2022 – Grape Wines in Detail
Last updated 05/01/2023
I figured I was done with the “In Detail” blogs for a while, as I have bottled all but the 2021 Super Tuscan and Rhone Blend, and the 2022 Chocolate Raspberry Port, and had nothing interesting in the wings. I need to update the existing blogs, but didn’t have a good topic for a new one.
Since I want these blogs to be distinct, not a repeat of previous ones, I didn’t see any value in starting a new one. Then I realized I’m blind — all blogs so far involve kits. I have 7 batches of grape wines in progress, so I have a completely different topic to address.
This blog will cover all 7 batches of grapes, which will compress to 3 batches as time progresses. I purchased the following 36 lb lugs of grapes:
- 8 Grenache
- 8 Tempranillo
- 1 Mourvedre
- 1 Petite Sirah
- 1 Syrah
They are being fermented as follows:
- 4 Grenache – Lalvin RC 212 yeast
- 4 Grenache – Renaissance Avante yeast
- 4 Tempranillo – Lalvin RC 212 yeast
- 4 Tempranillo – Renaissance Avante yeast
- 1 Mourvedre – Renaissance Avante yeast
- 1 Petite Sirah – Renaissance Avante yeast
- 1 Syrah – Renaissance Avante yeast
I’m making the Grenache and Tempranillo with multiple yeasts to increase complexity. Each yeast brings different things to the table, and a combination should be better.
- RC-212: emphasizes fruit and spice notes, accentuates character, and produces full body
- Avante: produces an intense fruit overture followed by a mild spiciness and a smooth tannin finish; imparts good mid-palate fullness with color and flavor stability
Avante does not produce hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which is a great reason for using it.
OTOH, RC-212 has high nutrient requirements, and if it doesn’t get enough nutrients, it will produce H2S. I’m watching my nutrient protocol carefully to avoid H2S.
Post-fermentation, the two Grenache batches will be combined, and after clearing will go into a barrel. The same will be done for the Tempranillo.
The Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, and Syrah will undergo a short Extended Maceration (EM). When the SG gets to 1.010, I will seal the fermenters. The CO2 being produced will fill the containers as fermentation completes, and the wine will rest for a week or so.
Additionally, I purchased two Finer Wine Kits Tavola Merlot kits, whose concentrate bags are in a spare fridge. When the Grenache and Tempranillo are pressed, I will start the kits and add the pomace from the Grenache to one, and pomace from the Tempranillo to the other. The experiment is to see how the two pomaces affect the outcome of the kits.
After fermentation completes, I’ll press the pomace from the kits, and these two wines will be kept segregated and carboy aged.
At that time, I’ll press the Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, and Syrah. These wines will be field blended and carboy aged.
The Post-Fermentation Batches
Post fermentation I’ll have two grape wines in barrels, one grape wine in carboy, and two hybrid kit/grape pomace wines in carboys.
NOTE – at this time, the activity descriptions are stubs. I have photos to adjust, then I’ll fill in the text.
Menu (Dates of Activity)
I was the unload manager for this year’s grape purchase, so the trucking company was supposed to call me with details of the truck’s arrival on Thursday. Wednesday morning at 9AM I received a message stating the grapes would be delivered that day at 3PM.
Whoop! Ain’t going to be anyone to unload the truck! I didn’t even try to arrange for people — the trucking company knew the load was scheduled for a Thursday delivery, so I wasn’t going to knock myself out trying to get people without less than 6 hours notice. I called the guy back and he said after he left me a message he realized we were due for a Thursday delivery, so the driver would have to cool his heels over night.
He was scheduled to arrive at 10:00 AM, so Eric and I planned to arrive no later than 9:30. Due to no traffic, we arrived at 9:15 AM. At 9:45 I received a call from one of our people that the tractor trailer was parked at the road. The driver didn’t call me. Oh, well, at least he arrived on time.
Six people unloaded 180 lugs, a total of 6,480 lbs of grapes in 36 lb lugs. We backed pickup trucks and a trailer up to the tractor trailer. Two guys handed boxes down to others in the truck, then we drove to the garage (long driveway), and unloaded and segregated by varietal and AVA. It’s back breaking work.
