Blanc de Barrel Monkey

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BarrelMonkey

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This year I wanted to make a white wine. I have over 26 cases of my 2021 Pinot Noir in hand, and while I’m happy with how it turned out there are times when only a glass of white will do. However, I delayed sourcing my grapes due to the uncertain arrival time of my new crusher/destemmer, which didn’t come in until early September. Harvest is here and white grapes were nowhere to be found, so I figured that I’d missed my opportunity for this year.

On Saturday I heard from a local winegrower – he had heard that I wanted grapes, and would I be interested in his pinot noir? I love white pinot noir. It’s not that common, but living in the heart of pinot country there are several local winemakers who produce it. Moreover this winegrower’s grapes were reportedly around 23 brix – right in the white wine sweet spot – and they were relatively inexpensive.

I called the pick for the following day. The only catch – it would be me and Mrs. Monkey doing the picking, since I only wanted to take ¼ ton. So at 6:15am, off we headed, buckets and pruning shears in hand. Mercifully, it was cool and overcast all day, in contrast to the 100+ degree days of the previous week.

Vineyard.jpg

We started picking just before 7am and ended around 10. For those who haven’t done it, it’s hard work, and I have an increased respect for the folks that go out doing this in the dark with only floodlights or headlamps to guide them – sometimes on steep and uneven terrain. But eventually our bin filled up. We were a little short of a quarter ton when I weighed the grapes, but given the time and the fact that we still needed to crush and press we elected to head home.

Bin.jpg

Here is the ‘crush pad’. The plan was to offload from the truck by bucketing grapes into the crusher, crush into the plastic bin, load into the press and then pump juice from the press bucket into carboys in my basement. We wanted to press as soon as possible after crushing in order to minimize skin contact, so alternated between 5 cycles of crush and press.

Crushpad.jpg

Lessons learned:
- We made a plastic ‘skirt’ to guide grapes from the crusher into the bin below. This worked well, but I think in future I’ll bite the bullet and buy a proper stand.
- Lubricate the press ratchet! The first load was a real chore to press, then I sprayed some food-safe lubricant into the mechanism. Night and day difference.
- The pump was OK, but the prefilter got clogged after each press load so I had to disassemble it to clean it off. It’s really hard to reassemble the screen though, and in the interests of time we bucketed the last couple of press loads into carboys with a funnel.

Our overall yield was fairly low, ~23 gallons so only a bit more than 100gal/ton. I got more like 150gal/ton from my red pinot last year. I think some of this is the inherent lower yield of non-fermented grapes (the pomace remains much more wet), plus I didn’t want to press too hard and extract dark colors/harsh flavors from the skins and seeds.

Now the moment of truth. I broke out the hydrometer, pH meter and burette and found…

Brix 21.0, pH 3.07, TA 9.15g/L

Oh.

Those numbers are likely to make a rather sharp tasting still wine. However, they’re pretty good numbers if you’re going to make sparkling wine, so plans have changed. Looks like 2022 will be the year of the Blanc de Noir at Barrel Monkey cellars!

Next day: I racked the juice off the sediment into 2x 15-gallon kegs. I made and pitched starters for the two kegs using 2 different yeast strains: BA11 and QA23. And so my unexpected but hopefully rewarding sparkling wine adventure begins!
 
The father of Virginia viticulture, Gabriele Rausse, makes a Vin Gris de Pinot Noir. He created the style when the Pinot Noir was suffering a skin rot. He pressed the grapes to make a favorite best selling "white". It is not a sparkling wine but a still wine.

Yours should be wonderful. Good luck.
 
My main fear in fermenting whites was that they would go off way too fast, with an associated detrimental effect on aromatics. My fermenters are in the coolest part of the house and we have thankfully had relatively cool weather so far this week. However, my fears appear to have been well founded. Here is my fermentation profile for the first few days:

ferm days 0-4.png

Hoping things will cool down as the % alcohol increases. I added a little ice (and tartaric to compensate) to help things along.
 
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I'm fried (but happy!) I got a call on Thursday from the winegrower who I bought from last year. She said that the crew that picked her vineyard this year didn't do a great job and there were lots of grapes still hanging. Mine for free if I wanted them.

When life gives you grapes, make wine, right?

