Monday, April 23, 2012

Finished the work!

The time had come to filter Jack, then let sit for ten days prior to bottling. Well, truth be told, I'm behind schedule, so this was the day for my "revised" schedule.

I wasn't sure if I'd have anything interesting to say about filtering, after all, it's just filtering, right? Wrong.

About 7 or so liters in, I noticed that my filtering had really slowed down, and I was losing a lot of wine out of the drip tray, which I flow into my sink. I find the wine from the drip tray always tastes funny to me, so I choose not to keep it. Whether this is psychological or not remains to be seen, but we all have our quirks.

Nonetheless, I figured something was wrong with the filtration unit itself. It's second hand, and has been a little finicky from the start. Finally I wonderedif maybe the pads were clogged. I'd heard about this happening, but have never experienced it. Sure enough, they were coated with burgundy slime:

What the heck? This wine was clear, had sat for months....sigh. Insert new filter pads and keep going. After much toil, the wine was finally clear. The level of the wine, however, left much to be desired.

Prior to filtering, I had racked Jack to a primary, then back into the same carboy, so this is not a case of a different sized carboy. I had lost a substantial amount of wine down the sink.

So now I had a decision to make. Do I top up, wait the ten days as scheduled, or do I bottle sooner (to prevent spoilage) without topping up? There was a third, unappealing option of racking to a 5 gallon carboy and bottling the rest, but after fighting with the Mini jet that just sounded like a whole lot of work. I made the executive decision to bottle as soon as I could, and so about 48 hours later, bottled Jack.

And now at last, the taste test at the final bottling. I brought up a split each of the control and Tim from the cellar. Opened them, and decided to let them breathe for about half an hour.

First the swirl test. The control batch has lots of bubbles clinging to the side of the glass. Evidently not degassed enough. The other two have minimal bubbles.

Second, the smell test. The control batch smells quite strongly of that bubble gummy flavor affectionately known as "kit taste". Tim smells fairly hot, no other discernible smells. Jack also smells high alcohol, but there are some fruit notes coming through.

Third, taste. While the control batch smells "kit-y", the actual taste is not as bad as I would have thought. There's some oak and fruit back there, but at this stage the overall taste is still pretty thin. Tim tastes as hot as it smells, although there seem to be more tannins as well. I like tannin, so this is a good thing. Jack tastes pretty much like Tim.

My husband did a blind test of the three as well. His favorite was Tim, which he felt was still a little hot with a dry finish. His next choice was Jack, though he felt it was very hot with light tannin. Last choice for him was the control batch, which was somewhat hot, medium dry on the finish, and also light tannins. He felt that all of them exhibited red licorice notes.

So at present, I can draw no major conclusions, except that the longer time frames seem to produce a less gassy wine. Rather, I suspect that most kit wine makers likely bottle wines gassy if they bottle at the time specified on the direction. The wines that weren't gassy had much less "kit taste".

I'll be doing another taste test at the bench marks of one year, 18 months, and 2 years. And so now we wait....

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Well, naturally, I'm behind schedule.  Wine making is truly a procrastinator's hobby.  I SHOULD have completed the steps for Day 140 on the Jack batch about a month or more ago, but am now finally done.  I will say it took a lot longer to degas than Jack's instructions suggested.  Having said that, I've never found any kit instructions to really fess up to how long it takes to degas.  Usually I use a brake bleeder vacuum pump to degas, but in the interests of science, I decided to use my drill mounted whip on these 3 kits.

I needed to degas off and on for about 3 days to get Jack to an acceptable level. But now he is sitting in his carboy, waiting to be filtered in about a month. As for taste, it's still extremely young tasting, with a pronounced oak profile coming though.  I think I can taste the wine it will become somewhere in the background.

Less than 6 weeks to bottling!  Then the real waiting begins.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Day 56 through Day 97

Well, it's been awhile since there were any steps for me to complete in this experiment, and then in the end, due to work factors, I did one step rather late....sigh.

I was supposed to rack Jack on Day 80, but didn't manage to get to it until last night, on Day 97.  However, the wine now just bulk ages until Day 140, so I doubt this will change the results much. I was amazed by the amount of sediment in the bottom--this is the second racking since the fining agents were added and the sediment really seemed almost like a first racking off the fining agents.