At one point we fully loaded my truck (’98 Tacoma) and I realized it was on the springs, as we had just short of 1,100 lbs of grapes on it. We took 4 boxes off, and it was ok for the short drive.
Once the grapes were in the garage we counted. With freight shipping, if there are any problems, they MUST be noted on the driver’s paperwork, else we’re stuck with it. In our case, we got all 180 lugs we ordered in the correct varietals, but a few had been substituted for a lesser AVA (American Viticultural Area). Grapes from certain areas command a higher price, and lesser grapes were sent in their place.
We noted the discrepancies, as the recipients of those grapes owe less money to Musto, the shipper.
Eric was out of town, so he couldn’t help with the crush. Working with him is a lot of fun — winemaking is more enjoyable as a shared activity.
I arrived a bit before 8:00 AM, and we got started just after 8.
It’s a repetitive process — dump a lug of grapes into the crusher’s hopper. Do a quick pick through, pulling out leaves and other debris. We also pull out moldy grapes — hopefully there are not many of these. Then turn the crusher on — a screw pulls the grapes to the right where rollers pull the grapes down and lightly crush them.
There is a screen with 2″ holes underneath — the grapes drop through the screen onto and angled chute while another screw propels the heavy stems to the left and out. We have a large garbage can secured with a bungee cord, so the stems drop into it. 6,480 lbs of grapes produces a LOT of stems!
We use a large Tote (type of bin) to catch the crushed grapes. Most folks do one lug at a time — crush the grapes, wipe any remainder off the chute into the tote, swap a bucket to catch dripping juice, and empty the tote into whatever container the owner of that lug wants.
Swap the bucket and tote, and process the next lug.
A few people did 2 lugs at a time, but I prefer one. It’s less strain to pick up 36 lb loads than 72 lbs, even with two of us doing the lifting. Processing 180 lugs is a lot.
Container? A common container is Rubbermaid Brute garbage cans. I have four 32 gallon Brutes, purchased specifically for winemaking (never used for garbage). These are food grade and good for fermenters.
I can probably fit 7 lugs into a 32 gallon Brute, but that’s 252 lbs. If I didn’t have to pick it up and put it in the truck, I might consider it. But that’s a lot harder to move around, and I have to leave space for expansion, as CO2 pushes the cap (grape solids) up. So I do four lug (144 lb) batches as it’s manageable.
One of the sad facts of the wine grape industry is waste. The lugs the grapes are shipped in are made of either hard plastic or corrugated plastic, and are all disposable.
These go into the landfill, as most folks don’t have another need for them. The vineyards don’t want them back, even if it was cost effective to ship them back to California. Which it’s not.
I took a few (5 hard plastic, 6 corrugated plastic) for a friend who is starting a commercial winery in a few years. I thought the corrugated ones would unsnap and fold flat, but they don’t. So I was only able to get a few into my truck.
Two of our guys spent 2 hours cutting seams with a machete and flattening them. During cleanup we stacked them on our coordinator’s trailer and strapped them down. He’ll go to the landfill in a week or two to get rid of them.
It’s sad how much waste is involved.
The last picture shows my truck loaded with four Brutes (144 lbs grapes each), three small fermenters (36 lbs each), and the lugs I had room for. I use tiedowns to ensure the Brutes are not moving, and put a cargo net over everything to ensure nothing flies.
When I got home a friend (Jay) helped me get the Brutes off the truck and into the cellar.
I made yeast starters for each batch. Yeast like hotter conditions, temperatures too hot for wine. I take a sanitized wine bottle, add one cup water at +/- 95 F, yeast, yeast nutrient (I use Fermax), and sugar. Swirl to mix and leave it on on the kitchen counters for a few hours. After that I put the bottles by the fermenters so they are the same temperature the next day, which avoids temperature shock to the yeast. Then I pour the starter into each fermenter and let the yeast get to work.
Since I’m using multiple yeast strains and have different size batches, I used green bottles for the large batches — the ones for RC-212 had the package taped to the bottle, the ones with Avante had no label. The starters for the small batches were in blue bottles.
