2021 Finer Wine Kits – Chardonnay in Detail
Last updated 05/21/2022
This blog is a step-by-step description of making a Finer Wine Kits (FWK) Chardonnay according to their directions. Like my Barbera in Detail post, this is a how-to combined with a critique of both the kit and the instructions. I am maintaining my normal wine log in a separate post.
Why am I doing this again? Overall, it should be the same experience as the Barbera.
I have three reasons:
- it’s a white kit, let’s see if that makes any difference
- it’s a cold ferment, as my cellar is 65-66 F; this may produce differences
- will it ferment as fast as the Barbera?
Important Note: FWK are not pasteurized, so they are not shelf stable! They must be kept chilled or frozen prior to use, or it is entirely possible a spontaneous fermentation can occur within the juice/concentrate bag.
If you are a new winemaker or new to kits, I suggest reading or at least skimming the Barbera in Detail post first, as I will not go into the same details in this one.
Menu (Dates of Activity)
The box arrived today, in excellent condition. Unlike the Barbera, the inner Styrofoam cooler was undamaged (rough handling by FedEx). Inside the box was the manual, and inside the Styrofoam container was the concentrate bag and a bag of additives.
As with the Barbera, everything is labeled well.
The box has a large label listing the wine type plus the batch number.
The additive bag is marked as Chardonnay, as is the cap of the concentrate bag.
This is an intelligent work strategy, as Label Peelers is processing a LOT of kits in a very short amount of time. Starting with all components clearly labeled speeds up production and reduces the number of errors. This reduces avoidable business expenses due to errors.
I started the kit within 30 minutes of receiving it — the juice bag was cold to the touch. I poured the concentrate into a sanitized fermenter and rinsed the bag 3 times with purified drinking water, adding the water to the concentrate. By the 3rd time the water was clear so all residue was in the must. Next I checked the temperature with a digital kitchen thermometer — the concentrate was at 58.1 F, nicely cold! [It was probably a bit colder, as the water I added was at 66.4 F, but I’m quite satisfied the concentrate arrived cold.]
The purified drinking water I used to reconstitute the kit to 23 liters was at 66.4 F, cellar temperature. After stirring the reconstituted juice for 1 minute (30 seconds in each direction) the temperature was 61.4 F. It should warm up by tomorrow.
Note: the instructions say to ferment at 68 F or a bit higher. I’m intentionally fermenting at a lower temperature as I want a slower ferment to help preserve the Chardonnay aroma. I have done this before and realize the ferment could take up to 3 weeks to complete.
A second reason to do this is I want to live.
If I ferment in the kitchen and my wife has to experience the smell of fermentation for a week or more, I probably won’t survive, and this blog will go unfinished. 🙂
I checked the SG — 1.092. The instructions say the must should be between 1.080 and 1.100, and this is right in the middle. The final ABV will be about 13%, which is good for a hearty Chardonnay.
The concentrate is very dark, and even after reconstitution, the must is dark. This is expected — after the wine clears (post-fermentation) it lightens up a lot. Plus what you see in the carboys appears much darker than what is in the bottle, or the glass.
As with the Barbera, all additives are clearly marked. No one has an excuse for mixing things up.
At this point I stirred in Nutrient Pack A and the oak chip packet. The must preparation is complete.
Next step is to prepare the yeast starter. I put Nutrient Packet B and the yeast (Lalvin D47) in a sanitized wine bottle and added 1 cup purified drinking water. I swirled to mix, then put a towel over the top.
One Last Tip
As with the Barbera, I wet a clean paper towel liberally with K-meta water and wiped any residue from the inside of the fermenter down to the level of the must. This removes potential places for bacteria and mold to grow. I suspect that as the bit of K-meta residue evaporates, it helps protect the must from infection.
Step 3.1 is adding the yeast starter.
First thing I did was confirm the SG — like with the Barbera, I got a different value, 1.094.
This is not surprising, as the mixing of the must continued on long after I finished stirring. Honestly, the difference from last night is not significant.
The instructions say to pour the yeast starter down the inside of the fermenter, so the yeast doesn’t spread out much. Supposedly the yeast “prospers better in numbers”, which makes sense. The yeast colony supports its members, so don’t stir.
I poured very gently and replaced the towel.
This was at 7:30 AM. By 2:30 PM, the smell of fermentation was strong when I opened the cellar door, so we have ignition!
