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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.