I went into winemaking because I really believed we could do it better. I’m not a visionary as some of my dear friends are but I do believe there is an absence of passion in the winemaking community. I would never begrudge a person who wants to make their own wine but if it’s just to start a business and make money then I have some advice. There is little money in it so do something else! And if it’s to just start a business and you have no passion then I would pass. Making wine is hard work and it doesn’t stop at harvest. Without the passion and without the knowledge of great wine you’re just another person in the room and we have plenty of those. I am not trying to be harsh, just calling it as I see it!
Now as it pertains to winemaking and alcohol levels, let’s throw in some facts! I believe, as many do, that you get more from less when it pertains to sugar levels in grapes: more fruit flavors, much more expressive and expansive on the palate, a full spectrum of flavors from the lighter red fruits to the darker purple, more in the way of earth, floral aspects, minerality, colas, soy, anise and so on. When you pick at higher brix (the measurement of sugar) and higher Ph levels, you will produce wine with higher alcohol. Remember the basic chemistry here, yeast eats sugar and produces alcohol. The more sugar then obviously the more alc… With riper fruit you get into riper flavors and eliminate many of the subtle more delicate ones from the mix. Yes you can rehydrate (the adding of water to lower the sugar) this most certainly will work in reducing the finished alc. However, it will not retrieve what was lost in the phenolic. You can’t wash away the ripe flavor; it’s already too late. This is at the very core of what’s going wrong out there.
Some, because of scores or because that’s how they’ve always done it, can’t see clear of another way. I freely admit that there was a time when we planted to the wrong root stock and more importantly the wrong clones. But today we have corrected many of those errors and have the raw material to make World Class Wines, if one has the will and is unafraid to do the work and has the passion. Lower alcohols allow you to use native yeast because they finish. Cultivated yeast are not indigenous to the area or the varietal in some cases. It changes the flavor dramatically. The reason they’re used is convenience, and more to the point they require little risk. They will finish meaning the wine will go dry, plus they go quickly lowering the risk of other problems. But without risk in winemaking there is little reward in my opinion. Lower alcohols will not burn out the fuse? Meaning that the higher the alcohol the better chance of killing the yeast before finishing it’s fermentation. With the addition of some of these so called super yeast little in the way of worry remains. Sounds like a factory to me! Tell me what the heck’s wrong with better wine with lower alcohols in a society that is scrutinizing our every move. If you go to a restaurant with your date, it would be nice to finish the bottle you paid for and not worry about driving. Not to mention with a heck of lot more enjoyment!
Another sure fire way to screw up or as I see it, miss your mark, is fermentation temperatures. It’s convenient to use T-bins in the winemaking process for many small producers. A T-bin consists of a square container constructed of ply wood mounted on wants akin to a palate as a stand and then you drop in a plastic liner. We have used these T-bins in the past and they work if proper precautions are taken. Now we use them very sparingly only when necessary, which is rarely, if at all. Instead, we use fermenters made from stainless steel that have glycol jackets surrounding the tank. This allows instant cooling when needed. The problem with T-bins is you must watch over them meaning a twenty four seven approach. If they get too hot then you need to add something to cool them such as dry ice. Sadly most winemakers only use dry ice in the beginning, if at all, and the fermentations always go hot. Some exceeding 110 degrees. Our tanks are designed with a temperature gauge that allows the monitoring of each fermentation. Normally they start between 55 and 60 degrees and never exceed 75 degrees.
Why all the fuss? Simple. The hotter the temperatures the more likely you are to burn off flavors you want and give you what you don’t want. All the work for that entire year in the vineyard. Dropping of fruit, the day to day struggle with Mother Nature and then you reap the the reward by over heating the wine and your left with burnt and cooked flavors. You loose the freshness along with all the great flavors already discussed. You also pull out harsh tannins and not the sweet complex ones you crave. Yes, temperature is important and yes, it takes an effort but it shows up. So back to the beginning. If you’re making wine in your garage, on a small basis at a custom crush facility or you go for it all and produce enough to make a living then do it right. Be passionate and you will get much more in return.
That’s my take, but you may have your own?
Drink more, drink better, from less,