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Steve Wargo

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I wasn't able to find much discussion about crushing and fermenting with stems so I'm posting this thread. Back in the day everybody just had a crusher in the garage and a plastic barrel. You brought home the grapes in the wooden boxes and ran them through the crusher, dropping the entire crush with stems into the barrel and walked away. I remember punching down my Dad's must and seeing all those stems tangled up in there... When I started making my own wine I always got the distributor to run my grapes through their big de-stemmer machine and brought home the must in pails, leaving the stems and boxes behind. But now I want to crush myself and ferment with the stems like we did when I was a kid. I recall the strong bitterness and tannin...and want to recreate that again. So, my question is this: I'm just buying Central Valley California grapes that are shipped up here to the Toronto area, not the premium AVA grapes, and wondering if I'm getting myself into trouble. Smiling Baby from Lodi is what they mostly carry. I'm thinking Merlot. You guys think the stems from this type of grape will be too green for this experiment? Or, is it worth trying?
I crushed Monday 9/21 about 20 lbs of Petite Pearl and did not remove the stems (green stems like in your pic) This as an experiment. I hope to get a gallon of finished wine out of it. The grape-must does have a vegetal character to it and quickly dries the palate. I kind of like the direction that this wine might be heading. I will keep the stems in the grape-must until it is done fermenting.
 
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Cynewulf

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I haven’t done it yet, but I found this post from a Sonoma winemaker on whole cluster fermentation to be interesting with regards to green vs brown stems: https://shop.rogerroesslerwines.com/?method=blog.BlogDrilldown&blogEntryID=debc552b-bec7-4832-be5f-16d21b08230c.
Specifically this quote: ‘The general rule of thumb used to be that the greener the stems the less a winemaker was “supposed” to incorporate them into the wine. I’ve found that not to be the case, and I think that more and more people are also—through trial and error—finding this to be the case as well. In fact, many times, I’ll get more of the green, “stemmy” flavor from clusters that are riper and actually have more a more tan or brown color than neon green stems.’
 

Jbu50

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I crushed Monday 9/21 about 20 lbs of Petite Pearl and did not remove the stems (green stems like in your pic) This as an experiment. I hope to get a gallon of finished wine out of it. The grape-must does have a vegetal character to it and quickly dries the palate. I kind of like the direction that this wine might be heading. I will keep the stems in the grape-must until it is done fermenting.
Let me know how it works out, thanks.
 

Jbu50

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I haven’t done it yet, but I found this post from a Sonoma winemaker on whole cluster fermentation to be interesting with regards to green vs brown stems: https://shop.rogerroesslerwines.com/?method=blog.BlogDrilldown&blogEntryID=debc552b-bec7-4832-be5f-16d21b08230c.
Specifically this quote: ‘The general rule of thumb used to be that the greener the stems the less a winemaker was “supposed” to incorporate them into the wine. I’ve found that not to be the case, and I think that more and more people are also—through trial and error—finding this to be the case as well. In fact, many times, I’ll get more of the green, “stemmy” flavor from clusters that are riper and actually have more a more tan or brown color than neon green stems.’
WOW!
 

Steve Wargo

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Let me know how it works out, thanks.
After The stem-in Petite Pearl punch down this morning, Friday, I sanitized a teaspoon to taste test, as I do every day. The vegetal nuances are starting to fade. It left my mouth very dry, and the dry feeling lingered well after. I think in a good way. I also have well over 100 pounds of Maquette brewing little to no stems. Completely different mouthfeel. At this time the Marquette must remind me of tart Montmorency cherry juice. Two wines and as far as I can tell, are on different sides of the taste test spectrum. Good medicine.
 

OilnH2O

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Green stems here too... Thanks to all the advice from everybody I decided not to use the stems... And, its true, there's enough stems in the must that make it through the destemmer anyway...
I've been following this thread with interest. The posts with descriptions of "no stems" and "all stem" seemed to be so different from my experience. I have one of those hand-cranked crusher-destemmers with a couple of "paddles" on the interior barrel. I find that about 1/3 (or even less) of the stems come out of the end of the de-stemmer. There are so many stems in my must, I've thought I somehow had a "bad" de-stemmer!

Then I read the post, above. While I continue to pull out (by hand) stems as I punch down the must, by the time I press there are still a lot of stems. I do field blends - 60% Leon Millot, 25% Pinot Noir, 15% Marachal Foch. By the time it gets into the carboys I'm tempted to just label it "It Is What It Is!"
 

Steve Wargo

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I've been following this thread with interest. The posts with descriptions of "no stems" and "all stem" seemed to be so different from my experience. I have one of those hand-cranked crusher-destemmers with a couple of "paddles" on the interior barrel. I find that about 1/3 (or even less) of the stems come out of the end of the de-stemmer. There are so many stems in my must, I've thought I somehow had a "bad" de-stemmer!

