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Wine with Natasha – Prologue

A bright & sunny vineyard with ripe red wine grapes. Under the grapes there is text saying "Learning Wine Season 2020."


It’s wine time and I work in one of the world’s most amazing wine supply shops in one of the world’s most amazing wine regions. I enjoy wine. So, reasonably, people think I have extensive knowledge of making wine. They assume I make great wine. And they are, sadly, not totally correct. I’ve only attempted to make wine once so far, and I am not confident that wine will be good, much less great. 

I don’t really know how to make wine. Yet.

Last Year

My only experience making wine came last year, when I lucked into enough grapes to make about three gallons of a Malbec and Cabernet Franc blend. I carefully punched down the skins twice a day for ten days, then racked it into a three-gallon glass carboy, and then sat back to wait for the next step. I was pretty sure the next step was malolactic fermentation (“MLF”), but I didn’t know for sure and I didn’t know when to start it if that was the next step.

Then my life got rather topsy-turvy, and in all honesty I didn’t think about that wine again until about January of this year. And our expert, Tom, told me to rack it into a new carboy, sulfite it  and not expect too much. I followed his directions, and (as one always should) I sampled the wine as I moved it.

It isn’t vinegar*. I think that’s the best thing I can say about what I made. I currently have not quite three gallons of flabby, insipid, alcoholic grape juice. Some of this, undoubtedly, is that Cabernet blends require a substantial amount of aging**. But no doubt some is the result of my forgetting the wine for months. (I still haven’t managed the MLF.) Finally, I also think some of that is that I didn’t so much choose a yeast basically because the person who gave me a few grapes shrugged and said, “Use this one,” handed it to me, and wandered off. (I used Red Star Premier Classique.)

Three wine glasses on a stark white backround. The middle is on its side and has red wine gently lying in the bowl of the glass. It is not spilled. The image says "Goals!" in handwriting.

This Year

This year, I’m going to do it differently. This year, I’m going to do it intentionally. This year, I’m doing some research (mostly picking Tom’s brain and reading the things he writes and our copies, new and old, of Wine Maker Magazine) before I buy grapes or juice. Then more research as I work and things ferment. (Tom will be fielding questions from me for months, and I’ll be reading Wine Maker Magazine or the various books we carry) And this year, I’ll document the technique(s) here on the F.H.S. blog. Hopefully this year will be a great deal better.

But I’ll be learning publicly, and so any successes or trip-ups will be documented here.

Socially Distant Together?

I’ll announce the grapes I’m buying next week. I’ll post If anyone wants to do a ferment-a-long, comment here. Anyone who wants to do so is welcome, newbies and experts alike. And it’d be fun, I think, to hear how others’ fermenting is going. Maybe we can build a little wine community and stay safely socially distant. (Thanks 2020.)

Join or not, I hope you’ll follow along. If you have comments, feel free to share them. Or let us know your thoughts on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.

*This is of extra concern for me because my favorite thing to make is actually vinegar.

**I did not know this when I started this project.

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Drop Acid? Raise Acid? Only Testing Can Tell You.

Acid Test Kit, including sodium hydroxide, for testing acidity of wine

Tom is all over this blog right now, as it is absolutely time to talk wine all the time. In this piece, he gives the best tips on how to use an acid test kit and why you absolutely should use one.

The first time I made wine was in 1970 when our very old plum tree put out 12 bushels of ripe fruit.  The previous year had been just as productive and everyone in the family was tired of canned plums and jam. Dad suggested I make wine, as I was the only one in the family who liked wine much. Figuring I might as well, I hit a store called WineArt Oregon on Broadway Blvd. Ann McCullum, the proprietor, insisted I get a hydrometer, air lock, carboy, yeast, acid blend and (importantly) an acid testing kit.  She instructed me this kit was the best way to make sure the acidity in my wine was balanced and flavor enhancing.

I have used an acid test kit regularly since.

Why Acid Matters

Acidity is what gives wine the wonderful, refreshing flavor that makes us desire another glass.  Without acid wine is flat and insipid.  Furthermore, without acidity, wine will not keep as well. The acid level that is required is about 0.5% or higher.  You will need at least 0.6% and above for a good crisp white wine and even more about 0.75% for sweetened dessert wines. All wines run a high risk of spoilage from bacterial contamination. Acidity is key to reducing contamination risk. Finally, if you are considering malolactic fermentation (“MLF”) for your wine, you will need to know the total acidity (“TA”) of your wine. Otherwise you might have too much acid for the malolactic cultures to survive, or so little acid that the cultures strip away the very acid you need.

How do we know just how high or low our wine’s acid is?  By testing it.  Remember, sugar masks acid very well so just tasting the fruit, juice, or must we have will fool us, because they will be at least 20% sugar.

