The Zin Begins

Previously I have made, together with another grad student, both strawberry and cherry wine. The strawberry wine has come out at least passably well each time. The cherry wine, not so much–there was a “mis-under-estimation” having to do with the amount of acidity, and it came out quite sour. We managed to salvage the wine by turning it into jelly. Now, however, much bolder plans are afoot: real, honest-to-goodness, made-from-grapes wine. One of the benefits of living right next to wine country (full disclosure: all of California considers itself “wine country”) is that you can get fresh, local, cruelty-free, fair-trade grapes. In my case, through the CCHVA grape-buying coop. So, without a clue as to what I was doing, I placed an order for one hundred pounds of zinfandel grapes and one hundred pounds of syrah grapes. (I should add that my father and I are going into this as partners. He’s the angel investor and I’m the boots on the ground. Yes, yes, it’s soooo cute, I know, and it’s father and son, just make the damn Judd Apatow movie and get over it.)

I’m about 1/3 following a recipe and 2/3 making it up as I go along. The closest thing to a recipe I’m using is the Zinfandel focus article from Winemaker Magazine (the red one). The hard copy issue that my in-laws gave me for my birthday also has been very helpful (thanks, Mary and Taylor!).

I got a call on Monday that we’d be getting the grapes on Thursday, 1pm. (Good thing I don’t have a real job.) The grapes are from Margarita Vineyards, the crush was in Orcutt, CA (i.e. small-town California) and the crusher-destemmer machine was awesome. After removing the stems, I got 90 lbs of must (grapes + juice), or about 8 to 10 gallons. The sugar measurement came to 25 brix at the crush (that’s about 1.106 specific gravity for you beer brewers out there), and I did a little home-titration that measured the acidity at 0.615%. (The coop took some to a lab and got a pH of 3.52 and 0.638% acidity–it appears my home-TA-kit is not that bad.)

Thursday afternoon (once I got home), I added 1/2 tsp potassium metabisulfite (shooting for 50 ppm) to kill any wild yeasts or bacteria (hopefully), and 4 tsp pectic enzyme for a poor-man’s maceration. (Maceration is the process of extracting goodies from the grape skins, i.e. what makes red wine red wine.)

The Primary Fermentation Vessel, aka 20 gallon trash can from Home Depot

After waiting 24 hours for maceration / settling, I pitched the yeast (Friday evening, now). The yeast I got was Wyeast 4946 Zinfandel–it’s got zinfandel in the name, so it’s got to be the right one, right? I measured almost 27 brix (1.114 gravity) right before pitching. So there could be a good amount of alcohol in this wine.

The sugar reading. We are about two ticks past the "10" line. Each tick is 2, so we're at 1,100 + 10 + 4 = 1.114 specific gravity. This is equivalent to 26.8 brix.

Currently I’m at the stage where I have to punch down the cap twice a day with a sanitized cap-punching instrument. I’m going to start taking readings to see how fermentation is going. Wish me luck!

There it is, in all its sickly sweet, sticky glory.

I must finally add a word of thanks to my ever-suffering wife, for being wonderfully accommodating as I bring a trash can full purple sugar-water into our tiny apartment. She’s the best.


2 thoughts on “The Zin Begins

  1. Sorry I can’t be more help, aside from being the family kickstarter. I’m glad a real scientist is doing all these readings that make no sense to me.

  2. Pingback: Yogurt | Black Holes for Breakfast

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