Given how fast the Barbera fermented, I checked the SG this morning. The Chardonnay (and my son’s Riesling) are both obviously fermenting, so I gave each a stir and checked SG.
The SG dropped 4 points to 1.090, which is reasonable given the 24 hours since inoculation and the 65 F temperature. The wine will be stirred morning and night, although I’ll only check SG in the morning — unless activity really ramps up to justify a more frequent check.
My limited experience with an overnight duration starters indicates the theory is sound — the longer timespan gives the yeast a chance to reproduce in a more ideal environment.
Since the starter sat next to the fermenter all night, the starter was also at the same temperature as the must (or fairly close to it), so there wasn’t much temperature change when pouring the starter into the must. Temperature shock can stunt a yeast, or possibly kill it if the difference is too great.
Last night both kits were foaming a fair amount — not “overflow the fermenter” foaming, but a 3/4″ layer. Clearly the wine was fermenting well.
This morning the Chardonnay is still foaming well, with flecks of oak chips visible. The Riesling had lost the foam, but the surface was lightly boiling with CO2 being emitted.
Note: While this blog is about the Chardonnay, the differences with the Riesling kit highlight how every fermentation is different.
This is what the Chardonnay looked like after I removed the towel:
Stirring made the wine foam up into a solid layer. I was concerned that the must would overflow the container, but it didn’t:
After 5 minutes or so, the foam settled down:
One of my focuses in this blog is temperature. The room temperature is 66.1 F. When I checked the Chardonnay, the must temperature is 77.4 F. Fermentation produces a fair amount of heat. In contrast the Riesling is 76.3 F, again highlighting that each ferment is different.
I reviewed the instructions and realized I misinterpreted one line — the MUST is supposed to be kept at 68 F or higher. Which makes sense.
Obviously this is not an issue for this wine! Starting with the must below 68 F is a risk of a slow ferment, but a good yeast starter appears to overcome that.
I checked SG, and both were around 1.060 to 1.064, which is time to dose with nutrient again, e.g., about 1/3 of the way through fermentation. The instructions say to dose after 48 hours, regardless of SG, although in this case the two points coincide.
Note: I don’t record SG during fermentation and don’t bother reading it carefully, as the exact value doesn’t matter. I’m using SG as a barometer to indicate approximately where in the ferment the wine is. For these wines, any reading between 1.050 and 1.065 is “1/3 of the way”.
I added Nutrient Packet C and the wine foamed and churned heavily. It did this for about 2 minutes, then settled down.
Following my normal practice, I liberally wet a paper towel with K-meta and wiped the inside of each fermenter down to the foam line, removing any debris. I use a separate towel for each batch.
At 7:30 AM I stirred the wine, then checked temperature and SG.
WOW! Both readings were a surprise.
The temperature was 80.7 F, up from yesterday’s 77.4 F. This is especially outstanding as the room temperature was 62.3 F overnight.
The SG was a bigger surprise — 1.000. Yes — the SG dropped 62 points in 24 hours.
This ferment was WAY too fast. I wanted to rack around 1.010 … obviously I’m just a bit late.
At 3:30 PM I racked the wine, and the SG was 0.999. The wine is still showing a fair amount of activity.
I’m expecting to degas and add the fining agents Tuesday or Wednesday. Right now the wine is very murky with suspended solids. This won’t reduce until fermentation is fully done and the wine at least partially degasses.
Tip: Immediately rinse all hardware after using it. I use a scrubby pad for this purpose, one that has never been used with any cleaning or other chemicals. It’s entire purpose is to remove any surface crud, and I generally wipe all surfaces with it, regardless if I see anything or not. After that I rinse well.
Ten days after racking, the Chardonnay is not clearing as much as I expected.
Typically a fair amount of gross lees (fruit solids) drops after fermentation ends, and ten days after racking (where the SG was 0.999) I’d expect it to be done.
I checked the SG — 0.998 — where I’d expect it to be at 0.996 or below. Note that I’ve had grape and fruit wines finish above 1.000, so this SG is not out of the question, but it is not what I expected.
Note that I do not see this as a problem. The wine may clear on it’s own, or it may need treatment such as pectic enzyme to treat a pectin haze (unusual in grape wines, but not impossible) or bentonite, a clay fining agent that clears a protein haze.
I’m going to follow my own frequent advice and give the wine time to do its thing.
My niece is visiting, so I put her to work!
The wine cleared somewhat, but is still very cloudy. The SG is still 0.998, so it’s questionable if it is done or not.