Tips for Acid Testing

The acid test kit we carry is a color change titration type test.  A titration test works roughly in the same way as the iconic “science fair project” volcano; it uses the reaction that ensues when combining acidic and alkaline ingredients, but for decision making instead of volcanic activity. So, when the sodium hydroxide (“NaOH”) from the kit is carefully added to wine, juice, or must in specified amounts a color change happens. When the color becomes either magenta or green (depending on wine type) we are done. The kit itself has very good instructions so I will not go into any further detail.  However, there are a few tips for best practices I would like to pass along, based on my years of experience.

First, make sure your base is fresh for the season.  Replace it with the like kind solution that came with the kit. (Our kits use a .01N NaOH solution.) If the solution is stale, your reading will be way off. The results aren’t pretty. I made a wine once that had over 1.5% acid when I thought it had 0.72% acid. I didn’t catch myself as I kept adding acid blend until I thought, “this just can’t be right” then it was too late. There was no way for me to save it. I had to dump it.

Even when you’ve got totally fresh reagents for your kit, bear in mind that it’s very easy to overshoot the color changes you’re looking for to get proper acidity. To test, you will be adding NaOH in 1 milliliter increments of reagent with a syringe. Swirl and mix in well each addition.

The color change for all white or very light colored musts (including red grape musts that haven’t been on the skins for any time yet) will be a pale pink shade.

For red-colored musts dilute the must with an equal amount of water.  Then look for a change into a grayish purple tint as you add the NaOH. Once there you are done.

Here is an easy way to keep track of color changes in any must: when you make up your beaker of must for testing, make a duplicate in a similar sized glass.  Then you can compare the musts as the color changes. By comparing them you will see the color change more accurately. Small tasting cups  or 100 mL beakers are perfect. You need to be able to swirl them vigorously.  When you’re pretty sure what the acid level is? Test it once more to be sure.

When you’re absolutely sure of your wine’s TA, it’s time to decide what acid adjustments you need to make and how you want to make them. For brevity’s sake, I am not going into much in the way of details in this piece. I will save that for another piece.  What I will say is that many ways of adjusting TA in wine require a small scale that can do fractions of a gram. The adjustments will be all grams per liter, so you need accuracy (and possibly to brush up on metric units!) for the best possible results. An acid test kit is a valuable tool you should use.


It is impossible for your grapes to become the best possible wine they can become without you knowing their acid levels from day one. Ann McCullum did not steer me wrong 50 years ago, and now I strive to do the same for you. Use an acid test kit for all your future wines, whether they are grape wines, fruit wines, or honey wines.

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Tom’s Tips for Techniques

A cluster of green grapes for white wine.
Tom wrote a couple handouts for the 2020 wine season and beyond. As useful as handouts are, we know it’s also incredibly helpful to have the information easily accessible online. So, with slight editing, we are putting this information up as resources for everyone. They go in order of when to use them.

Wine Production Techniques Guide

The Cold Soak and the Skin Soak

The cold soak is used on a lot of red grape varieties, as it allows the stubborn skin pigments to become dissolved in the juice and thus provide a richer color. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Pinot Noir is the most prominent grape it’s used for. The skin soak is, in effect, the same technique as the cold soak but is is much shorter, as is appropriate for white wines. Soaking on the skins before pressing is a technique that provides a lot of fruity character, and the must will acquire more tannin. Bonus? The grapes will also give up more juice when pressed.

The grapes must be perfect. Broken skins, mold, bunch rot, or dirt cannot be allowed for a cold or skin soak. Infections will raise their ugly heads. Always use pectic enzyme and sulfite (SO2) your must to at least 30 parts per million (ppm) to avoid any wild fermentation.

For white grapes, once they are crushed and have had the pectic enzyme and SO2 added, simply allow them to sit on their skins for 2 – 12 hours. You can chill this must, but it is not required. However, chilling red must to about 50℉ is vital. Once chilled, allow the must to soak for about three days at 50F or lower.

The easiest way for small-batch winemakers to cold soak is to freeze water in a couple of plastic gallon milk jugs. (Make sure the jugs don’t split, so you don’t dilute the must.) Alternate jugs between the freezer and the must as needed to keep the temperature low. Remember to also punch down the grape skins once or twice a day, as this will not only release CO2 but also help keep the temperature of the must even. Keep your fermentor covered to prevent the escape of the SO2.

If any signs of wild fermentation show up in either soak, immediately cease the cold soak. Pitch your yeast and warm everything up to fermentation temperature.

After the cold soak, slowly raise the temperature to fermentation temperature and proceed.

Warming Up Must

Even though it’s 100℉ as I type this, I know we will receive our grapes in colder weather. (It might be downright icy at times.) Use the method I detailed above to raise the temperature in your fermentor, but use hot tap water instead of frozen jugs. Keep changing the warm jugs until you reach your fermentation temperature. Then wrap the fermentor with a FermWrap or an electric blanket and place it in a warmer room.

Note: If you have more than 100 pounds of must in a single fermentor, it will start to generate noticable heat on its own. Keep an eye on the wine so it does not get over 80℉ and thus ferment too fast. This will reduce the quality of the final wine.

