2023 Syrah: Supersize me!

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BarrelMonkey

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My main winemaking project for this year is to make Syrah for the first time. I arranged to buy 1/4 ton of grapes from a grower ~40 miles away and laid in my supplies: yeast (Rockpile/RP-15), Go-Ferm, Fermaid-O and a couple of 32-gal Brutes to use as primary fermenters. I estimated ~53 gallons of must from 1/4T would fit nicely into my primaries with space for the cap to rise.

Since I don't have a means of heating my fermentation room (aka workshop), I also figured I'd need a way to ensure good extraction from the skins. So for the first time I planned to forsake the all-natural approach and use macerating enzymes (Lallzyme-EX), enological tannins (FT Rouge) and for good measure a couple of aquarium heaters to get my must temperature up into the high 70s/low 80s. Better winemaking through chemistry!

The vineyard manager called the pick for Wednesday evening, so I left my 1/4T bin over there the day before. When I arrived to pick up... the bin was overflowing with grapes. Score!

Grape bin.jpg

It wasn't until later that I realized that I now had a problem... nowhere to put the must. My current inventory of Brutes (2x32 gal, plus 10gal) would barely accommodate everything, with no room for the cap. So instead of crushing first thing this morning we headed off to the hardware store to pick up a couple of 44-gallon Brutes. This was almost as far away as the vineyard, so 3x 60-80 mile round trips in as many days... But it was worth it since the crush went well and we were able to almost fill the 2 new bins with a nice amount of headspace:

Primrary day 1.jpg

Added Lallzyme and mixed it in, then sprinkled KMBS/K-meta on top of each bin (30ppm based on must volume) to ward off any premature native fermentation.

Numbers for the initial juice:

Brix 23.0
pH 3.23
TA 6.4 g/L

Those are pretty good numbers IMO; pH on the low side though this is just the juice from crushing (no berries) and I'm expecting that it will 'soak up' overnight. I'll measure again in the morning (perhaps a blenderized and strained sample) but I'm not expecting to need any adjustments.

Initial must temperature was just under 70F, so I think I will forego the planned cold soak and pitch yeast tomorrow.
 
Awesome. Grapes look great and the numbers match. I'll be interested to see if brix go up at all overnight. Funny, my syrah fermentation is already over and pressed yesterday. I also think your decision about enzymes is wise.

Just be aware, my one experience with RP15 suggests it needs lots of nutrients to avoid H2S.
 
Awesome. Grapes look great and the numbers match. I'll be interested to see if brix go up at all overnight. Funny, my syrah fermentation is already over and pressed yesterday. I also think your decision about enzymes is wise.

Just be aware, my one experience with RP15 suggests it needs lots of nutrients to avoid H2S.
Thanks for the heads up. From what I read, RP15 has modest nutritional needs but I'll keep a close eye on it. I typically rehydrate in Go-ferm and add Fermaid-O at 3 brix and 1/3 brix drop, so hope that will see me through.

I can almost guarantee that brix will be 23.5 tomorrow, if not 24.0 - but I've never worked with syrah before so we'll see.
 
I can almost guarantee that brix will be 23.5 tomorrow, if not 24.0 - but I've never worked with syrah before so we'll see.

I'll also be curious to know the pH tomorrow too. 3.23 seems lower than I would expect. But anyway, you have nice grapes and a great start. Looking forward to progress. Will trade bottles in a year or two if you want.

I'll be curious what others come up with, but like you, I'm finding ripe grapes at low brix. Some years the Syrah is 27 brix at harvest and this year it's significantly lower. It makes sense that the weather plays a major role in the grape harvest.
 
Awesome. Grapes look great and the numbers match. I'll be interested to see if brix go up at all overnight. Funny, my syrah fermentation is already over and pressed yesterday. I also think your decision about enzymes is wise.

Just be aware, my one experience with RP15 suggests it needs lots of nutrients to avoid H2S.
It doesn’t really produce much h2s. I’ve used it for a bunch of wines both at home and commercially also just a moderate feeder
 
That pH for a warm climate NorCal Syrah does seem to be on the low side with fruit I have worked with from the same area over the years. Brix was more like 27 and pH more like 3.9.

This has been a way less than normal growing season though!
 
That pH for a warm climate NorCal Syrah does seem to be on the low side with fruit I have worked with from the same area over the years. Brix was more like 27 and pH more like 3.9.