The last thing I did with the grapes was to add ScottZyme ColorPro maceration enzyme, which improves color and tannin extraction, improves mouthfeel, reduces herbaceous character, and improves yield.
Inoculation is not exciting.
I add shredded, medium toast American oak (1 cup per lug) which helps stabilize color and preserve grape tannin, and Fermax yeast nutrient. Nutrient is essential helping the yeast reproduce, and for yeasts that may produce hydrogen sulfide (H2), a lack of nutrients may stress the yeast, which cases the production of H2S.
H2S stinks and produces other off-aromas and flavors. It can ruin a wine, and is to be avoided if possible. A good nutrient regimen helps greatly.
Once the oak and nutrient are in, I do my best to stir the oak into the must, which is very thick. This takes a bit of muscle power to do, and a bit of time.
Lastly I carefully pour the starter down the inside of the fermenter, avoiding spreading it too much. Yeast reproduces better in groups, so the less it spreads initially, the faster it produces enough numbers to fill the fermenter. I don’t stir the must for 24 hours after inoculation.
Note how different red grapes produce different colors. The lighter juice is Grenache, and the darker one is Tempranillo.
During fermentation, it’s important to “punch down” the cap at least once per day. This ensures the cap stays wet, as a dry cap may grow mold. It also helps with extraction of color, flavor, aroma, tannin, and body from the grape pulp.
I typically punch down 3 or 4 times, using a stainless steel paddle.
Punching down will not be reported — it happens every day and is far from exciting — just necessary.
Forty-eight hours after inoculation I added the second dose of nutrient. The dosage for the large fermenters is 2 tsp, which I simply dumped on top of the pomace (in the middle), and worked it into the wine during punch down. Following punch down I stirred the wine again to ensure the nutrient is distributed. I figure subsequent punch downs will help distribute more.
I had a scare this morning — I get up a bit before 6 AM and punch down the musts before starting work. I’m currently punching down 3 to 4 times per day, last time around 9 PM.
I punch down in a sequence based upon where the fermenters are located, so the two Grenache are first, then the small batches, and lastly the Tempranillo. The Tempranillo inoculated with RC-212 is last.
I sniff … OH, DANG!!! I sniff again and get just the slightest hint of H2S (hydrogen sulfide). The smell is unmistakable — it’s nothing one forgets after having smelled it once!
H2S can ruin a wine — not the smell, which will go away, but it can introduce off flavors that don’t. Immediate action will save the wine.
Fortunately I caught this early! Since H2S is commonly caused by yeast stressed by having too little nutrient, I added 2 more tsp nutrient and stirred it in. I also added another dose (1/2 tsp) of K-meta, and stirred the must as well as I could.
The K-meta may slow down the ferment, but it will bind to contaminants and reduce or prevent damage. I’d rather have that than the alternative.
Note: RC-212 yeast has high nutrient requirements, and is known to produce H2S when nutrient levels are too low. Adding the prescribed amount of nutrient is apparently too little. When using a high-nutrient yeast in the future, I’ll bump the nutrient by 25%.
Avante does NOT produce H2S, so all batches inoculated with it are safe. I checked the Grenache batch inoculated with RC-212, and there’s no sign of H2S.
I keeping a close eye on the RC-212 batches to ensure I fixed the Tempranillo and that the Grenache is ok.
I haven’t been recording temperatures, but last I checked the Tempranillo was about 6 F higher than the Grenache, and the hotter ferment may be part of this situation.
There is no hint of H2S, so yesterday’s prompt response appears to have addressed the problem.
My wife noted the bad smell she had been smelling was gone. She’s not a fan of fermentation, so I assumed she meant the general smell of fermentation. It turns out she smelled the H2S far sooner than I did! I’ll keep this in mind in the future.
Today is pressing day!
My press is a #40 press. I could never figure out the naming schema for basket presses, as “#40” didn’t seem to mean anything. Communicating with a fellow winemaker in Central Europe, I learned that the inside diameter of the press is 40 cm (16 inches). So I learned something new recently!