Tips for Pressing Off Juice/Wine

A red #20 yoke-style fruit press with stainless steel basket.
A heavy fruit press in iron and stainless steel. Presses come in many sizes and styles.

Advice abounds on how to avoid excessive tannin when pressing grapes for wine. However when you make small batches of wine at home using the typical basket press, you will not have problems pressing off too much tannin. That said, there are other things to consider.

For example, you may decide to ferment the free flow wine separately from the pressed wine. (“Free flow” is the what flows out of the press before any pressure is applied.) The pressed wine will mature faster than the free flow wine and be much lighter in body and flavor. I don’t think it’s worth the effort unless you can get more than fifteen gallons of free-flow wine. Then you will get about three gallons of pressed wine.

Make sure you have a good-sized sieve that can fit into a one-gallon or two-gallon bucket and will together fit under the press spout. You’ll also want a funnel that will be big enough to handle the flow from the bucket into the carboy. Don’t skimp on funnel size! If you do, there will substantial slop and spills and wine loss.

Related, remember that pressing off is sloppy work no matter your funnel size. So make sure the press and the fermentor are in an area you can clean up easily by hosing it down.

Malolactic Fermentation

Many of the world’s best red wines go through malolactic fermentation (“MLF”). This is not a yeast fermentation but a bacterial one, and little alcohol is produced. MLF occurs when malolactic bacteria convert malic acid to lactic acid. Malic acid is a harsh acid of unripe fruit like green apples, and lactic acid is that softer “tang” found in cheese or yogurt. You will typically want MLF in any red where a finished softness of acidity and an ability to age well is desired.

However if your grapes are overripe and thus have a low acid level to begin with, MLF can make a flaccid and dull tasting wine that ages less well than you desire. What fruitiness was in the wine before MLF will be gone and the stabilizing acidity will be dramatically lowered. At this point, avoid MLF and increase the acidity of the must.

Most red wines will benefit from MLF, but it’s considered an infection in some wines. It’s particularly undesirable if you want a fruit-forward wine like LembergerRiesling, Muscat or most Chardonnays. (Big, buttery Chards can, and often do, undergo MLF but grapes appropriate for that style rarely come from the PNW.)

For MLF to occur the must should have the following characteristics:

  • Total acidity (TA) no less than 0.070 but no more than 1.00
  • pH no less than 3.3 but no more than 3.7
  • a specific gravity (SG) of 1.05 or below
  • SO2 of less than 30ppm

Typically, all of this information should be given to you when you receive your grapes or juice. Sometimes, though, all you get is the TA and pH. In that case, use your hydrometer to get the SG. The SO2 is what you add. Measure carefully.

If you need to adjust your acid up or down, please see our must adjustment handout. If you need to add acid be sure it’s tartaric acid. This is the acid of balanced wines. If your grape juice or must is over 1.00 TA, you got very under ripe grapes that are sour. Even with careful measurement, your TA and SG will be off (at that point, the acid content can mask sugar content). Unless it is or has been a horrifically cold and wet fall, don’t repurchase those grapes. Find a different grower.

Malolactic cultures come in a variety of forms, and you can add them at different times depending on your desires and schedule. You can add them at the tail end of primary fermentation or after the wine is in the carboy for secondary fermentation. Be aware, though, that the longer you delay adding the malolactic bacteria, the harder it will be for MLF to complete. This is because once primary fermentation ends, you will be adding SO2 regularly (up to 50 ppm), and typically your fermentation temperatures will be dropping. MLF occurs best in warm, low oxygen environments. And SO2 is added in large part to prevent bacterial growth, so MLF is caught in that. In a cooler environment with more SO2, MLF will be slow and may take months to finish. This is why if you want to prevent MLF, or any other bacterial invasion, you add SO2 to your wine regularly after every racking and before bottling.

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How to Choose the Right Wine Yeast

Wine grapes, table grapes, and a glass of red wine. This is goals.

It’s not always obvious, but the yeast choice a person makes to ferment a beverage is extremely vital to the flavor of the final beverage. Some yeasts are “clean”, meaning they do not contribute much (if anything) to the flavor of the wine. Others produce a number of phenolics and esters, the type of which can elevate your fermentation or clash mightily with it. Tom’s put together a guide to help you select the best yeast for your circumstances.

Choosing a yeast

This will be the most important choice the home winemaker will make.

You will be able to pick the grape variety but you cannot control its picking date, sugar level, TA, or pH. Yet, these are the things you need to take into consideration when choosing a yeast. Furthermore, you’ll need to consider if you wish to (or are capable of) a cold or warm fermentation.

Once you have those things set in your plan, consider the grape. What styles of wine does this grape often show up in? Think about the grape  by winemaking region, e.g. Bordeaux, the Rhone Valley, Mosel, California, or Italy. With the grapes you have, what most appeals to you? Do you want a fruit-forward wine or not? Once you’ve taken into account all of these things, you’ll be able to decide on a yeast with ease.

