly used as a 25% ingredient for Champagne, along with pinot noir (25%) and chardonnay (50%). Due to powdery mildew, I have no pinot noir this year, but my neighbour has plenty of chardonnay.
Making white wine from black grapes is complicated by the fact that some red colour gets extracted into the juice. However, sulphite has a mild bleaching effect and fermentation plus exposure to light gradually remove the red colour.
The crop this year is the best yet - a massive 20 kilos of grapes from a single, albeit large vine. The problem with such a large crop is that the vine simply cannot cope with fully ripening all of the bunches, resulting n low sugar and high acid. However, I have found that cutting under-ripe bunches with part of the cane and placing the cut ends in sugary water completes the ripening. Not that under-ripe acidic grapes is a disadvantage in making Champagne. The opposite is true. Most Champagnes I have tasted have little flavour (except Moet). The same is true for the ever more popular Prosecco, which is made from low grade grapes.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Thu Sep 28, 2017 14:56

I have also harvested the riesling grapes. Also a good clean yield of 6 kg. This vine has been 'properly' trained with poles, wires, ground anchors, weed control fabric, netting and bark chips, spanning 5 metres. Harvesting is a joy, with very little bending or stretching, pruning as I go. For the first time I have a gallon of pure riesling plus another gallon of the usual apple riesling mix.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Fri Sep 29, 2017 12:27

Still plenty of chardonnay to harvest. It may even be possible to refill the 60 litre cask, which has contained only water since last year. Any shortfall can easily be made up by juicing the windfall apples.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Sat Sep 30, 2017 14:20

I made a start on the chardonnay grapes. Being on a pergola, netting is simply impractical and normally the birds get rather a large share, but this year they are untouched, which puzzled me. Then I noticed my neighbour's new cat walking along the top of the adjacent fence. Her old cat was an ace rat catcher but not the least interested in birds,
which previously feasted on the cabernet sauvignon at the far end of the pergola. This year, the entire crop has been allowed to ripen untouched. At a glance, I reckon I will get at least gallon of wine from them!
I have a rotary grape crusher which does a great job, but does not separate the the stems which have to be fished out by hand, one at a time. I placed an old bbq grill underneath to catch them and prevent them from falling in the bin. This worked really well, saving a lot of time.
Instead of pressing the grapes right away, I will leave them to soak overnight with pectolase. There is no pectin in grapes, but the action of the enzyme rapidly breaks down the cell structure, significantly improving juice extraction when pressing by about 20%.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Fri Oct 06, 2017 11:37

The riesling is pretty much complete. It was far too acidic at 2.8. A quick search of 'pH of riesling' and the mean was 3.1 for a dry version. A heaped teaspoon of potassium carbonate to the gallon adjusted it to 3.2. Alarmingly the wine turned grey but this was only temporary. After treating it with finings, I left it out in the cold overnight, which not only completely cleared the wine but precipitated a large quantity of tartrate crystals. As a result, the pH was 3.3 and the aroma and taste are superb.
Meanwhile the '60 litre' project is progressing well. The first 5 gallon batch has almost finished fermenting. After initial racking, 23 litres was reduced to 21.5. It still has a pink tinge. The grape mix is similar to that of champagne and has a 'neutral' flavour, which is why most English grapes go into sparkling wine production. I can't see how I can gear up to producing 60 litres of that!
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Tue Oct 10, 2017 13:25

Harvested the last of the chardonnay, a slow process as I prune as I go as well as removing bad grapes. The total was about 42 kilos, yielding 33 litres of juice, which in turn should make about 30 bottles of wine. Even with the grapes from the other vines and the added sugar it's not quite enough to fill the 60 litre barrel, so I added some apple juice.
The next stage is to harvest the cabernet sauvignon. Some have gone rotten while others have not yet fully ripened. The average sugar content from samples is 15% and the pH is 3.0. Previous samples were the same so I guess this is as good as they will get.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Wed Oct 11, 2017 12:12

Second batch is down to sg 996. I used the Wilco 5 gallon fermenter, which has a tap, making racking much easier than using a siphon. The wine tastes good, with no trace of red. The pH was 2.8 so I added potassium carbonate to adjust this to 3.0. Running low on the stuff so I ordered a kilo from Amazon at £8.00 post free, which is a very good deal. This may be because it is food grade and therefore not subject to VAT.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Thu Oct 12, 2017 09:32

Of the 3 batches, the one which is a blend of meunier and chardonnay has the best flavour. The first batch is a blend of isabella and meunier but the two don't blend so well. A separate batch of isabella however, made a good sparkling rose. The third batch is just chardonnay and has little distinctive flavour. I mixed all 3 in a glass and got something which would make a good sparkling wine.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Thu Oct 12, 2017 13:22

Made a start on the cabernet sauvignon. 8 kilos so far and about 50 bunches left to pick. Sugar is up at 16% but pH still at 2.8, so still not as ripe as I would like. Still, I can't complain as this is the first time in 12 years I've had any crop at all, thanks to the cat.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby Rolfster » Thu Oct 12, 2017 17:31