We power washed the base and the basket, to ensure all dirt and dust was gone. Then we assembled it (basket is in 2 pieces, the photo shows the sides are held together with pins.
Then we poured Star San sanitizer over all parts, ensuring everything was touched. Star San sanitizes in 1 minute or less, so by the time we were ready to add grapes, the press was sanitized.
Note: Star San is reusable, so we captured the run off in a food grade bucket, and put back in the 4 liter jug. As long as it’s clear and the pH is below 3, it’s still good.
We pressed the Grenache first. We started by using a jig I built — I drilled a lot of 1/4″ holes in one end of a 4″ PVC pipe. This is wrapped in a fine mesh nylon straining bag, and plunged into the must. A racking cane goes into the pipe — the pipe/bag prevent pulp and seeds from getting into the racking cane.
Using a low speed, food grade pump, we pumped a much wine as we could from the first fermenter. We have to carry fermenters out of the cellar and around the house to the front yard, and later carry the wine back down, so everything we can avoid carrying, we do. Pumping the wine into carboys saves 1/2 to 2/3 of the weight. Laziness is good!
After pumping, we carried the fermenter (Brute) to the front yard and used a small food grade bucket (properly sanitized) to transfer the pomace to the press. Then we put the press plates on top, then a series of blocks, and finally the ratchet. We (well, I) screwed up the order of things twice, so we got extra practice in putting everything together.
The blocks look tall, but the pomace compresses a lot as the wine is squeezed out of it, and the ratchet handle can only go down level with the top of the basket, so a lot of blocks are required.
We turn the handle until it gets difficult to turn, then we let the press rest for a few minutes, as wine continued to emit. With wine gone, we turn the handle more.
This is repeated numerous times, and may continue until we literally cannot turn the handle. We didn’t go that far this time, as we will be using the pomace in a kit wine, so we left some of the “goodness” behind.
While the pomace was draining, we went to the cellar to repeat the “pump the wine out” process with the second Brute of Grenache.
After we carried the second Brute up front, we removed the ratchet from the press, the blocks, and the press plates (part that actually touches the grapes). Then we used the small bucket to add the pomace from the second Brute on top of the first pomace.
We put the press plates, blocks, and ratchet back on the press, and repeated the process.
Note: We typically swap buckets when at the 3 gallon mark, as it’s easier to carry the smaller amount. There is far less likelihood of user error, e.g., tripping and spilling the bucket!
We continue to press the wine until it’s hard to turn the lever. We let the wine continue to drain for another 20 minutes, then pulled the press apart. We put the pomace back in a cleaned Brute, and carried it back into the cellar where we added a reconstituted 23 liter Merlot kit. This is a different project that will be described in a different post.
The Grenache was transferred into a 54 liter (14.25 US gallon) demijohn, a 23 liter (6 US gallon) carboy, and a 4 liter jug.
These containers are not 100% filled, as the wine is outgassing (emitting CO2) and can overflow the container if filled too much.
Gross lees (grape solids) will typically drop within 72 hours, and I typically don’t rack again for 1 to 3 weeks. At that point I will manually degas (by stirring) and will have minimal headspace in the subsequent secondary containers.
At this point we were half way through. We repeated the process for the Tempranillo.
I shouldn’t have used the 23 liter carboys, as I need them for the experimental kit / pomace wine. Those wines fermented fast, so we are going to press tomorrow night. So … I racked the Grenache and Tempranillo today, and redistributed among containers. I added 1/4 tsp to each 5 gallons of wine.
The net is 20.5 gallons of Grenache and 18 gallons of Tempranillo. I expect to rack again in 3 or 4 weeks, when we’ll bottle the 2021 wines in barrel, clean the barrels, and move these wines into the barrels for a year of aging.
Today is barrel day, meaning the new wines goes into the barrels. While it sounds simple, there’s a lot going on.
- Rack Barrel #1 into a 32 US gallon Brute, along with all topup containers. This is last year’s wine.