The only other task in this phase of the experiment was to bottle Tim, which pretty much happened on schedule.  I filtered the wine, as I will do with all of them.  Bottle went as standard, until I popped in the last cork, and realized I'd neglected the 1/4 tsp of kmeta.  I'm willing to uncork them all, add a teeny amount of solution and recork if necessary.  Any thoughts on this?

Last up, the taste test.  I opened a half bottle of the kit batch to compare to the Tim batch.  I really wasn't expecting to see any results so quickly, but I already have some to share. The kit batch tastes pretty much as it did at bottling, the bubblegummy, green taste that so many young wines have.  It's really hard to distinguish any flavours beyond that, as the taste of young wine is so overpowering.  Then I took a sip of Tim, expecting an identical taste.  The flavours were so much softer, well rounded.  I wouldn't have thought they were the same kit.  Tim tastes much closer to "ready".  The bubblegum flavour is still there, but much farther in the background.

This first taste reaffirms my belief in bulk aging most kits, at least for a little while.  Now I can't wait for the experiment to continue, but there are 3 more months before another bottling--and another taste test--occurs.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 32 through Day 55

Alright, time for an update.  The issue with the bentonite floaties in the Jack batch went away on its own in a couple of days; the floaties dropped as I stirred a bit more. The wine started clearing beautifully, and it was racked off the the sediment around Day 45 as required.  I have to rack this wine again around Day 80, so we now have some down time on this batch. 

As for the Tim batch, it was racked off the sediment as well, but a few days late, as it took some time to degas, and I followed the 20 day clearing from after the degassing had been done. Tim is now bulk aging for 50 days, and will be bottled shortly before Christmas.

The real activity has been with the control batch.  After 14 days of clearing, then 8 more days of rest, it was time to bottle.  As someone who generally bulk ages my reds, this seemed like a really short time frame.  The instructions had me examine the wine in good light to check for clarity:

It was nice and clear, but as previously decided would happen to all the batches, I went ahead and filtered it.

I got exactly 30 bottles out of the batch, so I definitely have some Mexican carboys mixed in with my Italian ones.  Since I was concerned about this, I put the other two batches into Mexican carboys when I racked them, so total top up shouldn't change much from batch to batch and muck up my findings.

But what matters at this stage is the taste test!  Naturally, this is still an extremely young wine, and so has that green "kit" taste that they all have at this stage.  However, this kit tasted better at bottling than a cheapie wine kit (my first--a Paklab Onyx V Australian Shiraz) tasted at 18 months.  Ergo, I have pretty high hopes for this kit once it gets some age on it. The oak profile is lower than I expected with 4 packets of oak, but it is there.  I have found that some kits get more oaky as they age, so I'm curious to see how this develops. 

I also plan to break into a bottle of the Control when I bottle Tim and compare, then do the same when I bottle Jack, although that time I'll have to open a bottle of Tim and a bottle of Control.  Goodness sake's,  I have a lot of wine drinking in my future.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Day 15 through Day 31

Whew!  It's been a few days of hectic wine making!

I stabilized and fined the control batch on Day 18 and began degassing, SG was at 0.996.  I'm not entirely sure my degassing efforts have succeeded, but more on that later. This batch is going to the schedule on the instructions, with just a day or so deviation.  It does seem to be clearly very nicely, which Winexpert's instructions say it won't do if improperly degassed, but that may not be an absolute.

The Tim batch was the next to receive this treatment, on Day 26, at a SG of 0.996, unsurprisingly. Of course, as noted earlier, this carboy was nearly full, so I had to thief some wine so that I had degassing room.

This too went well, and again, though I'm not sure the wine is fully degassed, it is clearing.

On Day 28, as per Jack's instructions, I checked the specific gravity--it was at 0.996!  I'm so shocked!  At the very least, I have confirmed the consistency of Winexpert's kits.

Day 29 was a very busy day.  Mark, my husband, was very patient as I ran around trying to coordinate all the experiment efforts, as well as deal with some tasks with a couple of other wines I have on the go.  First, the Control batch needed to be racked.  It has cleared fairly substantially, so time to get it off the sediment as per instructions.  I also had to rack a couple of fruit wines, and as per Jack's instructions, mix my bentonite in a blender:

Despite the Winexpert's instructions to add this upfront, I thought I should add this when Jack specified, so I also used his blender method in the instructions.  I will suggest to all of those out there that you proceed carefully with this step--boiling water + a blender is not for the faint of heart.  I also thought it interesting that Jack recommends 1 tbsp of bentonite, whereas the kit had about 1.5 tbsp.