According Matteo L, founder of Finer Wine Kits, the final stage of fermentation may take weeks. I reviewed the White Kit instructions and it indicates a 2 week fermentation period followed by a 2 week clearing period. The wine has had 17 days instead of 28, but I decided to degas and fine anyway.
I racked the 19 liter carboy and 4 liter jug into a primary. Next I degassed with a drill-mounted stirring rod for 30 seconds, changed direction and stirred for another 30 seconds. The instructions say to degas for just 30 seconds, while other vendors say to do a total of 3 minutes. I sort of split the difference.
The instruction say to add the kieselsol and chitosan together, but all other instructions say to wait in between, anywhere from 1 minute to 24 hours. Again, I split the difference (sort of), adding the kieselsol, stirred for 30 seconds, waited a minute, added the chitosan and stirred again for 30 seconds.
Finally I racked back into the 19 liter carboy and 4 liter jug, topping up with a bottle of commercial Chardonnay.
There was no activity on my part today, but I took a picture to show how the wine is clearing. It’s dropped half an inch of sediment, and the wine has cleared some, but it’s still hazy.
I’m thinking it’s either pectin or protein haze.
This morning I drove to American Brewmaster to purchase pectic enzyme, as I have none, and purchase more K-meta, as I have just a bit left.
Also on the buy list was a 23 liter (6 US gallon) Italian carboy. If I’m making kits, I have realized it makes more sense to use a 23 liter kit.
In the past I sometimes shorted the water but always had enough to fill a 19 liter (5 US gallon) carboy. I’ve come to the realization that shorting water may concentrate the constituents, but it throws the wine out of balance. So I reconstitute the kit to the indicated amount.
I also came to the epiphany that putting the wine in 19 liter carboys and the excess in a series of smaller containers is a huge waste of time. I have to put effort into getting the wine into the right containers and later have to rack out of those containers. Putting the wine in the 19 and 4 liter containers, then topping saves a LOT of hassle. Moving to a 23 liter carboy saves even more.
The wine is better looking today. I’m still not satisfied with the way the wine is clearing, although the bottom of the carboy shows a lot of sediment, so the kieselsol and chitosan are doing their.
The way the wine is clearing is not consistent with my experiences. But this does not necessarily indicate a problem — it may simply be taking longer than I expect, and as a result I’m being impatient.
So … I’m following my own advice and waiting. When it appears the gross lees has dropped as much as it will (sometime between the middle of next week and the week after), I will rack, moving the wine to the 23 liter carboy, again topping with a commercial Chardonnay.
If the wine has cleared to my satisfaction, no problem. If it hasn’t, I will add pectic enzyme to see what that does.
If after a 2 to 4 weeks the wine is not cleared to my satisfaction, I’ll try bentonite.
Note regarding topping with commercial wine: I’ve had folks comment that they want their wine “pure”, not mixed with another wine. Others have questioned “wasting” a bottle of wine by mixing it in.
First, purity is open to question. I’m protecting my investment in the wine, eliminating headspace, and ensuring it will be a successful result. By topping up, I also eliminate hassle (as mentioned yesterday) by eliminating having a bunch of small containers. Keep in mind that when I say “investment”, I’m not just talking about money — also my time, effort, and pride in creating a good wine.
Regarding “wasting” wine? There is no waste. I was going to drink that bottle of commercial wine. It’s just a question if I drink it on it’s own, or mixed with another compatible wine. It’s going down the hatch, either way.
Today I racked the wine, combining the 19 liter carboy and 4 liter jug. I added a heaping 1/4 tsp K-meta, and racked into a new 23 liter carboy. It required just a bit more than a full bottle of commercial Chardonnay to top up the carboy.
The SG is holding steady at 0.998. I expected it to drop a few points, but it’s fine where it is.
The wine took over 10 days to clear, which surprised me, as kieselsol and chitosan typically work very fast. However, the wine cleared.
I let the wine set WAY too long before racking, roughly 6 weeks. This is a matter of Christmas and “stuff” getting in the way, and me being a bit lazy, post-Christmas. That said, for a two month old wine, the nose and taste are quite good. I’m expecting good things from it and it did not suffer from my neglect.
However, the wine is oddly dark.
Others have reported the FWK whites to be darker than expected. I’m a bit disappointed in that aspect, but the aroma and taste make up for it.