Then I read the post, above. While I continue to pull out (by hand) stems as I punch down the must, by the time I press there are still a lot of stems. I do field blends - 60% Leon Millot, 25% Pinot Noir, 15% Marachal Foch. By the time it gets into the carboys I'm tempted to just label it "It Is What It Is!"
OilinH2o I have a very similar crusher with the paddles. To catch stem, I place a wired refrigerator shelf over the must barrel. It catches many of the stems. some still sneak into the must. I pull the stems and allow the skins to fall through the grate. I also try to quickly strip any skins on the stems. I place the collected stems in a container/bucket and by the next day or two grape juice collects at the bottom of the stem bucket. Then I crush more grapes. I guess one could also build a different stem-catcher.
 

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Jbu50

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Generally, the amount of stems that a winemaker leaves behind, is based upon the tannin levels in the grapes that he is fermenting. If the tannin content is low, the increase in stems will help fill the void, as the tannin is not only present for taste, but also plays a key role in color retention and the ability to age. That said, summarily including all of the stems for nostalgic purposes, I suppose that I can understand, but just know that it's at the risk of creating a wine with less than desirable tannic properties that could take many years to age and mellow into a smooth, drinkable wine. You also need to be able to evaluate the stems to know if they are going to increase your tannins, or just make the wine taste vegetal. I claim zero talent in being able to taste grapes and discern anything about the tannin content, or much else, they either taste good or not, seeds are brown and crunchy indicate if the grapes were picked ripe, or green and chewy if harvested too early. That's my limit..................

You'll get a pretty fair amount of stem pieces in your must anyway, just using a C/D machine to do that work for you. If it were me, I'd be pretty careful about how much stem material were allowed to remain with the must
Pressed my skins today and noticed that there was a good amount of whole grapes that passed through the de-stemmer machine... Some of them were wrinkled but some were still plump and round... I don't recall seeing that in previous years... Got the grapes de-stemmed on a different machine this year so maybe that's it. But, anyway, with all the talk about whole bunch fermentation, hopefully this will add a little complexity, as they say.
IMG_3603.JPG
 

Adam Beck

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I don't think i'm gonna try whole bunch fermentation because I don't want the potential sweetness...
with whole bunch you still allow the pressed juice to ferment dry, there won’t be residual sugar.
 

RHGibson

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Wine and Hop Shop in Madison WI recommends removing at least 90% of the stems after crushing Concord or Foch-Millot grapes, and "most" of the stems for Frontenac.

 

Adam Beck

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One option if you want stems but not green stems: destem, but keep the stems separate. Leave them in the sun to dry out quite a bit (or even lightly toast them in the oven), then add them back to the must.
 
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Jbu50

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One option if you want stems but not free stems: destem, but keep the stems separate. Leave them in the sun to dry out quite a bit (or even lightly toast them in the oven), then add them back to the must.
Well, that is interesting!
 

Jbu50

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@Jbu50 i just pressed my zin blend which had about 30% of the stems in there as whole clusters and that old school “ homemade bite/kick” we are after is unmistakably present. 👌
Thanks for the shout-out, yes I know, been reading all your documentation, very inspiring!
 

AaronSC

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I've been doing a bunch of reading up on whole cluster fermentation since I wanted try it this year -I ended up not doing it mainly because I was overwhelmed enough with processing 3600 lbs of grapes in a few weeks that I was less experimental than I thought I would be.

A couple take-aways I had from the reading 1) like people said, so much of this is "trends" -stems are bad, stems are good, green=bad; brown=good. It sounds like the stems add certain characteristics to the final wine and depending on how long you can age it and your tolerance for certain tannins it may be what you want or not. Definitely, before modern equipment, pretty much all reds were on the stems. 2) It's hard to draw conclusions about the actual impact since it's a lot of anecdotes but not really any controlled studies (that I could find). Of course you can't have an ideal experiment with some aspects of this because there's no way to compare brown vs. green stems with the same set of grapes, but definitely could do some experiments with all stems/no stems. 3) it seems fairly rare for wineries to do 100% whole cluster. I read an article about Burgundy where, before the 70's all wines were 100% whole cluster. A prominent wine maker who stemmed won some big award and this really changed things so pretty everyone was stemming. They noticed that these wine won awards and people like them upon release but they faded very quickly -not aging as people expected. Now people are including stems again but generally only partial.

