Help getting started with my first Sauvignon Blanc.

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adavis

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Hello all!

Former lurker hoping to get some advice on making my first wines.

Quick background: new to winemaking but an experienced beer/cider/mead homebrewer, with a background in beverage manufacture and lab work. I have a small home lab (can test sugar, pH, TA, and SO2 by AO), and tons of intermediate/advanced homebrew gear that should be good for wine (notably fermentation temp control, and filtration). For whatever reason, I find wine so much more intimidating than brewing.

Can someone help me calibrate my expectations for making a citrusy/tropical Sauvignon Blanc? My wife and I love Marlborough ones (regular favorites Kim Crawford and Whitehaven). I’d like to make something like that, ideally. I was going to get a Winexpert Private Reserve NZ kit but recently found out about a local group buy where I can get a California Sauv Blanc fresh juice pail (not sure where from, but I think it’s through F Colavita) for half the price of the kit.

I’ve read up a bit on the style, and as I understand it, it’s thiol and terpene driven so I’ll likely use QA23, VL3, or VIN 13 since I can get those simply enough. However, I know there’s a limit to the juice’s potential for those elements to be revealed. I understand that a California juice isn’t NZ juice, but is the juice pail a decent enough raw material for my goals? Or is the kit worth the extra cost? I like the juice pail price much better as it would leave room in the budget to do a second variety pail for a pyment as well...

Thanks in advance if you read this wall of text! I searched and found a thread that was similar from a few years back but it didn't have much info on the final results. I’m looking forward to more informed input.
 
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CA juice will not produce the same results as NZ juice -- differences in soil, climate, and possibly clone(s) make them different.

However, you can try grapefruit zest during fermentation, and more during aging if the fermentation zest doesn't produce enough zing.
 

adavis

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Thanks for the reply. What might I reasonably expect in general characteristics from fermenting a CA juice pail focused toward the thiol-driven style? The seller's description literally says "a variety of aromas and flavors" (which I get given what I've read about the highly varied usage of this grape) and other ones I've looked up are also vague with "distinctive" and "spicy" listed. I know there are a lot of moving parts to all this, but I see much more fleshed-out suggestions of an expected profile in the other varieties. My limited exposure to CA Sauv Blanc are wines that were intended to be a completely different thing entirely (either a more mineral profile or oaked).
 

sour_grapes

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Welcome to WMT!

And my thoughts were along the same lines as Bryan's. It is your wine -- you can punch it up with some grapefruit zest if you want! Check out threads by our own @joeswine for ides on this.
 

adavis

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Thanks! I've read those threads and they're great, but I guess I'm asking something else than "can I make it taste like a grapefruit" and more what might one expect in terms of potential in the CA juice precursors when fermentations is approached a certain way.
 
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@adavis, Sauvignon Blanc grown in Loire, Bordeaux, New Zealand, California, and Chile are all going to be different. You can try to emulate, but you will NOT fully succeed in reproducing the wine from one area using juice from another. I'm not discouraging you, just setting expectations.

Adding grapefruit zest during fermentation will not necessarily produce a grapefruit taste. Flavor blending is a complex subject.

If you are mind set on a NZ taste, then buy the kit. If you are open to experimentation, go with a CA bucket and doctor it.
 

adavis

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Thanks, again. I definitely get the variations, and flavor chemistry is part of my job, so I understand what you're saying. I shouldn't have asked the original question the way I did because I seem to have directed attention from my real curiosity which is "what style is a generic CA Sauv Blanc juice pail best suited to?" The descriptions I'm seeing are much more vague than the other white varietals.
 
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Thanks, again. I definitely get the variations, and flavor chemistry is part of my job, so I understand what you're saying. I shouldn't have asked the original question the way I did because I seem to have directed attention from my real curiosity which is "what style is a generic CA Sauv Blanc juice pail best suited to?" The descriptions I'm seeing are much more vague than the other white varietals.
Understood. Text is the hardest medium with which to communicate!

CA Sauvignon Blanc has the least description as (IMO) it's the most generic. White Bordeaux, Loire, and NZ are all distinctive. CA? The style varies and (IMO) it's not possible to describe it concisely.

Last fall I made CA Sauvignon Blanc. It came out good, but I can't tell you anything specific about it. It's far from the best SB I've had, but it has no faults. A bit above average, but not stellar. If I went back in time, I'd add the zest from 2 grapefruit during fermentation to "zest" it up.
 

adavis

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Great info! I think I'll take another look back at the list to see what other white pail I want to try this fall, instead. I'll do the NZ kit later since it's not so time-sensitive.
 

