Homemade vs. Commercial and what I am doing to close the gap

Discussion in 'General Wine Making Forum' started by NorCal, Nov 1, 2019.

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  1. Nov 1, 2019 #1

    NorCal

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    My goal is to make a $5 bottle of wine that will stand up to the local $25+ commercial wines that I like. This is my 7th vintage and below are the conclusions that I have reached, what I have tried and what I am trying.

    I believe my wines would will stand up (blind tasting of knowledgeable people) against the average and below wineries in our area. The same cannot be said versus the top wineries in our area. I recently opened up a bottle from my favorite winery in the area and said to myself, $*#@#, why can't I make wine that taste like this.

    The difference I find is the depth and breadth of flavors I get from these excellent commercial wines.

    I believe that the biggest differentiating factor for me the ability to control fermentation temperature, which has been discussed before. Their ability to cold soak, slow fermentation and do extended maceration after fermentation has been completed is where the depth and breath of flavors are being extracted from the grapes.

    Since I'm making 100-200 gallons per year, the cost associated with buying a chilling unit is beyond the hobby level. So, this is what I've done and this is what I'm trying to elevate the quality of my wines.

    Blending - I find myself leaning on Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot more and more as a means to bring color, tannin and depth to my wines. It has made my Cab Sauv and Cab Franc's much better wines.

    Slowing Fermentation - I've tried fermenting in my cold box (65-69 degrees), frozen milk cartons and this year adding 50%-70% of the yeast that is called for. Fortunately this year, grapes were late, so we naturally had cooler ambient temps and my fermentations were 10-12 days vs the typical 7

    Free Run - This year I kept the free run cab franc separate from the pressed cab franc. The freerun has much more of the varietal flavor than the pressed wine. I used a much higher percentage of the free run wine in this year's barrel.

    Slow to Press - Even though the brix level hit 0, I let it sit an extra day / day and a half. The weather was cooler than usual and I may be flirting with spoilage opportunities, but I was willing to take the chance.

    Saignee Pulling 15%-30% of the juice out of a red ferment

    Anything else you can think of?
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2019
  2. Nov 1, 2019 #2

    WellingtonToad

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    We are in parallel. We appear to have been making wine for the same about of time, and have the same issue.
    I do however describe it differently. To me, I separate flavour and taste. Taste being mouth feel, acid, and tannins. Flavour is the berries, and a little from the oak.
    Firstly, I believe a two hour rest in the decanter before drinking goes a part of the way there.
    Blending helps a lot, but I use Merlot with Cab Say or Shiraz. It really doesn't take much. Less than 5% will lift the wine.
    We differ in that you make a lot more than me. I only do 100 litres a year. I was thinking it was the barrel I needed. Do you keep a close eye on sulphur levels in the barrel?
    I am interested in what others have to say.
     
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  3. Nov 2, 2019 #3

    salcoco

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    I notice neither of you discuss yeast selection. nor do you discuss variable oak aging, ie American, French and Hungarian. I believe the micro-oxygenation provided by a barrels is also key.
     
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  4. Nov 2, 2019 #4

    ibglowin

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    I think one thing you may not be putting more thought into perhaps is quality of the fruit. I know you have better fruit than many/most of us that rely on mass produced, mass picked fruit out of the Lodi AVA but perhaps it might not be the best clones of the same fruit, might be the soil or vineyard site. Yeast selection might play a role. Barrel size and selection may have an impact.

    So @NorCal the burning question I have is who is your favorite commercial red wine from the area that you compare things to?
     
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  5. Nov 2, 2019 #5

    mainshipfred

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    To start with and to compare, the cost of my $5 bottle with grapes from Cali will be much higher than yours since your cost of fruit is half of what we pay here on the East Coast for probably higher quality. With that being said we do have a few varietal here in Virginia that are favorable to our area. Those include most notably are Viognier, Petit Manseng, Norton, Petite Verdot, Tannat and Cab Franc. With the exception of Cab Franc and a Norton I made in 2017 this year will be my first attempt with Virginia fruit. With the exception of the Viognier which came in at a pH of 4.20 all the numbers were really good and the fruit was near perfect. Last year was the first time I paid a premium for quality fruit and those 2 wines are my best to date although I can't rule out the experience I've gained hasn't contributed to that. My point is I'm now a believer in the quality of the fruit makes a huge difference so we'll have to wait and see how the VA wines turn out. I am also a fan of blending and slow fermentation so far has been limited to whites. My batches are not large enough to separate the free run from the press so I haven't tried that. Saignee is something I tried for the first time this fall but with wines I am making for the first time so there will be nothing to compare to. What I suspect will be my best wine this year will be the PV which came from 3 different Virginia vineyards but I'm looking forward to all of them.