It seems to be a similar trend to the "big wine" phenomenon. Wine critics love huge powerful oaky reds that drink well upon release because 1) they are tasting 50-70 wines a day and well you need to be big to have much of an impact in those conditions and 2) they mostly taste and evaluate wines upon release so those that taste great early on have a big advantage, even if they won't age or be worth collecting. Interesting story here about a very influential wine program director in NYC who had a huge collection of expensive California wines from the "big impact" period and how he had the chance to really taste them after Hurricane Sandy ruined their labels. After a few years all he could taste was the alcohol and oak: A Storm Washes Away Old Ideas on Wine

So, I'm wondering if us home wine-makers, who do not need to pay attention to fashion or critics or need to get a wine out quick to recoup investment, might actually have very different priorities when it comes to whole cluster fermentation. I'm going to try it on some batches next year and see what happens.
 

Cynewulf

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Your observations echo a lot of my own. This is my first year making wine myself, but I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a few winemakers over the years, both here in the US, in France, and the country of Georgia. The impression I get is that commercial winemakers, maybe especially in the US, have drivers that home and smaller winemakers might not have, in particular consistency, appealing to popular tastes, and the need to quickly turn over equipment during harvest season. I was recently talking to a Virginia winemaker and asking about some of the techniques I’m interested in like native/spontaneous ferments and extended maceration and his reply was that at the volume they were producing they didn’t have time to babysit wines like that. He said some smaller boutique wineries might dabble in those kinds of things but his larger winery couldn’t give the attention required, tie up the equipment as long, or take the financial risk. I can definitely understand all those things when you have a huge investment riding on the product you’re only able to produce once a year. It definitely made me happy that this is my burgeoning hobby rather than my livelihood so I can afford to take a few risks and experiment a little.
 

Steve Wargo

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I racked the Petite Pearl from primary to secondary (SG 1.000) that was fermented with skins and all stems. My thought at this time is that the must has a good balance. The vegetal flavor that was present early in the fermentation has faded into the background. The dryness on the gums is not so pronounced. Will that change as the wine ages? I guess I'll find out. At this time I would do it again. This was a small batch. It made for a good test.
 
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OilnH2O

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OilinH2o I have a very similar crusher with the paddles. To catch stem, I place a wired refrigerator shelf over the must barrel....
Thanks, Steve - I really hadn't connected the dots that the C/D was doing its job, but the "some" stems were not being kicked out the end, but dropping down through into the must. I think I'll try your (screen) method this year.
As some have mentioned, you will always get stems... the issue is how much. Last year I had lots of tannin and acidity and was blaming the stems. Every year is different with my small backyard vineyard!
I haven't picked yet - we had a late spring and even though we have had nice weather, my brix is still mostly low. I'm going to get every bit of hang/daylight time I can! But, I'll likely pick this coming week - it all depends on the WX! Thanks again, Steve, for the tip!
 

Steve Wargo

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Thanks, Steve - I really hadn't connected the dots that the C/D was doing its job, but the "some" stems were not being kicked out the end, but dropping down through into the must. I think I'll try your (screen) method this year.
As some have mentioned, you will always get stems... the issue is how much. Last year I had lots of tannin and acidity and was blaming the stems. Every year is different with my small backyard vineyard!
I haven't picked yet - we had a late spring and even though we have had nice weather, my brix is still mostly low. I'm going to get every bit of hang/daylight time I can! But, I'll likely pick this coming week - it all depends on the WX! Thanks again, Steve, for the tip!
lots of tannin and acidity. some want that for the preservative abilities. Maybe not so good if you want to drink within 3 years. What kind of grapes are you growing? On 10/09/20 I finished picking my last round of Marquette 1 acre vineyard. The refractometer read Brix of 28, PH unknown as of this post lol. A couple of weeks ago when I picked Marquette (same vineyard) the refractometer read Brix 22.5 (PH around 3.0 to begin). All I know is that the wasps on the Marquette were very docile lol. Also picked that last of the Petite Pearl, funny no Wasps. I'm not sure what the Brix reading was on the Petite Pearl, cause I forgot to take a reading. I will take a hydrometer reading on both when I crush today.
 

OilnH2O

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(in what follows, last brix is given in parentheses, from 9 Oct. pH also unknown)
I have a backyard vineyard ("Missoula Vineyard" on Winetalk). There are - literally - a few Foch (brix 18-20), a few Pinot Noir (bx 12-24), about 12-14 Leon Millot (bx16-24). I also have 4-5 reisling (bx12-20) and a lone Edelweiss (13)! About 34-35 vines in total. So, any time you think an acre is small, mine is a true "backyard" vineyard! This year was a late - very late spring with bud-break 3 weeks later than normal. That is why I am letting them hang as long as possible.
Even for wine it's an "interesting" year!
 
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