I was excited about this opportunity because it gave me a chance to make something that could be blended with last week's pick into a nice still wine, while also leaving some of the high acidity wine for making sparkling. So off we set again, started picking at 7am and ended around 11:30.

This was hard, hard work. We walked miles I'm sure, and picked a lot of small clusters (though in fairness there were a lot of grapes and there were some nice big bunches too). I think we ended up with around 300lb. Most of it was pinot noir, with some chardonnay and viognier (we picked the whites separately). The chardonnay in particular was spectacular. I would have been mad if they were my grapes and the picking crew had left so many beautiful bunches on the vine.

Back at the crush pad, we crushed and pressed the white blend, then the PN. This time I added ~30ppm KMBS to the juice and some Lallzyme C-max: I was disappointed in the overnight settling of last week's juice so decided a little enzymatic help was in order. We ended up with about 13 gal PN and 6 gal 'field blend' - I think about 50% chardonnay, 40% pinot, 10% viognier. Crappy yield, but I think that's what you get with a little basket press. I did include some stems in the press this time in an attempt to improve juice flow.

The all important numbers:

Pinot Noir: Brix 23, pH 3.15, TA 6.8
Field Blend: Brix 23, pH 3.24, TA 6.7

Love it! :db

The 'sparkling pick' continues to ferment nicely, albeit rather too quickly. Brix 1.3, 0.0 today for my 2 different yeasts. Tomorrow I will rack off the juice form today and pitch yeast (I'm going with Cross Evolution this time).
 
Sparkling base wine safely racked to carboys:

Racked_to_carboy_web.jpg

I ended up with 7 gal fermented with BA11, 6 gal fermented with QA23 and another 6 gal which was a blend of the two. (They are the three carboys in the back and the little 1-gallon jug, though I'm not sure if those big carboys are 6 gallons or 6.5?) Seems like a lot of liquid to lose between press (~23 gal) and first racking after fermentation... 😕

Both taste very dry (as expected) and nicely fruity - BA11 with prominent peach/apricot flavors and QA23 with some stonefruit but also citrussy notes. I added 30ppm KMBS at this stage.

The other fermentations are coming along nicely. Pinot noir is in the keg and the 'field blend' in the two carboys in front. They are running a bit cooler and slower than the sparkling batches, though I'm not sure how much is due to the different yeast and how much due to the fact that we've had a week of quite cool weather.
 
Today was the day for bottling my 2022 'Blanc de Noir'! I’ve been helping to make sparkling wine at a winery for the past 4-5 years, but this was my first effort as winemaker (and first home made sparkling wine).

From what I’ve learned so far, much of the art and science of traditional method sparkling wine is in the preparation of the liqueur de tirage – the yeast culture that will be responsible for secondary fermentation in the bottle. Most of the tirage protocols have 3 components/stages: rehydration, acclimatization and expansion. The overall goal is to get robust yeast growth in the relatively inhospitable environment of base wine, which has low pH (2.94 for my base wine), high (11-12%) alcohol and some SO2. Even rock star yeasts like EC1118 and DV10 will have trouble in this environment if not acclimatized.

On tirage day 1, I prepared the acclimatization solution (50:50 mixture of base wine and 50% w/v sugar solution) and expansion solution (wine, water and sugar solution). Both acclimatization and expansion solutions contain some DAP to provide nitrogen.

mise-en-place.jpg

Yeast rehydration was a fairly standard procedure of growing yeast (DV10) in a Go-Ferm starter culture. Due to the small volume (60mL!) I used a water bath to keep the culture warm during the first hour of its life. After that, it seemed very vigorous on its own.

