“In wine, there’s truth.”
― Pliny the Elder,
Tips For Wine Season
With the 2017 grape harvest rapidly progressing, we guide more and more new winemakers through their first vintages. “Country Wine” aficionados have already completed their annual batches of dandelion wine, and fermenters across the northwest are filling up with strawberry, rhubarb and all sorts of fruit wines (stay tuned for our 2017 fruit wine class). Here are our top tips to remember when preparing for a productive and successful season of fermenting our region’s natural bounty.
Great wine is made from fruit picked at the peak of ripeness. Some produce can go from bitter and under-ripe to mushy with signs of mold in just days. A well prepared winemaker has clean fermenters and fresh chemical additions at the ready, which makes for a well organized and enjoyable, stress free crush when it’s time to harvest. Dig out your seasonal equipment and dust it off or give it a deep clean. Check the moving parts of fruit crushers, mills and presses and consider oiling them with a food grade lube.
Sulfite, sorbate, yeast nutrient, reagents and various testing supplies all have a relatively short shelf life. A common rule of thumb is to replace chemicals and supplies yearly, just before wine season. This will make for accurate adjustments and more predictable, reliable fermentations. A quick note: cleaners and sanitizers in their concentrated form last quite a long time, we recommend replacing them at approximately 5 years old.
Utilize a wide variety of container sizes
Fruit harvests can be unpredictable. This leads to opportunity for the savvy winemaker. You may find a farm or supplier with a glut of fruit that can be had inexpensively (or even free!) and we can’t always predict what size and combinations of containers we will need to ferment a lot of fruit. Well prepared winemakers employ a range of fermenter sizes to ensure versatility and convenience during the season. This concept applies to glass carboys or secondary fermenters, because the yield of finished wine from a certain amount of fruit is quite variable. In addition to 3, 5 and 6 gallon carboys, half and one gallon jugs are indispensable for storing extra wine. Variable Capacity Tanks, or “VCT’s” have a floating lid that can be sealed at any depth to accommodate an infinitely variable amount of wine.
Utilize our community of winemakers
In the northwest, a litany of resources exist for the resourceful winemaker. Winemaking clubs are numerous and accessible, like Portland Winemaker’s Club. These clubs are a great way to meet and learn with other winemakers, and pool resources like grape crushers and fruit presses.
Being in the heart of a world-class fruit growing region is an aspect of the community that should not be taken lightly. Drop by fruit stands and markets throughout the region to look for deals on lots of fruit that is approaching over-ripeness. If you keep an ear to the ground, untended farms or wild growing berries can be gleaned (with land owner’s/manager’s permission of course) for buckets and buckets of free fruit.
Steinbart’s is a prominent participant in our winemaking community, and you can find many resources through our various wine season events, classes and programs. We offer Rental Equipment for wine and cidermaking, and we source a wide range of grapes from prestigious northwest vineyards. Pre-Order Wine Grapes Here
Dare to blend
Don’t be afraid to blend varietals, fruits, finished batches or even vintages to increase complexity and highlight the strengths of your wines. Professionals rely heavily on this technique, but it’s usually among the last skills a home winemaker learns.
Try blending tannic varietals with rich jammy ones to create complex and big bodied red wines. Mixing fruity whites emphasizes tropical, refreshing flavors. If you like your strawberry wine, you may love a strawberry/rhubarb or mixed berry.
Blending is a fun skill to learn in that it is really just glorified drinking. Grab yourself a 100-500ml graduated cylinder and many sampling cups, take good notes, and let your tastebuds guide you. Make all your measurements in metric to facilitate straightforward scaling-up of your favorite blends.
Hang out at Steinbart’s
F.H. Steinbart has decades in the winemaking community, and our staff is available 7 days a week to help you guide your grapes to greatness.