So is the key to making good wine having a cat?
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Fri Oct 13, 2017 13:36

Especially an agile outdoor-loving one that likes climbing! Also discourages foxes and rats. Fortunately the smaller birds are still around but I haven't seen wood pigeons for weeks. Some grapes have been eaten, presumably by blackbirds, but I estimate the losses are less than 5%. Also most of these were high up in an apple tree in the garden next door, which would have proved difficult to harvest.
I picked the rest of the cab sauv and got 5 kilos, which means the average bunch weighs 100 g. So the total is 13 kilos. Cab sauv grapes are quite small (10 mm diameter) and the bunches are quite loose, so the stalks constitute a much larger proportion of the weight, double that of chardonnay and riesling.
The juice is so acidic, I can't taste anything else. An advantage of this at this stage is that yeast likes acid and bacteria don't. In fact overnight the natural yeast has started to ferment. Having removed the stalks (1 kilo), the must has a volume of 10 litres, (in a 5 gallon bin) so, after pressing and siphoning off the fine sediment then adding about a kilo of sugar, there should be 8.5 litres. I have a 9 litre cask which I will use both for fermentation and maturation. I also expect a malolactic fermentation to take place too.
This has started in the first 2 white batches. The first batch is actually in a pressure barrel, so in theory I could have sparkling wine on tap!
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Sat Oct 14, 2017 13:01

Time to fill the barrel. When I emptied out the water, it was brown and foul smelling. The sulphited water had failed to keep it sterile. I used a hot solution of steriliser/cleaner and, after several rinses of hot water, the barrel smelled ok. I made a simple platform of packing foam and a bbq grill and placed the pressure barrel on top. With a suitable length of tubing connected to the tap, through the grill and into the barrel and emptied the contents. I did the same with the fermenter. The third batch was in a bin with no tap, so I filled a bucket, using a jug and poured this into the fermenter. 63 litres did not quite fill the barrel so I topped up with 2 bottles of wine from the previous brew. This means that the barrel, sold as 50 litres, now holds 65! I cut a hole in the bung and fitted an airlock, to allow the gas, from the malolactic fermentation, to escape. Job almost done. All that remains is to leave it until next year's harvest is ready to replace it.
Meanwhile the Cabernet sauvignon is fermenting in the bin. It has expanded to a volume of 13 litres due to the trapped gas in the pulp.
At first, the juice tasted like any generic white grape, but now tastes like Cabernet sauvignon so clearly the magic is in the skins. The final pH should be in the range of 3.15 to 3.8. So far, I have adjusted it to 3.2. The expected mlf should reduce the acidity by about 25%.
I brought in the Riesling to finally rack and bottle, only to find that a malolactic fermentation was taking place, so I will leave that to complete.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Sun Oct 15, 2017 12:27

The Cabernet sauvignon skins had become pink, indicating maximum colour extraction. After pressing I got almost 8 litres. The cake of pips and skins was quite dry, indicating the the maximum juice has been extracted. The proportion of pips was much higher than the other grapes, which is probably why the tannin content is so high. The depth of colour of the juice was a little disappointing. The last time I picked cab sauv grapes was in early December, with much better results.
The sg was already down to 1020 from the initial 1060, so I needed to add sugar to raise this to 1050, with 800 g of sugar. Very soon the fine pulp was rising to the surface, which I skimmed off with virtually no loss of liquid.
The riesling appears to be stable, so I racked. Curiously, the pH had reverted to 2.8, which I cannot explain. I had mixed some of the riesling juice with a lot of apple juice to make an extra gallon of wine. The result was unimpressive, but I can use this stuff to top up the barrels, being rather neutral in flavour.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Mon Oct 16, 2017 11:19

1 gallon wasn't quite enough to top up the other barrels, which contain up to 34 gallons in total. The shortfall is not that critical as a small amount of airspace is no problem and allows for some expansion due to temperature fluctuations. Nevertheless, a volume reduction of 10% can be expected during the course of a year. It's even higher even higher with small barrels but then maturation is faster in them. The trick obviously is to make a larger amount than the target barrel capacity and use the surplus for topping up. The other trick is never to leave a barrel empty of wine!
There is no sign of activity in the big barrel so I decided to add sulphite, just in case there are any bacteria still present. After all, you can't scrub the inside of a barrel! This would involve 15 campden tablets but instead I dissolved 3.25 g of sulphite in warm water and added that, giving it a general swirl with the end of a long spoon.
The cabernet sauvignon doesn't smell too good because there is still a fair amount of fine pulp (essentially decayed fruit flesh) in it. I have transferred it to 2 demijohns so I can see when this pulp has settled before racking. I should cover these jars, as prolonged exposure to light tends to reduce colour. Better still, transfer to cask.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Mon Oct 16, 2017 17:23