Have a great time making wine!

Red Wines

The Cabernet family (and blends)

F.H. Steinbart will be getting Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Petite Verdot, and Carménère. All of these can be used to make wines similar in style to western and southwestern French wines, as well as Californian and Australian wines. These are big, bold, and very vinous wines; they are high in alcohol and not particularly fruity by style. For these wines, the best yeast choices we carry are Wyeast 4267 Summation Red, Wyeast 4946 Bold Red, and Wyeast 4028 Red. All of these will create a dry, rich, hearty red wine. Ferment them warm and for as long as possible. The next level of yeast is the Vintners Harvest brand. These yeasts are dry and of excellent quality. Read their characteristics to make a choice, though I feel R56 is the best choice for this group of grapes. Red Star makes Premier Classique and Premier Rouge. Both yeasts work well, just avoid fermenting either one in the high 70s to 80s. At high temperatures, they tend to produce hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg) aromas that can be hard to get rid of. You will want to do malolactic fermentation (“MLF”) with these grapes to produce a soft-finished and aging-stable wine.

The Fruity Reds

Pinot Noir and Lemberger are the two stars in this group, but it can also include Cabernet Franc.  Want to make Oregon Pinot Noir with a big fruit nose of raspberries and a soft spiciness? Assmannshausen is the premier yeast for that result. It’s good for soft reds and  fruity whites. Use a cold soak to make fruity reds, if you can, to get as much color and juice from your grapes as possible. Use Assmannshausen yeast and at the end of primary fermentation use MLF for the best results. Vintners Harvest R56 and CR51 are also good choices, or you can use Red Star Premier Cuvee. Rhone river area yeasts Lalvin RC212 and D47 can help with color extraction and are helpful when paired with MLF.

Southern European Reds

We will be carrying TempranilloSangioveseGrenache, and Syrah.  Here in the Northwest, where we don’t have as many long and hot days as in Southern Europe, these grapes may not reach their full potential in body and sugar. Therefore, I recommend yeasts and techniques that will extract the most color and tannins as well produce a fruity and easily drinkable wine. Try to do a cold soak if you can, especially for the first three. Then use a yeast from the Pinot Noir suggestions above. Or, if you’d prefer, Wyeast has an Italian Red (4244), which I have not tried but like the sound of. Try it for Sangiovese and Grenache blends. If you can swing their purchase at the same time, add 20% to 30% Syrah to any of the other Southern European reds. This grape will boost the wine’s color and soften the tannins and acidity of the other three. Be aware you may have to adjust the must acidity even with the Syrah addition.

Grenache deserves a little extra attention here. It is the best of our reds for a rosé, if you want to make one yourself from grapes. (Otherwise, we do offer rosé juice.) For a good rosé, one to three days of skin contact is best. With a longer soak, you will get a light red wine rather than a rosé. If you are making a red Grenache, plan on MLF only if you plan to make a big, bold red wine with lots of Syrah blended in. If you’re planning a fruity red Grenache, sulfite your wine well to prevent it.

If you purchase enough Grenache (say 150 pounds) try a one to two-day skin soak with half of your grapes, then press off the wine and put those skins in with the rest of the red wine batch that is also on skins. This doubles up the fruit intensity of the red and gives you a lovely rosé to boot. Red Star Côte des Blancs is an excellent yeast for the resulting rosé.

A glass of white wine on a table with bokahed lights behind it.

White Wine

Excepting Muscat, all of the white grapes F.H.S. is selling will be in juice form. So, I will forgo going into pressing and crushing techniques here. If you plan on getting whole white grapes elsewhere, you can use the Muscat procedure detailed below.

You will probably need to adjust must acidity for the whites. Use chemicals first, then fermentation and cold stabilization (storing the wine below 40 degrees for a month). Never use MLF on white wines. The only exception is Chardonnay and even then only if it’s big, very ripe grapes that’s going to become a big, bold, buttery wine. (Grapes appropriate for that style rarely come from the PNW.)

Yeast choice is essential for a red, but it’s more so for white wine. You will want a yeast that ferments in cooler temperatures (which will take longer) and falls out completely when it’s done. (This is known as “flocculation”.) Finally, given that fruit forward is the name of the game, you’ll want yeast that supports or even enhances those fruit notes, rather than something that competes or suppresses them.

For German whites such as RieslingGrüner Veltliner, and/or Gewürztraminer Wyeast 4783 is excellent. Vintners Harvest AW4 (Germanic White) is also a great choice. If you cannot get ahold of either of those, Vintners Harvest BV7 and SN9 do a lovely job, as does Red Star Côte des Blancs  The absolute best yeast for grapes from Germany or Austria is Rudesheimer, also known as “Sweet White” from Wyeast (4783).

Then there’s the French whites and the RosésChardonnaySauvignon BlancViognier, and Pinot Gris. Most of these wines will be light to medium-bodied when done. There’s an extensive variety of yeasts available for these, but I particularly like Vintners Harvest CY17BV7, and Wyeast 4242.