I’m being a bit misleading here — as I wrote the above, I already had drawn a tasting sample and knew that regardless of what the wine looks like in the carboy, in the glass it looks great!
This wine bodes to be a winner!
Note: It’s a known a effect that a white wine in the carboy will be darker than what is seen in the glass. This makes sense, as the view through the carboy is about 10 times the width of a glass. A very pale wine will look similar to the glass, but as the wine gets darker, the visual difference between the carboy and the glass increases.
BTW: My plan going forward is to bulk age another 2 months. At that time I will rack the wine into a 19 liter carboy, and the excess (4 liters) will be bottled as a sparkling wine. I have not made a sparkling wine since the late 80’s and have hopes this will turn out well.
Tonight we racked the chardonnay from the 23 liter carboy into a 19 liter, adding 1/4 tsp K-meta. As planned, the remaining 4 liters was bottled as sparkling wine.
I purchased commercial drops used for sparkling wine — in essence, each resembles a hard candy and contains enough sugar to sparkle 12 oz of wine, cider, or beer. Drop 1 in a beer bottle or 2 in a champagne bottle, fill with wine, and crown cap. That bit of sugar triggers a new ferment in the bottle, and since the CO2 is trapped, it remains dissolved in the wine — natural carbonation.
Crown cap? Yes, champagne bottles are designed to accept a crown cap, as that is part of the Méthode Champenoise, the traditional method for making champagne. [I’m not going to describe Méthode Champenoise, as it’s easy enough to search on.]
Note: I’m doing an easy method for sparkling — there will be no disgorging. Each bottle will have a bit of sediment in it, and that last bit will need to be carefully poured to avoid sediment. I’m ok with this. Also, I’m not messing with plastic champagne corks, just using crown caps. It’s not as pretty, but it works and requires no cage to wire the cork down.
I saved 7 champagne bottles, but need only 5. So Eric & I put 2 drops in each bottle, I filled, and he crown capped.
The first 3 went fine. On the 4th one Eric said: “Dad, this cap doesn’t fit.”
Well … dang! I didn’t check my bottles. American beer bottles and champagne bottles accept a 26 mm crown cap. A lot of European bottles accept a 29 mm crown cap. Since 99.9% of my crown capping has been beer, I never bothered to purchase a 29 mm crimper or 29 mm caps.
Turns out my last 4 bottles are all 29 mm. I have 2 bottles worth of wine that I don’t have bottles for.
Think! Think! Think!
Well, duh! I have cases of beer bottles. So we got out 4 bottles, added a drop to each, and bottles the remaining wine.
This is actually better, as I have 4 tasting sized bottles to see how the referment in the bottle progresses, and how the wine ages.
Note that in the picture, the wine in the glass is from the bottom of the carboy, which had a bit of fine sediment, so the wine in the glass is not clear like the wine now in the 19 liter carboy.
Today is a big activity day. We racked the Sauvignon Blanc, which is very clear (this is described in the SB blog), and we bottled Eric’s Riesling. Then we bottled the Chardonnay. [We topped the barrels after that, but the focus of this post is the Chardonnay.]
While the carboy looks dark, in the bottle the wine is obviously lighter. White wines appear darker in the carboy because the light is refracted through a thicker layer of wine. Only the lightest wines look all that clear in the carboy.
The background behind the carboy and the light level also play a strong role in the appearance. If the background is dark, the wine appears darker. In less than bright light, the wine doesn’t have a chance to shine (pun intended).
I make it a point to take pictures against a white background in good light. This works well with bottles and glasses, but is a lot more difficult with carboys. It would help if I painted the walls white.
As the picture shows, the wine is beautiful in the glass. I have absolutely no complaints about the appearance.
On to aroma and taste. The Chardonnay has a nice nose, it’s clearly Chardonnay.
However, the taste is muted — it’s definitely Chardonnay, but it’s not a strong flavor.
My first thought was the acid is low, but a second tasting where we specifically considered acid proved the acid level is fine. It may actually be just a bit sharp, but it’s squarely in the range we consider “normal”.
The wine is not bad, but it’s not all that impressive.
I typically add 1/2 to 1 oz glycerin per gallon of wine, and for this one I went with a full oz per gallon. This increased body and brought out the flavors a bit. It’s still not a strong flavor, but it’s better.
We’ll see what a few months in the bottle does for it. At this point, if I was judging the wine on a 100 point scale, I’ve give it an 80. Acceptable, but on the lowest end of my target for the wines I make.