I got rid of the sludge at the bottom of the jars. This probably contains pollutants from the West London air. My rain barrels contain so much of this shit that the taps get clogged. I noticed that fermentation had significantly slowed. Wild yeasts are perfectly adequate for cider, but can't be relied on to produce this higher levels of alcohol for wine. I added some wine yeast, which certainly livened things up.
I went down to the vineyard to salvage the grapes left after the disastrous powdery mildew attack and got a few miserable kilos. A man asked me if I would like a beehive there. He would set it up, provide the bees and maintenance for £20 a month. On average, you can get 11 kilos of honey per year per hive, so this did not make economic sense and I declined the offer. He then offered to do all this for nothing if he could have the honey. Considering that he was interested in making mead, I could see an interesting deal so I happily agreed.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby Dennis King » Mon Oct 16, 2017 19:52

Even though I don't make wine I find these posts interesting.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby HTH1975 » Mon Oct 16, 2017 21:33

I’ve just done my first (red) wine batch about a month ago - these posts are very informative.

I’d urge anyone to have a go. Not sure if I just got lucky, but my red wine is great at present - easily drinkable as it is now.

I got all the fruit from hedgerows, so it’s only cost me a couple of quid for sugar and a few quid for the wine yeast.

2016: 330L brewed (72 gallons, over 8 firkins)
2017: 105L brewed (need to update this figure)
Drinking: Landlord clone
Conditioning: ciders from 2016, hedgerow barrolo, 1914 Courage RIS (10%).
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Tue Oct 17, 2017 12:02

It's a great combination (elderberry and blackberry) of free fruit. I call it 'Hedgerow Barolo' and it matures very well.
With the prospect of a beehive, I am looking again at honey recipes, particularly cyser (apple mead). My apples don't make good wine on their own, but combined with grape and honey, they do. I got just 2 litres of juice from the last of the grapes so I juiced the sound windfalls and some from the tree and got 3 litres of fresh apple juice. To this I added 600 g of honey plus 100 g of sugar to bring it up to 1090.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Tue Oct 17, 2017 18:52

My juicer produces thick foam on top of the clear juice and ejects the pulp. Combining the skimmed foam with the ejected pulp and then pressing it used to yield an extra 20% of clear juice. However, after many gallons, the juicer has become less efficient because the shredder has become blunted and cannot be sharpened. This time I got less initial juice and a lot more from the pulp. In fact the total juice ended up as 6 litres. This is not what I planned and the mix of grape and apple is out of balance. The extra juice had an sg of 1060, so I added a 340 g jar of honey plus another 100 g of sugar. So now it's more like a grape and apple flavoured mead. I adjusted the pH to 3.4 using what I had ordered, which turned out to be potassium bicarbonate, not carbonate. The label says 'for processing wine' and in fact it's a bit better, as it doesn't darken the wine when added.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby HTH1975 » Wed Oct 18, 2017 08:00

So what makes it an apple wine as opposed to cider? - is it purely the ABV?

2016: 330L brewed (72 gallons, over 8 firkins)
2017: 105L brewed (need to update this figure)
Drinking: Landlord clone
Conditioning: ciders from 2016, hedgerow barrolo, 1914 Courage RIS (10%).
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Re: Early grapes

Postby tonyhibbett » Wed Oct 18, 2017 12:25

It can be, but you get better results when you include a grape element, typically 2 parts apple to 1 part grape: say, 2 litres apple juice and 250 g of minced sultanas per gallon, plus sugar. 90% of the acid in apples is malic, which is relatively 'hard' on the palate. Ripe grapes contain mostly tartaric acid, whereas under ripe ones contain mostly malic acid, (and less sugar) hence the expression 'sour grapes'. An ideal acid balance for wine is mostly tartaric with about 30% malic. Neither fruit contains citric acid.
I think the main reason my apples produce a poor wine is that they are more like cooking apples, which contain less sugar and more acid than dessert apples. Mine contain 10%, which is at the high end for cookers, but the pH of the juice is 2.8, compared with carton juice at 11% sugar and pH 3.5 (less acidic). My solution is to add potassium bicarbonate to the apple juice before mixing it with the grape juice. The reason for doing this is that the potassium carbonate initially works on the tartaric acid present. If none is present (apple juice), it will work on the malic acid.
I ended up with rather more apple juice than expected. I corrected the pH to 3.4, then added a can of Young's white wine enhancer, which is pure grape juice concentrate, diluted with 3 parts water. The expiry date was July 2017, so it was somewhat darker but otherwise fine.
The proportions ended up with 7.5 litres, of which 650 ml of honey and sugar, about 3.5 litres of grape juice and the rest apple juice, with a total acidity of 5 ppt, in terms of tartaric acid. This is at the lower end of acidity for wine. No single ingredient dominates the flavour.
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Re: Early grapes

Postby HTH1975 » Wed Oct 18, 2017 20:12

Very informative - thanks for taking the time to share

2016: 330L brewed (72 gallons, over 8 firkins)
2017: 105L brewed (need to update this figure)
Drinking: Landlord clone
Conditioning: ciders from 2016, hedgerow barrolo, 1914 Courage RIS (10%).
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