That said, whites and rosé are good grapes to be adventurous with! For example, many wineries use the same yeast they use on their red wines for their whites, and it works incredibly well. Assmannshausen (normally used for the reds of northern France and Germany) promotes a big fruity nose, so it should be just as good in a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc. As you’re considering yeasts, read label descriptions and if something sounds delicious, go for it! Red Star yeasts do well in experiments and adventures for the most part. The exception being the German whites I mentioned above, as they do not accentuate the fruity notes as well as other yeasts do.

Albariño is the new kid on the block for us. Originating in northern Spain and Portugal, it should be fermented with a yeast that both accentuates fruitiness and helps control acidity. Try any of the German white yeasts I mentioned previously or Lalvin DV10 or 71B  Both of these are sold as reducing malic acid without having to undergo MLF.

Finally, we will have Muscat grapes. Many of the delightful fruity white wines of Europe from Spain to Hungry are made from the many various varieties of Muscat  If you have had a pitcher of cold white wine with your scampi overlooking the Amalfi Coast, it was a Muscat. One of the largest and oldest wine grape families, all Muscat varieties are rich in fruit flavors and aromas, and can produce wines high in alcohol as well. They also make some of the world’s best dessert wines, should you want to try your hand at that.

When you get your Muscat grapes, you will be given a choice to crush and press them at our shop or take them home and do it there. If the grapes are good and clean without much skin breakage or bug bites, I strongly suggest a skin soak. Take the grapes home, crush them as best as you can. Use stems and all. Use your fist, feet, or a length of 2×4. It won’t matter. Soak the grapes on the skins for at least 2 hours and no more than 8 hours. As soon as the grapes are crushed, dose with SO2 and pectic enzyme. Press, stems and all. This will help to get more juice and a little tannin. If you do not own a press, we rent them out and we sell them. Ferment the juice as cool as possible, using any of the “French White” yeasts I mentioned above if you’d like a dry Muscat. If you want residual sweetness, try a German white yeast.

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Pyment-Making Advice – Tom Talks Wine

Pyment is made from grapes (left) and honey (right).

Last month, Tom answered a direct question about cork staining. This month, instead of drawing on a specific question, we asked Tom to tell us about how to make a pyment (mead/wine hybrid).

Tom’s Pyment

Recently, I was asked if I have ever made a pyment. A pyment is a type of mead where grapes or grape juice has been added. This means it’s also a type of melomel, as those are meads with fruit added. Yes, I have made one.

Mine was made with leftover Gewürztraminer juice and some pulp. I had enough must to make seven gallons of wine, but only a six-gallon carboy. With the extra gallon’s worth of wine must, I made three gallons of pyment.

I believe the same rules for making both drinks really apply here. The first thing makers have to decide is if they want a honey mead with hints of grapes and the complexity that can result or a grape wine with hints of honey, leading to more alcohol because you’re adding honey instead of sugar. The latter would not really be a mead, because honey should be the first aroma and flavor.

What Do Grapes Contribute to the Pyment?

What should you expect to gain from using grapes? First, acidity. Remember that mead is honey wine, and most good wines have acidity as part of the balance within their flavor. If you typically add acid blend or some other form of acid to balance your mead, be aware grapes can go a long way bringing about this balance about. Acidity really perks up the flavor components of a mead. Second tannins will also be there. These give a back of the tongue bitterness that is perceived as a clean and sharp flavor. A great addition to many meads. Tannins also aid in clarification. Finally, nutrients from the grapes aid the fermentation so that it comes to completion without taking forever to do so.

Which Grapes for Pyments?

Now let’s talk about the varieties of grapes you can use. For a mead just about anything that is ripe will work. Ripeness is key, though. Remember that alcohol accentuates all flavors so if the grapes are green or overripe this will come through in the finished mead.

Backyard Grapes:

If you are going to make mead from backyard grapes keep this in mind. Most wines or meads made from backyard grapes suffer from being underripe (vs overripe), as most backyard grape-growers haven’t learned how to properly gauge ripeness. More bitterness and sourness will result. How can you tell if they are truly ripe (without doing endless testing like a winery would)? Wait for the grapes to start falling off the vine. They will be very sweet. Far sweeter than, say, a grocery store table grape. Indeed, sweetness to taste is not a good test. Grapes good enough to eat can still be underripe. To get truly ripe grapes for your pyment, you will have to share a lot of the grapes with birds and squirrels.

One the most common backyard grape varietals is the Concord. If you love this flavor use them. The flavor will not change much. Grocery store canned juices and concentrates are also usable and will add the expected flavors. Canned juices from the grocery store are usually in the concord family.

Wine Grapes:

Any grape can be used. If you are buying wine grapes, then by all means save a few pounds and make a pyment. Wine grape concentrates also exist but can be quite expensive.