MiBor

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I watched a video a few weeks ago about the process of making Sauvignon Blanc in NZ and Australia. I can't find it on YT right now to post the link but I'll look again tomorrow. What stood out to me about their process is that they are trying to completely eliminate oxygen exposure after crushing, throughout the process, up until bottling. Also they use a really low temp fermentation technique that keeps the flavors and aromas into the wine. Unless you have equipment to do the same kind of fermentation and prevent oxygen exposure, I'm afraid you can't make that kind of wine at home, even with a NZ kit.
 

adavis

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Yeah, oxygen doesn't do wonders for a lot of aromatic compounds. Can't imagine the concentration process is any kinder to the aromatic potential of the kits, either. FWIW, I do have solid temp control and sealed/pressurizable SS fermenters with access to inert gas, but I can't see that really mattering if I'm buying juice in a bucket that's been trucked half a continent before I get it.
 

MiBor

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@adavis where are you located? There may be businesses within driving distance that sell SB grapes. I think it would be worth trying with grapes and as best temp control and oxygen management as you can. The style of wine you want to make is not easy and it will take you a lot of trial and error to even get close to making something good.

I make SB from Chilean juice in the spring, but it's a very different style, barrel aged on lees for a few months and then settled, filtered and bottle aged some more. It is tasty but it's not Marlborough SB or anything even close to it.
 

Rice_Guy

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* I also ask where are you? It sounds like you have neat toys to play with and may have the same FS degree I got. , , , welcome to this forum :cool:
* @MiBor is referring to “reductive” wine making. This will go as far as having the grapes pressed under nitrogen or CO2 or in a vacuum press. It sounds like the best for retention of fruity flavor. , , , , There are sensitive redox meters that can give you a reading of how much reductive life the beverage lost.
* This has been a good month for learning, I had “skunky” defect named in a white bucket I made and judging contest yesterday can see various levels of skunky defect in a high percentage of whites. The preventative suggested is to step feed Fermaid O and oxygenate at the end of lag phase (2 day) and again dose Fermaid a third way through sugar metabolism. , , If you want details on the chemistry/ solution “the AWRI “ put out a seminar on YT called “Stinky Sulphur” , , , Looking at contest wines skunky kills fruity notes, adds a bitter longer lasting after note, and I would guess to be a bigger quality risk than warm fermentation temperatures.
* you have mentioned grapefruit notes, I am enough of a lab bench person that I would consider adding one can of VintersHarvest grapefruit. I have done it a number of times with whites and like the long flavor notes.

Again welcome to WMT! I look forward to insights your background give.
 

adavis

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@MiBor I'm in MN. I don't know of white grapes available to me. I could have got in on a group buy of some red varieties, but the order deadline has already pased. I essentially just randomly decided to try out proper winemaking a few weeks ago, so I don't really know what resources I have available. The juice pails popped up one day in a FB group I'm in and wheels started to spin. I'd LOVE to try making something with MN grapes, but I have no resources for pressed juice and not sure I want to take on a guerilla crush/press on the first time out.

@Rice_Guy If I could do it all over again, I'd have done a FS program. I've got a broad-field natural sciences degree and the lack of a "real" credential has left some doors closed, unfortunatley. I think my pH pen has an mV mode with an optional ORP sensor. I might look into that.

I'm definitely going to take a step back from my original SB goal. I'm far more interested in making the best out of the materials at hand rather than trying to square peg/round hole something that's a difficult reach. It's how I approach my beer brewing (entirely sour/funk/saisons) and I like the results. My new goal is to make the best dry white I can with the choices I have (best as in, most well suited to the raw materials).
 

adavis

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The list of fresh white juices available to me right now are:

Chardonnay (starting to look like the best choice)
"Chablis" (in CA that means white jug blend, right?)
Chenin Blanc (super tempted to do a sparkling off-dry pyment with this, but I'd like that to be an "and" not an "or" to the dry white)
Colombard (not familiar, but isn't it's more of a filler/blender grape? Am I overlooking its potential?)
Gewurztraminer (wife hates it, this is a shared project)
Riesling (same situation as the Gewurztraminer)
Malvasia Bianca (not very familiar, but I associate it with sweet wines, is that fair?)
Muscat of Alexandria (we're simply not fans of anything Muscato related we've ever had)
Sauv Blanc (skipping that this round)

Viognier (what I actually really want to make, but it's a different vendor, comes pre-inoculated, and cost quite a bit more 👎)
If I could get the Viognier without yeast, I'd be done.

