first time wine making - issues.. :(

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Mar 19, 2009
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Hi all,

New to the forum.

I made wine for the first time this year - I normally do it with my dad, but wanted to try on my own for once.

I decided on a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc blend. I crushed the de-stemmed grapes, added the recommended yeast/water mix and stirred the fermentation vat 2-3 times a day for about 10 days. Once I felt fermentation was complete, I put the wine into a demijohn with a cork and airlock.

I let the wine rest for approx 2 months and then tried it. The wine is not terrible, but it is most definetly not good. I had a sample sent away for testing through my wine vendor and the results came back as the following:

ph: 3.79
total acidity: 7.04
total so2: 4.85
free s2: 4.08

notes: customer had to add stabilizer right after fermentation. you can try a clarification, but there is not much to do!

err.. great.

So do any of you have any comments, thoughts, ideas? Would be greatly appreciated!
Hang tough Benny. That is beyond my knowledge but I am sure some of the other members who are more familiar with kits can give you a hand.
You need to do some bench trials with post tannin, I would have done a malo-lactic fermentation after the first fermentation was done probably as it looks like the malic acid was a little high. I would get some Grand Cru tannin and do trials at this point though. youd be amazed at what you can do with a not so great wine!
Is that free SO2 measurement in mg/l or ppm? If so, you really need to get it up to a higher level for adequate protection. Your pH is quite high, so the recommended free SO2 will be quite high also... sulfite is less effective at high pH.
I agree with Wade that your malic acid is probably a bit high (and tartaric a bit low) and you would have benefited from an MLF, just based on the radio between your pH and TA. Agree about the high pH and SO2 levels too.

But am I to understand that you did a full on-skin fermentation to dryness with a big Bordeaux style blend over a 10 day period? I highly doubt you have a low tannin problem. When going "all the way" on the skins with that kind of mix of grapes, it's not unusual for your wine to be drinkable only 2 or 3 years down the road IMO.
Skin was left on while crushing - left them in the fermentation mix.

I also removed MOST of the vines, although I did leave what I thought was sufficient by eye.
I guess it depends on what you mean by "not good". If you mean your wine has zero character or complexity, is completely dominated by bitter, mouth puckering tannins - all is going as expected at the 2 month mark.

But if by "not good", you mean some weird off-taste, or insipid and thin, then there is a problem. Was the ending SG was good? Starting SG good?

I'm not sure what your testing people mean with their "note" about stabilization and clearing? You stabilized after fermentation? Is it not clearing?

Edit: I should mention that I do my grapes the same way as you did - I also go all the way on the skins. I used to be into timing the press after 5 or 6 days fermenting by monitoring the SG, but I like the results better by just letting it go to completion. There's nothing wrong with doing it this way, but you have to wait longer for the tannins to mellow. Controlled slight oxidation also helps, either naturally in a barrel or by racking every two months for a year or so before bottling. (Still keep the SO2 levels up however).
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Ahh - to be honest, I haven't used a hydrometer, etc. I basically doing old-italian man wine following after my dad. He doesnt use yeast or any other additives in his juice/wine which is probably why im in my prediciment now. :)
Ahh - to be honest, I haven't used a hydrometer, etc. I basically doing old-italian man wine following after my dad. He doesnt use yeast or any other additives in his juice/wine which is probably why im in my prediciment now. :)

Maybe, maybe not. As I said, if there are no off flavours it's possible that your wine is just raw and young. Using the natural yeast on the grapes may work fine if you're in Italy, but not so well in America. The difference between America and Europe is one of history and age. Wine makers in Europe have been putting the wine lees and grape pulp back into the vineyards as fertilizer for centuries. Little did they know that they were doing selective breeding of yeast, since the yeast they reintroduced were the survivors that could stand the high alcohol levels of fermentation. Modern science didn't selectively breed and invent these yeasts, they just isolated them in the regions where people did this for generations.

Vineyards in America (for the most part) haven't been around long enough for people to develop regional yeasts in this way before modern fertilizers were developed and people started to use cultured yeast. So the wild yeasts around here are likely a lot "wilder", and you're taking an even greater chance.

I just figure we may as well not take chances when we don't have to, and for $1.29 we can buy a sachet of regional yeast developed over a few centuries in some Italian or French vineyard.
Very nicely said skyhawk!!!!! using hydrometer will not change the way anything is made but will give you an idea of whats going on so I believe its a good thing, kind of like trying to fix a car without any wrenches.
:) Im trying not to be ignorant, just tough when I've been watching/help my dad for years make his wine. 25+ years, never used any additives, never used any methods of measure, etc etc. 25+ years of excellent wine.

So are you guys suggesting a a first step I should go out and buy myself a hydrometer?
I think the hydrometer is probably the most important measuring device we have because we aren't bound by commercial winery rules. We can actually add sugar to get the brix up without the wine police putting us out of business :p

Apart from adjusting the must, it's invaluable for telling us when fermentation is really done, and what our finished ABV is so we can write it on the label.

But basic economics tells me that investing in a $10 TA test kit and an $80 pH meter is also a good idea when investing in several hundred dollars of grapes each year. It's good for the "from scratch" fruit wines too.
So are you guys suggesting a a first step I should go out and buy myself a hydrometer?

I don't doubt your father makes excellent wine that way. I know these Portuguese ol'timers here who can eat a few sample grapes and then comment on the taste for acid levels and brix. I kid you not. But I'll never be that good, so I need the hydrometer and acid testing stuff.
I too feel that your father can make a great wine, but I also bet he can make an even better wine by adjusting tannins and acid and to do that correctly you need to know what the PH is and TA to do so. I magine how good it really could be.

Your dad sounds like someone that has (had?) a wealth of information! I would love to sit with someone who has made wine like your father did (does?) without all the additives and precise measuring!

Good luck on your batch...I am new to this hobby (obsession) to be of any good to you! The experts have chimed in...seriously, these are two of the people here that know what they are talking about!
I personally think that the best way to make good wine consistently is to use all the tools at your disposal, including technical measurements (the numbers), sensory evaluation, and previous experience (along with the experience of seasoned winemakers.) I don't obsess about the numbers, but the more info you have about your must and your wine the better position you're in to make decisions that will help you improve the quality of your wine and avoid problems that might develop. Also, it's important to do some research and learn the relevance of the measurements to your wine, since the numbers are useless if you're not sure what they mean.