- Carry the barrel up front, clean it out with a power washer. I have angled wand sections that allow me to get most inside surfaces directly with spray. This typically involves spraying a few gallons of water into the barrel, emptying it, and repeating at least twice. Tartrate crystals and sediment can crust the bottom and up the sides of the barrel, and it’s necessary to dislodge this. Once the barrel is clean, add 8 oz Barrel OxyFresh and fill with water. The barrel needs to set for 4 hours while the cleaner works.
- Bottle last year’s wine, typically 15 to 18 gallons of wine.
- Rack the new wine from all containers into a 32 gallon Brute to homogenize. This ensures the overall batch is consistent, so I don’t get unexpected aroma and flavor changes because the topup wine is from earlier or later in the pressing process.
- When 4 hours of barrel soaking time have passed, empty the barrel, and carry it down to the cellar. Fill it with the barrel with new wine, and distribute topup wine among smaller containers.
Repeat the entire process for Barrel #2.
The processes for each barrel overlap and we plan so wine spends as little time as possible setting in an open Brute. This year we started at 9:30 AM and finished up just before 6:00 PM.
The work included pulling the barrel rack out when the barrels were both off it, cleaning beneath it, and putting it back. When I built the rack, I over-engineered it. When full, each barrel weighs over 150 lbs, and having the rack break and drop the top barrel is NOT an option. So I seriously over-engineered it. An elephant could probably step on it, and it would hold up.
Note: during the course of a year, wine gets spilled on the barrel and the wood around the bung hole is discolored. I intentionally overflowed the barrel when filling with Barrel OxyFresh, so the liquid ran over the outside of the barrel. After an hour the staining was nearly gone. It’s powerful stuff.
During this process we perform quality control AKA tasting. IMO it’s very beneficial to taste the wine at every stage of the process, to understand how wine changes as it ages. I also find that aroma and taste may indicate problems, although in my experience, when using good hygiene, problems are very few in number.
So … of course we tasted the Grenache and Tempranillo. Just for fun, I pulled a sample of the 2022 Rhone Blend (Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Syrah) so we could check all three of our 2022 batches.
The Grenache is VERY light in color, looking like a rose, but tasting like a light red. Even with ScottZyme ColorPro added, we didn’t get much color. Surprisingly enough, we didn’t get a lot of color from the Tempranillo, either. The 2020 and 2021 wines all came out very dark, even the 2021 kits. My guess is that Tempranillo just doesn’t have that much color to extract.
In contrast, the 2022 Rhone Blend is very dark, exactly what I expected. During fermentation the Petite Sirah as an electric purple, and both the Mourvedre and Syrah were light in comparison (but were still pure ink).
For fun I did a 80/20 eyeball (estimated) blend with the Grenache and Rhone — below is the Grenache on the left, Rhone on the right, and the mixture in the middle.
WOW! The Grenache has a long lasting flavor, but is light. The Rhone is strong up front, but the taste dies quickly. The mixture? It combines the best of both, a strong, heavy flavor up front that dwindles into a clearly Grenache aftertaste. I’m already confident we’ll blend at least 20% of the Rhone into the Grenache.
Christmas season is in full swing, and I didn’t top the barrels at the 4 week mark, but we did it today. We also finalized the 2021 Port and bottled it.
Neither barrel has added oak, yet, so I didn’t bother stirring before taking a sample. The wine is really young, so other than curiosity, I wasn’t expected much.
First we opened the Tempranillo, and broached a 4 liter jug of topup. I figured we’d use over 1 bottle of wine, and the remainder would be subdivided into small containers. For fun I poured a sample of the top-up to compare against the barrel.
Individually, there is no difference in color, but when compared against each other on a white background, the barrel sample (left in the picture) is slightly darker than the top-up.
The top-up is on the thin side, which is currently disappointing, and tastes just a bit sharp. I note that I added a bit too much tartaric acid pre-fermentation, and that is obvious in the taste.
The barrel sample is less sharp, just a bit, and has more body and a longer finish. Eric and I agreed that a year in the barrel will do good things to it.