I've been looking forward to Day 30 since I started the experiment, and it did not disappoint.  This is the day when all of the wines get to the stabilization point.  Jack, in particular, has been on the gross lees and oak since Day 1, as the primary and secondary were the same vessel. 

Having said that, I will also state that the experiment has reached it's first major hiccup.  Here are the directions for Day 30 that I followed for the Jack batch:

Using a sanitized hydrometer, again check the specific gravity of the must. Note the specific gravity. If the value has not dropped since Day 28, move on to stabilization.
  • If the specific gravity has dropped since Day 28, reattach the airlock and allow further fermentation. Check the gravity on a daily basis until it remains unchanged for 2 consecutive days.
  • Stabilization and Fining:
    • Add the contents of the bag marked stabilizer or potassium metabisulfite to an empty, sanitized, 6-gallon carboy. If the latter, add 3 teaspoons of potassium sorbate along with the potassium metabisulfite.
    • Rack the wine from its original carboy into the new carboy, leaving the lees behind.
    • Degass the wine by stirring it vigorously for 3 minutes. Wait 15 minutes and stir it again, vigorously, for 3 minutes.
    • If making a white wine, add the bentonite slurry which you prepared on Day 29. If possible, mix the slurry in your blender for about 2 minutes on high just before adding.
    • If making a red wine, add the packet marked Kieselsol from a Wine Art Claro K-C red wine finings package (may not be included).
    • Stir vigorously for 4 minutes.
    • Top up with a similar, dry wine and reattach your airlock.
So SG was unchanged, so I added the kmeta and sorbate to the carboy and racked.  I was expecting a huge mess of lees, as the oak was still in there, but it really wasn't that bad.

Then I degassed as instructed.  It took awhile for the foam to come down to the point that the carboy could accommodate the 1 quart bentonite slurry, but I eventually got it in.  As the fining agent in these kits is a 1 part agent, I added it when the kiesolsol was to be added. Then, as per the instructions, I degassed, albeit slowly as the carboy was pretty full at this point.

That's when all hell broke loose.

Floaties?  What the heck is that?  There were definite "clumps" floating around in my wine, and rising to the top. 

What is going on?  Another view:

Now, I realized that to follow Jack's instructions, I had to deviate from the standard instructions in a big way.  And truthfully, except for the floaties, the wine is really very clear now.  So like all inconveniences, I decided to see if it would go away if I ignored it : "Maybe it will be perfectly fine tomorrow."

Well, it's not:

I really don't want to top it up until I know what's going on, or if I should rack it, or what (?).  If anyone has any input, I welcome it, and hopefully Tim will weigh in as well, as he's designed how these kits work.  But truthfully, right now I have a carboy of wine with strange sludge on top, and I really hope this batch is not destined for the sink drain. A quick smell check gave no off odors.

Also, I'd be interested, given that I really don't think the other two wines are fully degassed, who thinks I should deviate from my original plan of not using my break bleeder on these wines.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Day 2 through 15

So I've been a bit lax in my blogging of the experiment due to a family emergency, but I have been progressing according to schedule on the wine front. 

On Days 2 and 3, I left the control batch and Tim batch alone as the instructions indicate.  Fermentation was not foamy, as I usually see with Winexperts kits, but lots of movement and little bubbles.  The Jack batch I had to stir daily, and remove the cheesecloth closure and attach an airlock at the end of Day 2, which I did.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I did not manage to rack the Tim batch into a carboy on Day 5.  However, Tim mentions in his article regarding the extended time frame that his Day 5 transfer to the secondary is arbitrary, so I decided it would be okay to transfer both the Control batch and the Tim batch to the secondary on Day 7.

On Day 7, the specific gravity (SG) of the control was 0.996, and the Tim batch was 0.997.  High time to get those wines to the secondary!  Interestingly enough, the Tim batch filled up more of its carboy than the control batch.  This leads me to believe that the 23L marking on my primary is incorrect. To compensate for this inconsistency, I've decided to top up all the wines with water, something I don't normally do.  However, Tim Vandergrift, who is involved with the making of the wine kits, says they make them 4% stronger than necessary, so that topping up with water is alright. 