Richly-colored, almost black, wine grape

In my opinion white grapes and juices make wonderful meads. After all, some white wines are often described as having honey overtones. They are mild yet fruity, acidic, and nutrient rich. Grapes like Riesling, Muscat, and Sauvignon Blanc are complex and the honey comes through beautifully.

Red wine grapes, however, tend to overpower the honey flavor of the mead and yet fall flat because not enough were used to give the expected result. They tend to seem weak because we were expecting fuller grape varietal flavors. To use red grapes, the maker should know that they are making a honey-flavored wine and will end up with a full or light-bodied rose (depending on the grape).

How Much Fruit or Juice to Use?

How much fruit you use is really open here. I would think about four to seven pounds of fruit per gallon of mead. If you purchase grape juice, you’ll want about a gallon of juice to two of water and then enough honey to give you your 10% + alcohol. Rely on the honey to give you your fermentable gravity. With canned concentrates dilute them as instructed and again make enough to be about one third of your volume.

Remember by using grapes you are making a pyment; a mead more like a grape wine, so expect the issues of clarification, fermentation, and aging to be those of wines.

Have a great time this summer fermenting your first pyment!

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The Seasons of Wine

A simple infographic to explain the gist of what wine makers should do each season.

While anything one can ferment into a beverage is an agricultural product, only a few fermentations are truly seasonal. Wine is particularly seasonal because of both the length of time between picking fruit to drinking a glass, and the wide array of possible bases. Seasoned wine-makers know the rhythm, but what about a reference for the rest of us? What is the current “wine season”?

Thus much like we leaned on Tom to explain cork stains, we asked him for a quick run down of the wine year. Then our guy Bruce turned it into an incredibly simple visual. Now anyone can tell at a glance what to be doing now and planning for the future.


Since it’s summer (or nearly so) already, our planning starts here. In short, this is fruit wine season and bottling season.


Grapes, grapes, grapes. Did we mention grapes?

  • Remember to breathe.
  • If your supplies aren’t all in one spot, get them together before the grapes arrive.
  • Double check that you have everything you need. If not, get it.
  • Renting equipment? Reserve it now, or at least as soon as you can.
  • Start your grape wines!


This is the time to relax. Maybe have a glass of a previous year’s wine.

  • Rack wines as needed.
  • Start malolactic fermentation if necessary.
  • Keep your fermentations warm.
  • Ponder what wines, grape or fruit, you might want to make next year.
  • Research wine types and wine making, if you’d like.


We typically think of spring as for beginnings, but for wine it’s time to finish.

  • Clarify wines as needed
  • Continue racking wines
  • Doing dandelion wine? That’s a fairly early crop – keep an eye out.
  • Prepare for summer.
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Commercial Customer Spotlight: Coopers Hall

A shot of the interior of comercial customer Coopers Hall, courtesy Adam Rack of Coopers Hall.

Coopers Hall is about wine. Coopers Hall is about sustainability. Ergo, Coopers Hall is about the best ways to combine the two.

Like many hospitality spots that focus on sustainability, Coopers Hall has relationships with local farmers, bakers, and other sources. Beyond that, though, they focus on almost entirely on wine on tap. Kegs are more environmentally friendly than bottles, more easily reused, and the production cost of draft wine can be much lower than bottled wine, making wine more affordable for everyone. Coopers Hall also (usually) fills growlers from their taps, which means a single container can have many lifetimes.

This belief in allowing a bottle to be repeatedly refilled explains why the only bottles Coopers Hall uses are the Oregon BottleDrop Refillable bottles. This is a relatively recent addition to their winery, and they pay the $0.10 deposit on the bottle, not the purchaser (because wine is excluded from deposits). Customers who return the bottles get the deposit back, though. These choices are based in the idea that “recycle” is good but “reuse” is even better. These wine bottles are 500 mL and are sold in their online store and at a variety of shops around town.

Back Up. You Said Kegs?

Rosè wine in a wine glass under a tap system to illustrate kegged wine or draft wine.

Yes. Clearly, you’re thinking, “Never go in for a 500 mL bottle when KEGS are on the line!” Which, of course, is completely reasonable. And we can confirm that having wine on tap is fabulous. However, depending on the wine, it can require a bit more than just throwing a sixtel in your kegerator and hooking it up. What you need for draft wine depends on if you are looking to pour red, white, or rosè. Luckily, we have any supplies you might need and Coopers Hall is happy to give tips and advice for the particular wine(s) you want.

Coopers Hall During Covid-19

During the current weird times sitting down at Coopers Hall isn’t an option. So how to acquire their delicious food and beverage? Is food even an option?

Yes. Cooper’s Hall has maintained their aforementioned partnerships with local producers and is offering food. But with a twist. It’s butter or it’s produce or it’s a meal that’s yours to prepare. But not without guidance; they offer spices and recipes with their chef-curated CSA box. You’ll have to cook, but cooking with wine is a delight.