We are also considering blending in some of the 2022 Rhone, which was the plan from the beginning. Next November we’ll bench test to see what we like. He was surprised when I mentioned that we can also blend in some of the Merlot/Grenache and Merlot/Tempranillo wines, if that is appropriate. While I don’t expect we’ll do this, it’s an option to explore.
Regarding acid, the 4 liter jug of Tempranillo top-up has a layer of tartrate crystals. Not a lot, but acid is precipitating. I have confidence the wine will improve with several months of storage at cellar temperature, which is 58 F (14.5 C).
Before I forget, we added a full 1.5 liters of wine to the barrel. This barrel is typically thirstier than the other one.
Next we sampled and topped the Grenache, doing the same thing — drawing a sample of both the barrel and a top-up wine.
We found the same thing in the jug, a light layer of tartrate crystals, although the Grenache doesn’t exhibit the sharpness of the Tempranillo.
The color difference we spotted in the Tempranillo is also evident in the Grenache. Being lighter in color, the difference was more obvious, but it’s still something noted only when comparing side-by-side.
Again, the barrel sample is a bit more tannic, but in terms of having better structure, not an overwhelming or unpleasant flavor. Just better. Note that this is without added oak cubes — this is just the concentration effect of being in a neutral barrel for 6 weeks. If nothing else did, this convinces me that barrel aging is worth it.
That said, I’m considering bottling 2 or 3 gallons of the top-up Grenache as a varietal. There are times when a light red is the ticket, and I can see wanting a glass of it on occasion. Note that this is a full-bodied red, well, as much as Grenache is, and is not a short-time fermented red.
I’m going to have to fight the urge to make Grenache again in 2023 — I have ideas regarding what I’d like to make, but if this comes out as good as I expect, the urge to make it again will be there.
Note: I have a “5 year plan”, which is to not make the same wine twice in a 5 year span. There are too many things to try, so this plan prevents me from doing the same thing over and over again. I get bored if I drink the same wine too much, so helps me maintain variety. However … one thought is to make Grenache as a main batch, and instead of Rhone grapes, use Bordeaux grapes (e.g., Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot) as the blending grape. My plan isn’t quite as limiting as it might appear.
After consideration, we added 2 oz medium toast Hungarian oak cubes to each barrel. The 2021 wines developed a more pronounced oak flavor, post-bottling, and while it’s not overpowering, it’s not what we wanted. We used 4.5 oz oak in each barrel, so we decided to cut way back. We can add more if we need to, but I’m guessing not.
Note: we added 1.5 bottles of wine to top the Grenache.
Topped the barrels for the first time. The two barrels evaporate at different rates, and I don’t know why. The Grenache took 750 ml wine to top, while the Tempranillo took 1.5 liters.
I was supposed to top the barrels in mid-February, but various things came up and it slipped my mind.
Each barrel took 1.5 liters of wine.
I reviewed my notes last week and realized I had not added K-meta to any of the wines since November or December. Conventional wisdom says to add K-meta every 3 months during bulk aging. However, there is evidence that time frame can be stretched, and doing so reduces the number of times the carboys must be opened. So I’m not worried.
I had yesterday off from work, so I decided to do it. Carboys are easy — sanitize a container and draw off enough wine to be able to stir gently the carboy with a stirring rod at low RPM. Stir the wine enough to set it in motion, add the K-meta (1/4 tsp per 19 to 23 liters of wine), and stir again. Add the reserved wine back to the carboy.
It’s my habit to use vented bungs for bulk aging, so I replace the bungs with cleaned-n-sanitized ones, and clean the ones I just removed.
Four liter jugs pose a problem, as it’s difficult to subdivide 1/4 tsp by 5 or 6, and near impossible to stir. I solve part of the problem by placing 6 Tbsp water in a sanitized cup, add 1/4 tsp K-meta, and stir to mix. I add 1 Tbsp of this liquid to each jug. I hope that it spreads enough to do the job.
Topped each barrel with 750 ml wine.
I messed up with the Grenache — I had 375 ml topup in a bottle and added it. I had another of Tempranillo, and without thinking I added it as well, thinking it was the Rhone blend. Oh, well, not a big deal in 55 liters of wine.