Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stephan Way Chardonnay - Part 2

My dad is a big fan of evaporation as a phenomenon. Yeah, evaporation is cool......but do you know what is even cooler? Fermentation! Fermentation is a chemical change brought on by the action of yeasts and bacteria. The souring of milk, the rising of dough, and the conversion of sugar to alcohol are all examples of fermentation. 

Making wine is really quite simple in principle. Grapes are crushed to release the sugar-rich juices. Yeast is then added. In the fermentation process yeast enzymes break down the sugar producing both alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. The grape juice is allowed to ferment for a number of weeks, at which point it is moved to different containers and fermented at a slower rate, and eventually aged or bottled.

Making a great wine requires a lot of experience and finesse. I began my project humbly, with only the wish of creating a non-offensive, drinkable table wine that I could share with the neighbors who live within a block of where the grapes were grown. As I seem to do with everything these days, I turned to the internet to guide me in my first batch of wine made from fresh grapes. I found a recipe for dry white table wine that I would follow. I had a large bucket with 34 pounds of Chardonnay grapes. Lacking a grape press, I did it the old-fashioned way. I stomped them. (After thoroughly scrubbing my feet!)

It felt like stepping on a sea anemone at first
But then I got used to it and quite enjoyed it

This first batch yielded 2.4 gallons of juice. It was almost syrupy sweet. After tasting and sharing a bit of the juice, I set the remaining 2 gallons to fermenting. I did add sulfur dioxide in the form of 3 crushed campden tablets. Sulfites are a natural by-product of the yeast metabolism during fermentation. So even if you do not add any additional sulfur dioxide, your wine will still contain sulfites. Sulfur dioxide is antioxidant and antibacterial and plays an important role in maintaining wine's freshness.

A week or so later Marilyn, the neighbor with the grapes, called. Did I have any interest in making more wine? The vines were still laden with perfect, ripe grapes. It was almost mid-October by then and it could freeze anytime. Sure, why not? My 5-year-old son and I headed over with our huge bucket. Marilyn cut the bunches off the vine and handed them down to me. Soon the bucket was reaching capacity. Scott, Marilyn's son, weighed the grapes by standing on a bathroom scale with and without the bucket. 80 pounds!!
Here I am stomping and pressing simultaneously
They yielded almost 6 gallons of sweet grape juice. I set the juice to fermenting with some yeast and yeast nutrient after adding some more sugar, campden tablets, and toasted American oak cubes. Cross your fingers! This is a lot of Chardonnay!

Okay, fast forward through waiting part. The wines were racked (siphoned) off of their sediments to clean containers from time to time. First to be bottled was the smaller batch and a week later (Jan. 20) the larger.

The Big Mistake
The second batch was so big that I wanted to sweeten it at different levels to provide for a larger range of tastes. I was aiming for half to be on the dry side and the other half to be in the medium sweet range. I added 2/3 cup of sugar to the 5-gallons which raised the specific gravity (SG) .002. I then bottled half (or 2.5 gallons) of the wine. Then, desiring to raise the SG another .006, I multiplied the 2/3 cup of sugar by 3 and came up with 2 cups. So I added that. Yep, I neglected to account for the decrease in the volume of the wine I was sweetening! Only half as much. So, 1 cup was what was called for, not the two. The SG shot up and there was no way to take it back. 

After all of the picking and picking over, the crushing and hand-pressing, the recycle-bin diving and label scraping, the sanitizing and patience; I had pretty much spoiled half of the large batch at the very last step. To me it is overly sweet. I got on-line again looking for recipes using sweet white wine. I found a pear galette that called for a sweet white wine reduction sauce and several poached pear recipes...... So, I'll keep a bottle for next summer's neighborhood pears. But if any of my readers like sweet Gewuztraminer types of wine please let me know because I have 11 extra bottles! It will pair well with cheesecake, creme brulee, and fruit.

On the bright side, I have high hopes for the 20 bottles of Chardonnay that were not mistakenly over-sweetened. Everything seemed to go fine. The alcohol level is at an ideal 13% by volume for both batches, the clarity is good, there was no contamination, and the taste was pleasant at bottling. I plan to have a neighborhood wine tasting party in May for the Stephan Way Chardonnay. It should be fun regardless.



  1. The color and clarity are lovely...hope I get to taste it.