Next I introduced the acclimatization mixture gradually to the yeast culture, starting with 7mL and gradually increasing the volume added at 15 minute intervals for the first hour and then every 30 minutes, for a total of 2 hrs. This was left to ferment for a further 2 hours before adding the first lot of expansion solution. For the next 2 days I gradually introduced the remaining expansion solution, measuring brix and sugar consumption rate as I went. We had a mini-heatwave so I moved the culture into my cool wine cellar…

Culture.jpg

Day 4 was bottling day! First task was to sugar up the base wine. I targeted 21g/L sugar, which is in the mid-range for champagnes; many go as high as 25-26g/L, which will yield 6 bar pressure in the bottles (almost 90psi). I figured that backing off a bit from this level would be prudent for my first attempt. The wine color was very pretty but darker than I remember? Looks like I will be making Brut Rose instead of Blanc de Noir... 😃

Sugaring.jpg

Glass was hard to source and my bottles came from Morewinemaking.com. They are supposed to be rated to 1.6MPa – over 3x the pressure I anticipate in my wine – but I am still a bit nervous since they are narrower and lighter than standard Champagne bottles. I will know whether they are successful or not in 2-3 months, at which point secondary fermentation should be complete. My caps came from KJ Urban brewing supplies in Canada (!). Although the cost of shipping to California was more than the price of the caps, they were the only ones I could find which came with a built-in bidule, which seemed to me like a good idea. Remarkably, they were also the most cost effective option: my total for 200 caps was less than the cost of 100 bidules (sans caps) at my LHBS.

Caps.jpg

My final tirage culture brix was 1.5. I loaded the starter into my bottling keg and gradually added increasing amounts of sugared wine to the yeast starter over the course of 90 minutes, together with riddling adjuvant (Clarifiant XL) and Fermaid-O as a nitrogen source in the bottle.

tirage build.jpg

I was a bit apprehensive about putting wine with live yeast through my new Enolmatic bottling machine, but it seemed like the best option and I figured I could disassemble everything and give it a thorough sanitation afterwards. My transfer pump was running throughout the bottling process, gently circulating the wine to make sure the yeast didn’t settle on the bottom of the keg. Enolmatic users will notice that there's a lot of wine in the overflow canister: it took a while to dial in the flow rate so that it didn't foam up too much.


1684276074442.png

We ended up with 79 bottles safely stored in my mini-tirage bin!

Tirage bin.jpg

I will report back when I open my first bottle, probably to test that everything looks OK around the 3-month mark. My provisional plan is to disgorge a few bottles towards the end of this year for the holidays, then do the remainder in 3 batches after 18 months, 30 months and 42 months.

*Edits to insert photos
 
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Well, I hit my first real problem... Checked in on the tirage bin yesterday and noticed it was leaking wine 😢

It seems like either the bottles aren't sealing well, the caps aren't sealing well or my manual crown capper wasn't up to the job (or maybe a combination of all three?)

I unloaded the bin and it seems like the problem was mostly ~6 bottles, which had lost about 1/3 to 1/2 their contents. Fortunately I have access to a pneumatic crown capper at the winery where I work, so I took my bottles down there and re-sealed them (by which I mean re-applied the existing caps - can't take them off because they are definitely under pressure!)

The pneumatic capper (left) leaves a dimple in the caps which was not present after manual capping (right):

crowncaps.jpg

I returned the bottles to the bin and checked this morning - no obvious leaks so I'm hoping the problem has been fixed. Regarding the partial bottles, I will probably riddle and open them at intervals over the next 6 months to see how things are proceeding. Wish me luck!
 
BDN 20230805.jpg

I made fizzy wine! 🍾 The picture really doesn't do it justice, the bubbles are really nice and persistent.

I had a couple of bottles that partially leaked, so I decided to riddle and disgorge one of them to see where we are ~2.5 months from bottling. By now, secondary fermentation should be done. I made a crude riddling apparatus by inclining a wine box first at 30°, then 45°, then 60° from horizontal, giving the bottles a swift sharp turn every morning for 3 or 4 days at each inclination. Then a few days more with the bottle on point, giving it a shake every day. The ogive (shoulder) seemed really clear so I think it did the job.

My 'a la volee' disgorging technique needs some work (and I need a better bottle opener), but I think I managed to get the cap off with most of the yeast removed. The wine is still very young of course - I don't plan on disgorging a significant number of bottles until fall/winter 2024. But I'm happy with the progress so far: somewhat remarkably, jasmine on the nose, bright citrus on the palate and just a hint of the toastiness to come... And the color seems to have dropped out, leaving a pretty white wine with just a hint of blush.

Next bottle disgorged will probably be for the holidays towards the end of the year, at which point I might try adding a little dosage.
 