As for wine, you can buy a number of their wines in 500 mL bottle on their online site, and soon you’ll be able to order growler fills as well. They also offer a mystery wine box, called Joel Thinks You Should Drink This. An adaptation of one of the most interesting parts of their menu to the current times, this is three bottles of excellent wine from local producers without storefronts. For kegs email them ( for pricing and availability.

For more on Coopers Hall and any updates, please visit their site.


Coopers Hall Taproom

404 SE 6th Ave, Portland Oregon 97214


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Why Does Cork Stain?

Three used wine corks side by side. The right cork is clean, the middle cork is highly stained with red wine, and the third cork has no staining and has markings from a commerical winery.

Welcome to a new series, “Tom Talks Wine.” Last month we introduced Tom, who has been making wine for 50 years! Figuring all that time has to lead to some useful knowledge, we have wrangled him into a once a month column on wine. He starts with a question about cork stains and corking.

Dear Tom,

Over my life I’ve been lucky enough to befriend many home winemakers. This has resulted, of course, in my receiving numerous bottles at various points. I have begun to wonder about the process from grape to glass. Enough that I’ve started my first batch of red wine myself.

As it’s getting on to bottling time, I have been noticing that some corks in homemade wine look soaked through and some do not. Since I never see it in commercial wine, I’m assuming this is one of those things that homemakers do “wrong” somehow. I’ve attached a photo to show what I mean.

What’s going on to cause these stains, and how can I avoid them when I bottle?


Wondering about Winemaking in Washington

Hi Wondering,

You are correct. Something the winemaker did at home caused this. I have a few ideas of what probably happened, but first a little cork history.

Cork is the spongy bark of certain oak trees (typically Quercus suber) that are twenty-five years old or more. Q. suber does not take well to cultivation so the plains of Portugal, the largest producer of cork, are not covered with tidy rows of cork trees like a palm oil plantation. They are haphazard and therefore production is limited. Demand for cork is not. Almost everyone making wine wants cork. The screw cap is gaining in popularity and may help reduce demand in the future. The best corks come from old trees whose bark is the densest and thickest with few flaws (gaps, holes, etc). These are the most sought after and expensive.

Home wine makers rarely get the best corks simply because we don’t want to pay for the best corks. So we use corks with a lot of flaws. We can also be sloppy about how we fill and treat our wines at bottling. Overfilling (less than an inch of wine below the cork) can result in barometric pressure pushing the wine out. Not letting the bottle rest upright for at least 24 (but 48 hours is better) after bottling is also important, as it lets the air pressure within the bottle equalize with the air outside. This rest period also allows the surface of the cork to dry, which prevents wicking of the wine through a wet cork.

Thus, the answer to your question is three-fold. The bottle of wine was overfilled and the compressed air inside was not allowed to equalize, pushing the wine through the cork. Further, the freshly inserted cork did not get sufficient time to dry out before being laid on its side and wine began to wick out. Finally, the winemaker used too narrow of a cork. The less expensive hand corkers do not handle the larger corks very well.  The wider the cork and the less flaws the less wicking and tighter the fit.

Notice how many gaps, slits and holes are in the stained cork. The other two do not show these faults. All too often bottling a wine is the last thing home winemakers do and it’s where they decide to be tight with their money. Quality corks cost.  Even commercial wineries spend as much as $1.00 – $1.50 for a single cork.  If this cost is too high for the home winemaker there will always be some risk of leaking or even wine loss.


Have a wine question for Tom? Send an email to and we’ll work on wrangling him into answering it.

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Jim Jamison and the Story of His Grapes

Home wine makers have been able to buy fresh grapes from FH Steinbart for many years.  But where do those grapes come from? Like all the ingredients we stock at the store, we source our grapes from someone with a passion for the craft.  Jim Jamison of Richland, Washington has been supplying grapes to FH Steinbart customers since 2011. Jim is a grape grower and wine maker himself who grows grapes on two acres of his own land on the boundary between the Columbia and Yakima Valley AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and manages four other small vineyards nearby.  Jim’s varieties include Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Sangiovese, Grenache, Mourvedre and Malbec. Besides the varieties he grows, Jim can often find others that customers want because he works closely with several small grape growers in that area to market their grapes.

Jim and his wife moved to Richland in 1974 from the East Coast, where Jim was stationed while serving in the Navy on a nuclear submarine. He planted his first vineyard in 1982.  He built a house on the property for his growing family and as his first vines began to yield fruit, Jim was ready to try his hand at making wine from his own grapes. The wines tasted pretty good, and some did well when he entered them in the local County Fair.  Soon he and a group of friends were enthusiastically making wine on a barrel-scale in the garage and driveway.

In the 1990’s Jim and his friends toyed with the idea of starting a commercial winery, but when his interest in that waned he turned his energies to marketing his grapes to other winemakers.  As neighboring properties changed ownership and new owners showed no interest in growing grapes, Jim took over the care of the vineyards. He now manages several of these parcels, which he calls his “orphans”.