The yeast strain in the Viognier is not specified ("expertly chosen for the variety of grape" lack of transparency usually turns me off) and I have to assume it's EC-1118 or the like. The shop instructed me to simply "sulfite the must and then pitch your yeast the next day" which...doesn't sound right... They didn't specify a dosage rate and if it's EC-1118, won't it simply laugh at any appropriate sulfite addition and be on its merry way? And bombarding the must with enough sulfite to knock it out will surely leave it worse for the wear, right? Not to mention, wouldn't it still be terrible conditions for a new pitch the next day? Someone I know brainstormed that I freeze the must solid (I have the freezer space), hold for a few days, and then pitch after thawing. I could see how that might work, but it sounds complicated and won't it leave me with a bunch of lysed yeast that could present downstream off-flavors?

This might sound strange, but I really only ferment things for the fun of getting to play with yeast. Not having control over the selection/pitch rate and not knowing what conditions to target for a given outcome has no joy in it for me.
 

CDrew

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I made a Sauvignon Blanc last year from juice pails I got from Wine Grapes DIrect. The juice was from Washington grapes. It's close to the characteristics you want. It's shipped in 5 gal pails, so decide how much you want and order accordingly. Since you don't ferment on the skins anyway, nothing lost from having the juice pails and in fact, increases your efficiency. From grapes you only get about 2/3 volume.
 

StFrancis

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Made a SB couple years ago, fresh grapes from East central Illinois. 9 gal or so, bottled the small carboy about 10 months, was okay. Left the 6 gal bulk age sur lees another 18 months (after 2nd racking) and it was fantastic. Just remembered reading on another site SB responds well to sur lees.
 

sour_grapes

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The list of fresh white juices available to me right now are:

Chardonnay (starting to look like the best choice)
"Chablis" (in CA that means white jug blend, right?)
Chenin Blanc (super tempted to do a sparkling off-dry pyment with this, but I'd like that to be an "and" not an "or" to the dry white)
Colombard (not familiar, but isn't it's more of a filler/blender grape? Am I overlooking its potential?)
Gewurztraminer (wife hates it, this is a shared project)
Riesling (same situation as the Gewurztraminer)
Malvasia Bianca (not very familiar, but I associate it with sweet wines, is that fair?)
Muscat of Alexandria (we're simply not fans of anything Muscato related we've ever had)
Sauv Blanc (skipping that this round)

Viognier (what I actually really want to make, but it's a different vendor, comes pre-inoculated, and cost quite a bit more 👎)
If I could get the Viognier without yeast, I'd be done.

The yeast strain in the Viognier is not specified ("expertly chosen for the variety of grape" lack of transparency usually turns me off) and I have to assume it's EC-1118 or the like. The shop instructed me to simply "sulfite the must and then pitch your yeast the next day" which...doesn't sound right... They didn't specify a dosage rate and if it's EC-1118, won't it simply laugh at any appropriate sulfite addition and be on its merry way? And bombarding the must with enough sulfite to knock it out will surely leave it worse for the wear, right? Not to mention, wouldn't it still be terrible conditions for a new pitch the next day? Someone I know brainstormed that I freeze the must solid (I have the freezer space), hold for a few days, and then pitch after thawing. I could see how that might work, but it sounds complicated and won't it leave me with a bunch of lysed yeast that could present downstream off-flavors?

This might sound strange, but I really only ferment things for the fun of getting to play with yeast. Not having control over the selection/pitch rate and not knowing what conditions to target for a given outcome has no joy in it for me.

FWIW, I agree with your tentative conclusions and reasoning. I love Viognier, but I agree that it would not be a good idea to try to knock out the preinoculated yeast and insert your own. Especially given your stated proclivities.

So, yeah, maybe Chard is your best bet.
 

JBP

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@adavis - if you are in the cities (MN) and looking at the current juice buckets being pre-ordered from the major LHB in the area (who also happens to be a major on-line retailer), I can speak from experience that the juice buckets come pre-inoculated, even though that isn't in the fine print. And undoubtedly EC1118 (all characteristics of a major workhorse).
 

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