Barrel Monkey Barrels Down

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Feb 21, 2021
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Northern California
This was my first experience as winemaker (as opposed to helping hand/cellar rat) and so I thought I’d record how it went. Cellar crew comprised me and Mrs. Monkey.

My starting point was ½ ton of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. As several (including me) have reported on the forum, 2021 was a weird ripening year in California. Grapes with what would normally be considered suitable sugar were still unripe, and as a result many harvests (including mine) came in at relatively high brix. I measured 27.5 brix, pH 3.59 – though a relatively respectable TA of 6.38 g/L. But what beautiful grapes!



Since I work at a winery I was fortunate in being able to borrow some professional gear. Here is one of my workmates loading the grapes into the destemmer hopper. He is a really good forklift operator, though this was probably my most nervous moment when my entire investment was being tipped upside down 20ft in the air!


The long metal chute to the right of the hopper is a metal sorting table which vibrates and bounces the grapes down into the destemmer machine at far right. I picked out any leaves, bad clusters and MOG, but it was a really clean pick overall.


My primary fermenter was my ½ ton macro bin. I decided to water back as described here, yielding a nominal starting brix of 24.5. After cold soaking for 2 days I pitched my yeast – Assmanshausen (AMH), reconstituted with Go-Ferm Protect Evolution. AMH is famous for its long lag phase, and it took a couple of days for fermentation to take off. Fed with 20g/hL Fermaid-O at 20.5 and 15.5 brix, and punched down 2x/day. Here is my fermentation profile. I think the small temperature spike at the end was due to warm weather, and I ended up at -1.5 brix on press day.

ferm graph.jpg

Draining the free run

The long metal thing is a torpedo and we use it to drain off free run at the winery, though it’s a bit out of my price range as a home winemaker. I used it in conjunction with my little transfer pump, a strainer and a funnel.


Memo to self: next time, clean the pump screen periodically. It got clogged and I’m sure slowed things down since about halfway through I measured it as running at ~1gal/min when it’s supposed to be able to go up to ~3 gal/min. I was surprised and delighted to get around 45-50 gal of free run wine before pressing.


We loaded the remaining grape must into my #30 ratchet press and pressed out the rest of the juice. Here is Mrs. Monkey taking her turn at the press:


I was planning to use my pump to transfer wine from the press bucket to barrel, but somewhere along the way it got clogged with some grapes so we ended up doing the bucket brigade thing.

I am in two minds about my press. I initially ordered a #35 press, but when the shipment arrived I was told that only a #30 or a #40 were available. I thought that I would be able to press out the must solids from ½ ton grapes in about 5-6 loads of a #30 press, as opposed to ~3 loads of a #40 press, and ended up getting the smaller press. However, in practice it took a lot more than 5 loads, probably around 8-9. I think my calculation was based on dry must solids rather than the wet must solids that still contain wine. We did get through it, but it was a lot of loading and unloading! On the other hand, working with the #30 press was a lot less effort than the bigger #40 (or maybe it was #45) press that I have used in the past. We never had to crank really hard, and it’s a lot easier to maneuver.

We ended up with 45-50 gal free run, 20-25 gal press and 5 gal hard press (we re-pressed the pomace from the first round of presses, so probably 13-14 press cycles in all!). I am super happy with the wine so far; good plummy fruit with notes of baking spices. The press wine was of course more tannic than the free run, but not obtrusively so and I think it will balance nicely with the free run. Even the hard press was quite pleasant, and I’ll be interested to see how it develops over time. So a total of 75 gal wine from ½ ton grapes (though note that I did add around 9.8 gal acidulated water to compensate for the high brix.)

I am going to leave the gross lees to settle for a couple of days, then rack into a clean barrel/kegs and top up before pitching my ML culture.
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Very nice! Curious about your press. You're able to borrow all this industrial equipment until press time, then you go all home-winemaker on us. What do they use at the winery?
Very nice! Curious about your press. You're able to borrow all this industrial equipment until press time, then you go all home-winemaker on us. What do they use at the winery?

I was trying to use mostly my own gear, but I don't have a destemmer/crusher yet so used the industrial gear. Next year I'm hoping to get a destemmer/crusher and some sort of device to drain off free run (like this one maybe?) so that I will be independent.

Regarding the press, we use a large bladder press which is too big for my meagre half ton. I think it can take about 3 tons of whole grapes, and significantly more (based on original tonnage) if the free run has been drained.
I bottled my 2021 Pinot Noir today (ably assisted by Mrs Barrel Monkey) - so I finally think I can call myself a winemaker... I'm super happy with how it turned out! :h

By the numbers:
2021 Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, 777 clone)
Starting brix (after watering back adjustment) 24.5; estimate 14.7% alcohol
Final pH 3.80
Final TA 6.15 g/L
SO2 added to target 50ppm 2 days before bottling (higher than I might normally use, due to the relatively high pH)

Nominal 62.4 gallons bottled

I have about 3-4 gallons of 'hard press' wine remaining in keg. This was the result of re-pressing the pomace after the initial press. It's OK but definitely not as good as the main lot. I thought I might do some experimentation with this, eg add some oak, or play with some different finishing agents (eg gum arabic). Any ideas and suggestions gratefully received!