The Care and Feeding of your
Dateline: October 2020
Here are some observations and thoughts to follow-up on my previous notes:
I finally bottled my Chardonnay a few days ago. It had become beautifully clear without the need to add Bentonite. So, rather than to follow my earlier advise about doing so, I thought I should acknowledge the wine's own ability to clarify itself and leave well-enough alone. The wine tasted quite good and I'm looking forward to keeping its company on a regular basis once winter begins to set in.
So, if you haven't already bottled your Chardonnay and it's now pleasantly clear, go ahead and bottle it without adding any Bentonite. Please drop me note/email and let me know about your experience with your wine and, if you have already bottled the wine, tell me what you think of it.
Dateline: Mid January, 2020
Here are some observations and thoughts to follow-up on my previous notes:
The Chardonnay in my carboy had remained cloudy for some time. It was only recently that it had begun to clear. I would have placed the carboy out in the cold for a couple of nights to help clarify the wine if only the nights had been cold. But I'm sure our current warm spell won't last all winter and there will still be plenty of opportunity for chilling. By the way, it's okay to keep your carboy out in the cold down to a temperature of about 20° F and maybe even to 15° F. Below that, your Chardonnay will begin to freeze and your carboy may break.
So far, I have not followed my own advice to stir-up the sediment so that, according to probably well-founded theory, the sediment would help smooth out the wine. I have simply been too lazy to do so. I may still do that later on. One hesitation I have about stirring the sediment is that it would introduce oxygen to the wine and that might affect the taste of the wine. But if done carefully for just a couple of times, I'm sure the wine will be the better for it.
BASIC INSTRUCTIONS FROM UWE:
September, 2019: Now that you have your Chardonnay carboys at home, here's some tips:
Place an airlock on the carboy so that any remaining off-gasses will have way to get out.
Keep your carboy in a cool dark place (where the temperature doesn't fluctuate very much).
About every three to four weeks, stir the wine so that the dead yeast cells (the "lees" - or sediment on the bottom) get distributed throughout the wine. You want to have the lees around because they help smooth and mellow the white wine.
When the weather gets good and cold outside, bring your jug out to sit overnight. The cold temperature helps clarify the wine. You might want keep it outside for a night or two, but cover it with something that will keep the light out (especially sunlight).
You can think about bottling your wine by the end of spring or summer (or even longer, if you are so inclined).
About a month before bottling, add a Bentonite slurry. That's the stuff you make when you mix Bentonite powder with water. Instructions for doing so are given in the next paragraph. Bentonite is a common additive used to further help clarify and fine your wine. A packet of Bentonite powder was given to you when you got your carboy.
You have 6 grams of that powder per 5-gal juice you are getting. Prepare a Bentonite slurry by first dissolving the powder in water and storing it at 35°-45° F for a day before adding it to the wine (take a guess about much water you need to make the slurry). Once you have added the slurry, stir the wine so that the Bentonite and the lees get well distributed.
Stir one more time before bottling. But make sure you give the wine about two weeks settling time before you bottle.
Here is a link to some information about Bentonite:
If you think you will drink all of your wine within a year, you might want to avoid adding meta. Otherwise, at bottling time add about 1/4 tsp of meta per 5 gallons of wine—but keep one or two bottles out for more immediate consumption. For the rest of the bottles, wait at least two to four month before starting to drink them.
If you are interested in the history of your Chardonnay juice before you came to pick it up as wine, take a look at the next section.
The History of Our Chardonnay
Our wine making group has had a pent-up desire to make white wine for some time now. The white grapes that it takes to make a white wine have simply been absent in the repertoire of grapes we have been ordering. But, there's a good reason for that.
Red grapes from the west coast have always been in ample supply and the fresh grapes are relatively easy to ship. Once we receive the grapes, we crush them, ferment them for about a week, then press them and distribute the resulting wine in carboys for folks to take home or we place the wine in oak barrels to age for about a year.
But white wine is a little more complicated to make, especially when you have to order the grapes from so far away. To make white wine, you crush white grapes and immediately press them. In that way the juice does not get fermented in the presence of the grape hulls. This absence gives the wine a more delicate flavor and gives the wine a clear white color (something that white wine drinkers have come to expect).
But white grapes—especially Chardonnay grapes—do not ship well. They easily spoil along the way, even in a refrigerated truck. So they must be crushed and pressed as soon as they are picked.
That's no problem for wineries with their vineyards all around them. Once they are picked, crushed and pressed, the grapes immediately begin their fermenting process at the winery.
If you want to make the wine somewhere else —like 2,000 miles away—the distance from the grape-growing regions of California and Washington State to Chattanooga, Tennessee, you've got to be a little more inventive.
An accepted practice these days is for white grapes to be crushed and pressed near the site where they are grown and the juice placed in shipping containers. The juice is then refrigerated and shipped that way to its destination.
Our esteemed resident grape hunter and shipping guru, Mike Rawlston, has been on the lookout for outfits that provide such preparation and shipping services. In his search he has found that containers used for shipping the juice are much too large and heavy to be practical for our relatively small operation.
But recently he found an outfit in Washington State that places the juice in 50-gallon drums and freezes them. Such sized containers are perfect for us. What's more, the price of the Chardonnay grape juice that filled the drums seems reasonable. One possible cause for raising eye brows is that the drums have been sitting in the freezer for the past ten years. But we were guaranteed that frozen juice can keep forever.
So it was that on Monday, October 21 of this year, Mike commanded a Bob Cat along the streets of Saint Elmo to haul a pallet of four drums from a delivery truck to our warehouse (see pictures).
There the drums sat until the juice defrosted and Kay and Uwe added a yeast culture and yeast nutrients to start the fermentation. Once the fermentation was nearly done, a dose of malolactic bacteria was added to start the malolactic fermentation. That's a standard wine-making practice to convert the tartaric acid in the wine to lactic acid and thus reduce the tartness of the wine. (see more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malolactic_fermentation)
#1—After the juice was defrosted and before yeast was added, the sugar level measured 21° Brix and the pH was about 3.2 to 3.3. No reliable reading could be taken of the titratable acidity (TA) but the supplier wrote us that his measurement indicated a TA of 8.8. This seems a little high, but our induced malolactic fermentation should bring that down somewhat to a better level.
#2— A good article about making Chardonnay: https://winemakermag.com/article/making-chardonnay
#3—- and, of course, Wikipedia is often a useful and interesting source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chardonnay