I disgorged my second bottle today, around 5.5 months from bottling. This was another one that had a slight leak before I re-secured the crown caps:

BdN_20231106.jpg

It's still young but tasting great - crisp, fruity and a surprising amount of toastiness for such a young sparkler. I have another 4 bottles riddling in anticipation of the holidays, but hoping to have the restraint to keep some for another 1, 2, 3 or more years to see how it evolves.
 
Today was the day for bottling my 2022 'Blanc de Noir'! I’ve been helping to make sparkling wine at a winery for the past 4-5 years, but this was my first effort as winemaker (and first home made sparkling wine).

From what I’ve learned so far, much of the art and science of traditional method sparkling wine is in the preparation of the liqueur de tirage – the yeast culture that will be responsible for secondary fermentation in the bottle. Most of the tirage protocols have 3 components/stages: rehydration, acclimatization and expansion. The overall goal is to get robust yeast growth in the relatively inhospitable environment of base wine, which has low pH (2.94 for my base wine), high (11-12%) alcohol and some SO2. Even rock star yeasts like EC1118 and DV10 will have trouble in this environment if not acclimatized.

On tirage day 1, I prepared the acclimatization solution (50:50 mixture of base wine and 50% w/v sugar solution) and expansion solution (wine, water and sugar solution). Both acclimatization and expansion solutions contain some DAP to provide nitrogen.

View attachment 101397

Yeast rehydration was a fairly standard procedure of growing yeast (DV10) in a Go-Ferm starter culture. Due to the small volume (60mL!) I used a water bath to keep the culture warm during the first hour of its life. After that, it seemed very vigorous on its own.

Next I introduced the acclimatization mixture gradually to the yeast culture, starting with 7mL and gradually increasing the volume added at 15 minute intervals for the first hour and then every 30 minutes, for a total of 2 hrs. This was left to ferment for a further 2 hours before adding the first lot of expansion solution. For the next 2 days I gradually introduced the remaining expansion solution, measuring brix and sugar consumption rate as I went. We had a mini-heatwave so I moved the culture into my cool wine cellar…

View attachment 101388

Day 4 was bottling day! First task was to sugar up the base wine. I targeted 21g/L sugar, which is in the mid-range for champagnes; many go as high as 25-26g/L, which will yield 6 bar pressure in the bottles (almost 90psi). I figured that backing off a bit from this level would be prudent for my first attempt. The wine color was very pretty but darker than I remember? Looks like I will be making Brut Rose instead of Blanc de Noir... 😃

View attachment 101389

Glass was hard to source and my bottles came from Morewinemaking.com. They are supposed to be rated to 1.6MPa – over 3x the pressure I anticipate in my wine – but I am still a bit nervous since they are narrower and lighter than standard Champagne bottles. I will know whether they are successful or not in 2-3 months, at which point secondary fermentation should be complete. My caps came from KJ Urban brewing supplies in Canada (!). Although the cost of shipping to California was more than the price of the caps, they were the only ones I could find which came with a built-in bidule, which seemed to me like a good idea. Remarkably, they were also the most cost effective option: my total for 200 caps was less than the cost of 100 bidules (sans caps) at my LHBS.

View attachment 101391

My final tirage culture brix was 1.5. I loaded the starter into my bottling keg and gradually added increasing amounts of sugared wine to the yeast starter over the course of 90 minutes, together with riddling adjuvant (Clarifiant XL) and Fermaid-O as a nitrogen source in the bottle.

View attachment 101392

I was a bit apprehensive about putting wine with live yeast through my new Enolmatic bottling machine, but it seemed like the best option and I figured I could disassemble everything and give it a thorough sanitation afterwards. My transfer pump was running throughout the bottling process, gently circulating the wine to make sure the yeast didn’t settle on the bottom of the keg. Enolmatic users will notice that there's a lot of wine in the overflow canister: it took a while to dial in the flow rate so that it didn't foam up too much.


View attachment 101394

We ended up with 79 bottles safely stored in my mini-tirage bin!

View attachment 101395

I will report back when I open my first bottle, probably to test that everything looks OK around the 3-month mark. My provisional plan is to disgorge a few bottles towards the end of this year for the holidays, then do the remainder in 3 batches after 18 months, 30 months and 42 months.

*Edits to insert photos
How much yeast did you use?
 
How much yeast did you use?

