After the must had soaked and temps started to rise, I went about fixing the sugar and pH problems I was facing. As I mentioned in the last post, 27.5 Brix is remarkably high. This is especially true for fruit picked on September 1st.
Clearly something needed to be done, otherwise I would be looking down the barrel of a pinot with alcohol approaching 16% alcohol. Besides being waaay too hot, there aren’t many pinot friendly yeast strains that can survive ethanol levels of over 15% to ferment a must that sweet to dryness.
So, how did I go about solving these dire problems? The gritty details follow.
Jesus Units To The Rescue!
Currently there are two ways that winemakers address a high sugar situation:
1) Re-hydrate by adding back water that was lost due to the high temps just before harvest
2) Reverse Osmosis (RO) removal of alcohol after fermentation.
Given the choice between the two options above, for me the decision was easy. RO is rough on wine, and pinot doesn’t seem to take to it like the more robust varieties like Cab and Zin do. Plus, to my way of thinking, adding water is really no different than irrigating through a hot spell to combat berry desiccation.
Since I wanted to preserve the red fruit flavors, letting the grapes hang and irrigating wasn’t an option. But re-hydrating the berries after picking accomplishes the same goal. Water through the roots or water in the must – in the end it’s all still water.
The basic rule of thumb when re-hydrating must is to add 7 gallons of distilled water per ton of grapes to drop it one degree Brix. To ensure that the flavors we worked so hard to grow in the vineyard weren’t diluted, I first saignÃ©ed (bled) off 1.5 times the amount of juice. The water addition was done in 50% increments and tests were run to make sure things were on target. At the end of the process we had a must with a Brix reading of 25.5, right on the button. And there was much rejoicing.
The pH adjustment was dealt with at the same time by adding tartaric acid to the water prior to the re-hydration. Another rule of thumb: in general, 1 g/l of tartaric acid will drop must 0.1 pH. The key trick here is to properly estimate the volume of finished wine you’ll have from a given weight of fruit. Which leads us to another rule of thumb: 1 ton of grapes will provide you with anywhere from 140 to 160 gallons of finished wine. Again, making 50% additions helps to ensure you don’t over or undershoot your target.
So that’s it! A few easy additions and my must was sitting pretty with 25.5 Brix and a pH of 3.4, just like I wanted. Incidentally, I got an email this morning from a grower up north in the Willamette Valley that I’m friendly with. Marcia and I exchange emails every once in a while and her take on the local scene up there is always fascinating. Hopefully she’ll start her blog soon, and we can all read about her farming adventures first hand.
Anyway, Marcia correctly predicted that I’d use “Jesus units” (water addition) to cure my must’s sweet tooth. As you can see, in the grand scheme of winemaking problems you might face, high sugar is probably one of the easiest things to fix. And as a cool bonus doing so has little to no effect on the concentration of the flavors in your must. Good times.
The Story Continues
Tomorrow join me as I take you on a quick tour of the fermentation choices I made with this year’s fruit. If you’re a purist I guarantee you’ll be shocked at one of the super-spoofulicious decisions I made. Also, I’ve put off any big announcements until this ’07 recipe series is finished, but I think folks on the samples list will be pleased when my plans for this year’s wine are finally unveiled. See you tomorrow.
P.S. if any of you are scratching your head wondering what spoofulation means, be sure to check out Jeff’s comprehensive analysis of the term over at his excellent blog Good Grape. Thanks Jeff!