As for the Jack batch, the SG was at 0.998 on Day 7, so I began to add my room temperature one gallon of reserve must at a rate of 1 quart every 15 minutes.

Beyond that, there hasn't been a lot of activity in the experiment.  I will be beginning to degas, stabilize and clear the control batch in a couple days, and 5 days later, begin the same on the Time batch.  For the Jack batch, I don't have to do anything until Day 28.  This means a lot more contact with the gross lees, and the oak is all still in there, although chips usually give up their flavor very quickly.

The Tim and the Control batch visually look the same at this point, but the Jack Keller deviates dramatically.  It's got foam on top, and is a much more murky color--and thus lighter in color--than the other two, which are very inky.  The picture below doesn't quite illustrate the difference, but one wouldn't think they were the same wine started at the same time.

More to report in a couple days as I begin degassing. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Day One: The Experiment Begins

After a marathon 4 hours of wine making, I am finally sitting down to a glass of Winexpert's California Trinity White, and my first blog post.  Ahhhh!  Delightful!

This blog has come about after I proposed an experiment on the incredible forum.  The proposal was to take three identical wine kits, make one exactly according to the instructions, then make the other two according to two other wine kit "schedules":  the first proposed by Tim Vandergrift of Winexperts, and the second espoused by Jack Keller, a Texan of noted wine fame in both grapes and other fruit. Tim's schedule is 90 days until bottling, Jack's is 180. 

The chosen kit is a 6 week kit: Winexpert's Selection International Australian Shiraz. All have had the yeast pitched within 2 hours of each other. The overall idea behind the experiment is to determine which time frame/method actually produces the best wine.  I will have a number of personal tastings, then have an "official" tasting with about 10 people at the two year mark.

Before I continue, I must credit a few folks.  This experiment could not have taken place without the generosity of Tim Vandergrift and Harvest Brewing in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. To my utter delight, they provided the wine kits for this experiment.  All the lot numbers on the packaging are within about 15 digits, so we are definitely comparing apples to apples.

The various instructions or rather "tweaks" in the case of the two extended schedules have their own differences.  Tim Vandergrift's instructions deviate negligibly from the standard instructions (which, to be fair, he writes) with the exception of time frames.  Jack Keller's set of instructions, however, deviates on many levels.  In an effort to compare the methods as fairly as possible, I am trying to follow each list of instructions to the letter.  For example, on both the "Control" (aka: kit instructions) and the "Tim" batch, I had to add bentonite to the primary.  Since Jack's instructions do not call for the addition of any bentonite until Day 29, I did not add it at the time of yeast pitching.  Additionally, both "Tim" and "Control" batches are fermented in a primary fermenter, whereas Jack's instructions have one ferment in a carboy with one gallon held in reserve until vigorous fermentation subsides. 

A few personal notes:
  • Holy oak Batman!  Each kit contained 60 grams of toasted, and 60 grams of "premium" (read: untoasted) oak. I've not personally seen this much oak in a kit, but I'm interested.  I like oak.
  • Jack Keller's schedule is really fussy and is much more involved than standard kit instructions.  His directions were 5 pages (!) long after printing.  Having said that, if it makes a much better wine, I'm not complaining.  Plus I've never fermented in a carboy, only a plastic "primary fermenter" so that's an immediate interest factor.
  • One of my main concerns is making sure everything is degassed properly.  That can affect many perceptions in wine.  However, I'm also determined to play by the instructions, so I'm not using my brake bleeder in this experiment. If anyone would like to come over and help stir "vigorously", let me know.
  • Another concern is to keep each wine distinguished from one another.  Careful labelling of all the additives, primaries, carboys, etc, will definitely be necessary.
  • I will filter each wine. As a formal tasting will take place after a suitable amount of time, I do not want appearance to be affecting the tasting panel's perception.
If you would like to read the schedules I am following for each batch of wine, I have provided links below:

Control Batch instructions
Tim's Instructions in an excellent article
Jack Keller's Schedule

Here is a picture of all the inclusions for the kit:

And a picture of the three kits ready for yeast:

Now make sure the correct things happen to the correct wines on the correct days!