Beginning in late August or early September and continuing through October, Jim takes vineyard samples each week to monitor the changing pH, acid (titratable acidity), sugar and flavor qualities.  The analysis results are used to predict the best date for harvest of each variety. Many customers from Seattle, Spokane, Eastern Oregon and the Portland area visit Jim’s property to pick up their grapes.  In most years customers include a half-dozen wineries, several winemaking clubs and many individual home wine makers. For FH Steinbart, Jim delivers weekly. Winemaking customers who order their grapes from FH Steinbart can be assured that their fruit has been grown and cared for by someone with a real commitment to supplying the best possible ingredients.

Thanks to Jim!

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Fruit Wines 1 Gallon recipe

Equipment You will Need:

2 fermentation buckets or carboys for primary and

secondary fermentation with airlock and stopper

Cleaner (PBW) and sanitizer (Star-san)

Auto-siphon, tubing, and bottle filler

Swing top bottles or beer bottles with caps and capper

Hydrometer and Hydrometer jar (optional)


Ingredients You will Need:

4-6 lbs. fruit (rinsed and drained)

Use more fruit for a bigger flavor

Up to 2.5 lbs of sugar

1 gallon water

¼ tsp Yeast Nutrient

1 oz. priming sugar for bottle carbonation

1 Campden tablet (optional) to kill wild yeast

½ tsp Pectic enzyme (optional) to help clarify

FOR BLACKBERRY WINE- ½ tsp Acid blend



Dry options- White wine yeast: EC1117, SN9, D47,

Cotes de blanc, or Champagne yeast for a VERY dry,

high alcohol product.


Day One

  1. Clean and sanitize all equipment (everything that will touch your wine.)
  2. Crush fruit (do not break pits or stones) and put into primary fermenter with 1 gallon water
  3. (optional) Add one crushed campden tablet and ½ tsp. Pectic enzyme
  4. (optional) Take a hydrometer reading to determine the amount of sugar/ potential alcohol in your juice. Add sugar

to bring the specific gravity reading to up to 1.090 (Add acid blend if making blackberrty wine.

  1. Seal the fermenter with a stopper/ airlock and let sit for 24 hours. (If you did not add a campden tablet you can

skip this step.) If you add your yeast too soon the campden will kill your yeast)


Day Two

  1. 24 hours after adding the campden tablet add 1/4th tsp. yeast nutrient and sprinkle the yeast on top of your juice. (One packet of yeast is enough for 5 gallons of wine. For a one gallon batch use 1/3rd packet.)
  1. Ferment at 65º- 75º Warmer temperatures will bring out more fruity/ estery flavors.


Primary Fermentation

  1. You will begin to see activity in the fermenter within 48 hours. A foamy cap will develop on the top of the wine and bubbles will escape through the airlock.
  1. Fruit pulp will float to the top. “punch down” the pulp once or twice a day by pushing the pulp below the juice using a sanitized spoon or ladle. Over the next several days the activity will begin to slow down. Primary fermentation typically lasts one to two weeks.


Secondary Fermentation

  1. Strain the fruit pulp out of the juice and rack the wine into a sanitized carboy being careful to leave behind any sediment. It is best to minimize head space in the secondary fermenter to prevent oxidation. Timing now is somewhat flexible. Leave the wine in this secondary fermenter for at least 2 weeks and as long as 6 months.
  2. Optional- monitor the progress of your fermentation by taking hydrometer readings. You are ready to bottle when the wine is clear and tastes good.


Bottling and Beyond

  1. Fermentation is finished when the final gravity (FG) reads approximately 1.010.
  2. If you would like a fizzy carbonated wine make a simple syrup by boiling 1oz. of priming sugar with a cup of water on the stove. (1 oz sugar per gallon of wine) Let this mixture cool to room temperature.
  3. Sanitize your bottling equipment (ten 12 oz. bottles per gallon of wine, auto-siphon, tubing, bottle filler, bottling bucket, and bottle caps).
  4. Add the room temperature simple syrup to the bottling bucket then siphon your wine into the bottling bucket so that the sugar mixes evenly.
  5. After you have added the priming sugar, or f you want a still wine, siphon the wine from the bottling bucket into your bottles and cap. Your wine will be ready to drink after conditioning for two weeks at room temperature.


* F.H. Steinbart rents fruit presses.

They book up fast, so reserve yours in advance by visiting and clicking the ‘rentals’ button.

If you have any questions about the instructions in this recipe please call: 503 232 8793 or email


670-A-1             ¼ tsp Yeast Nutrient

870-D-1             1 oz. priming sugar for bottle carbonation

420-A-1             1 Campden tablet  to kill wild yeast

460-A-1             ½ tsp Pectic enzyme to help clarify

400-A-1             BLACKBERRY WINE- ½ tsp Acid blend

Yeast Options

623-1    EC1117,

45588    SN9,

624-1    D47,

652-1    Cotes de blanc, or

652-2    Champagne yeast