For 15 (US) gallons of base wine (57L) my initial yeast culture was only 5.7g yeast in 60mL water/Go-Ferm, but I grew it up over 3 days so that my final tirage solution was 2.83L, or about 5% of the total base wine. My tirage protocol was similar to Scott Labs recommendation in their excellent Sparkling wine handbook.
 
For 15 (US) gallons of base wine (57L) my initial yeast culture was only 5.7g yeast in 60mL water/Go-Ferm, but I grew it up over 3 days so that my final tirage solution was 2.83L, or about 5% of the total base wine. My tirage protocol was similar to Scott Labs recommendation in their excellent Sparkling wine handbook.
Thanks! I'm diligently taking notes :)

Cheers!
 
I disgorged my second bottle today, around 5.5 months from bottling. This was another one that had a slight leak before I re-secured the crown caps:

View attachment 107236

It's still young but tasting great - crisp, fruity and a surprising amount of toastiness for such a young sparkler. I have another 4 bottles riddling in anticipation of the holidays, but hoping to have the restraint to keep some for another 1, 2, 3 or more years to see how it evolves.
Curious how much sediment are ya getting in a bottle? I'm not sure about my disgorging skills....and wonder if I could do without it?
 
Curious how much sediment are ya getting in a bottle? I'm not sure about my disgorging skills....and wonder if I could do without it?
There is not a huge amount of sediment, it most likely fits into the crown cap. But the problem with sediment in sparkling (aside from esthetics) is that it serves to nucleate bubble formation, so that you can get gushing bottles if you're not careful. I also made a pet-nat style elderflower wine this year (non-disgorged) which likely had too much carbonation, and it's hard to open a full size bottle without the contents spraying out.

That being said, people do make successful non-disgorged sparkling wines, so if you go that route I'd suggest targeting a lower level of carbonation, say 12-16g/L sugar? But you might want to give the riddling and hand disgorging method a try, at least with a bottle of two. Not only does it make a cleaner wine, but it lets you add a little 'dosage' to balance the acidity with some sugar and maybe also alter the character of the wine (eg add some red for rose color).

I had no prior experience with disgorging either, but it seems to have worked out. There are several youtube videos showing the technique. And when I have more bottles to disgorge I will probably make some sort of neck freezing device so that I can get that plug of sediment out more cleanly.
 
I disgorged 4 bottles of my Blanc de Noir today. It's still rather young - only 6 months tirage - but I wanted a few bottles for the holidays, as well as to test out the procedure for when I disgorge a couple of cases this time next year. With the help of my wife we managed to get it done, but not without some trials and tribulations and colorful language...

Bottles had been riddled for the previous few weeks and appeared clean, with any sediment collected in the crown cap. The plan was, briefly:
- Chill bottles in ice water and premix the rock salt-crushed ice for an hour. I used about 25% w/w salt: ice.
- Immerse necks in a rock salt-crushed ice mix for 5-10 minutes
- Rinse bottle, pop off the crown cap, clean the neck and add dosage
-Apply new crown cap (Ferrari floor corker with crown cap attachment)

I made a jig to hold up to 6 bottles in place over an old Thermos ice chest, but my first problem was that despite measuring beforehand I didn't have enough ice for the bottle necks to reach. (The good news, however, is that the ice temperature got down to a few degrees below 0F/-20C) So I ended up just jamming the bottles in the rock salt/ice mix:

Disgorging 2023.jpg

Popping the caps off went surprisingly smoothly though I forgot to rinse the bottles in the rinse bucket. And adding the dosage seemed to work well too, we also added a little more plain base wine in one bottle that was a bit shorter than the others.

Unfortunately the crown capper was a disaster. One of the lugs that attaches the crown cap attachment to the corker was bent, and because of this it was hard to get the caps on straight - we had to redo one of them because you could hear it hissing. The lug finally broke off - it won't affect the corking function but I'll have to find an alternative for crown capping in future.

I'm going to give it a week or so to settle down (and hopefully make sure there are no leaks) before opening a bottle to see how it turned out.
 
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Sorry for your small tribulations, but, overall, that is an awesome report!.

As a bit of trivia, I believe Fahrenheit defined the zero point of his scale as the freezing point of a saturated salt water solution.
 

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