This has been a way less than normal growing season though!
It’s usually a case where I am that you might end up with good brix but the ph is like 4.0-4.5. At harvest acid just goes every year and usually requires some correction
 
Pressed out 15 days after pitching yeast. It was cool in late September but using a combination of my aquarium heaters and a small space heater in the room, I was able to get must temperatures up into the 80s. Plus, a little mini-heatwave over the past few days, which accounts for the spike at the end. #1 and #2 are my two separate primary fermenters:

profile.png

See that uptick in brix at the end? I don't know what's going on there. I am confident in my measurements (using a +/- 5 brix hydrometer) but the day before pressing it was at -1.3 as opposed to -0.9 on press day...

The cap definitely dropped:

Cap dropped.jpg

Before pressing we drained out the free run using a @vacuumpumpman 's free run tube. This was my first time using it and I'm super happy with my purchase, it's nicely made and worked flawlessly. The only thing that held us up was the new filter on my super transfer pump. The new filter is super fine and while I'm sure it works well for finished wine, it clogged immediately with the freshly fermented juice. However, simply removing the filter worked fine as the mesh screen in the free run tube kept any large particles from getting in. We ended up with over 30 gallons of free run:

FR drain.jpg

Pressing out was surprisingly easy - only 4 loads of my #30 basket press. For the first press load we used rice hulls to try and improve the yield, but there was a distinct grassy/hamster-cage note to the pressed wine :( - so we stopped using them and hopefully it will dilute out. It seems like there are robust tannins in the wine so we didn't press too hard and didn't re-press the pomace.

Press.jpg

Final yield was 3x 15.5 gal kegs and 1x 5 gal carboy, so a little over 50 gallons. That's 150 gal per ton! 👍
 
Looking at the pic after crushing and I noticed a lot of stems. Did you plan to leave a certain percentage in? Maybe that's contributing to the tannin?
 
Looking at the pic after crushing and I noticed a lot of stems. Did you plan to leave a certain percentage in? Maybe that's contributing to the tannin?
It really wasn't that much... I think they maybe floated to the surface? We tried to take out as much as possible during crushing/destemming.
I'm happy with the tannin level, at least as far as I can judge at this stage. It's going to be a dark, bold wine which should be able to stand up to (and even need) that tannin backbone. Plus I'm aging the free run in new oak which may impart more tannin again...

After 2 days settling I racked to barrel/keg/carboy today. Nominal volume after racking 49 gal.
 
I tested for malic/lactic acid about 6 weeks after pitching ML bugs. Despite no visible or audible signs of activity (at least as far as I could tell) it looks like ML has completed. Standards on the left (tartaric, lactic, malic) and 4 samples on the right:

ML 20231130 small.jpg

Of course I had to sample for taste as well, and the results were promising with one exception. The wine is in 4 vessels: 30 gal barrel, 15.5 gal keg, 3 gal carboy and 1 gal jug, the last of which has had a bit too much headspace over the past few weeks. Barrel, keg and carboy all tasted good - young, of course, but as expected for a wine of this maturity. The 1-gal jug tasted fine at first, but after 10-20 seconds a foul taste emerged, the dreaded mousiness :(. Apparently the compounds that give rise to this nasty smell/taste only emerge after exposure to a higher pH environment (such as saliva), so the wine smells fine and the initial taste is fine too.

From what I've read it's not 100% clear what gives rise to this, and why some lots of wine are affected but not others... but ML bacteria and brettanomyces seem to be the main suspects, maybe exacerbated by oxygen exposure. There is no remediation, and it doesn't seem to get better with age so I think that gallon jug is going down the drain. I'm just thankful that - so far at least - my larger vessels were unaffected. I was glad to get SO2 into them and will be keeping a watchful eye (and nose and palate) over the coming months.
 
International Wine Challenge describes mousiness as:
On your first encounter with a mousy wine, it tastes fine, as you take a sniff. Then you put it in your mouth and, after a few seconds, the characteristic flavour appears: mouse cage, water biscuits, and a sort of savoury warmth that’s quite hard to describe. It’s kind of sickly sweet, and while it’s not as repellent as the mustiness of cork taint, it’s the sort of thing that stops you enjoying the wine. Some of the other descriptors associated with mouse include popcorn, rice, crackers, bread crust, sausage skin and vomit.
Trying to imagine this. My mind is conjuring up Nacho cheese Doritos, dirty socks and popcorn.
 
International Wine Challenge describes mousiness as:
...while it’s not as repellent as the mustiness of cork taint...

i beg to differ... not that cork taint/TCA is pleasant, but mousiness just stays in your mouth and nose... it took me several rinses with water and fruit juice to get rid of it 🤮

Then again, apparently at least 30% of the population don't notice it... so if you're one of them i have a gallon of nice wine for you!
 
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