    My add to your list is quality friuit.
     
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  6. Nov 2, 2019 #6

    NorCal

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    I have the luxury of living in a community that sells grapes to the local wineries. I get the exact same grapes that are sold the wineries. @4score and I have also built relationships with other commercial vineyards and pool our needs to buy grapes by the ton. For me, I can take access to fruit off the table.
    My reds are aged in barrels and I’ve purchased a number of new American and French barrels, so that too is off the table.

    I know the owner of a great winery and the winemaker well and he has tasted and given me feedback on my wines a number of times. I told him I was trying to emulate his Viognier last year. He asked if I was able to ferment for three months, like he does. That is what really confirmed in my mind what I believe is the biggest differentiating factor.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2020
  7. Nov 2, 2019 #7

    CDrew

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    Having seen the @NorCal set up, and tasted the wine, I'd say you're being too hard on yourself. Because the wine is already excellent, and any of us would be proud with that result. And the fruit there is beautiful and well tended, and likely better than anything out of a Lodi commercial vineyard. I have not tasted enough Cabernet Franc to know exactly what to look for, but are you comparing apples to apples or Gala to Granny Smith?

    I had another thought too. @NorCal, you mentioned that you minimize fermentation additives like Opti-Red or tannin. For sure, the commercial guys do not, and they have access to all the specialized toys.

    Agree with this:

    And that's not to mention how commercial process on a large scale is just better than what can be done in the garage. For instance, I was at a winery 3 days ago picking up grapes. They were loading the crusher and immediately steam cleaning the bins. Then the bins were filled with must and ready for fermentation. So in 30 seconds the 1000 pound bin was emptied, cleaned, sterilized and back in use with no wasted motion. I was thinking how smart and how quick that was with no cleaner needed. The owner let me use the steam wand to clean out my Brute fermentors and I was immediately impressed. It was a combination steam cleaner and pressure washer. Perfect. And likely every stage of the commercial process is like that.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2019
  8. Nov 2, 2019 #8

    mainshipfred

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    I'v often wondered if fermenting in a large bin would make a difference similar to aging in a commercial size barrel as opposed to a 30 or 40 liter, liquid to surface ratio aside.
     
  9. Nov 2, 2019 #9

    1d10t

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    You can get a chest freezer that goes up to around 185 gallon capacity. You'd lose some back to spacing depending on what bin you could find to fit inside. Temperature movement would be slow. Many in the home brew beer community are using aquarium controllers off of sleaze bay for temperature control.

    Not sure what the heating/cooling business is like in your area but I'd try and 'friend' a couple guys and have them be on the lookout for someone that is upgrading an old cooling system with new. You might be able to convert it to your use.
     
  10. Nov 2, 2019 #10

    crushday

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    This is one of the most intriguing forum posts in recent memory. Although I have nothing to add, I'm raising my glass to @NorCal for helping me fine my craft. And, I want to be notified when something else is added to the post...
     
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  11. Nov 2, 2019 #11

    Rice_Guy

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    I am surprised no one has suggested oxygen exposure yet.

    After racking UC Davis does tricks with their floating cover tanks as covering the tank with a plastic shroud and bleeding nitrogen in. Have also seen setups where they have plastics and keep a slight positive pressure on the system with N2
     
  12. Nov 2, 2019 #12

    WellingtonToad

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    Last year I tried the temperature control route. It was not successful. It's not just about maintaining temperature, it's about maintaining the right temperature.
    Colour and aroma start from the beginning of the ferment. The required temp is about 28 - 30C. After that there may be a benefit from cutting back on temperature to extend the ferment, and reduce the volatile blow off.
    Another opportunity that I have seen another wine maker doing with good success, is to start with a natural ferment before innoculating with yeast. Wait until the natural ferment is underway then inoculate. He got amazing results in terms of aroma and flavour. I am only looking at trying it this year.
    As for being too hard on one's self, the challenge is always for gold medal, and once that is achieved best wine of show.
    I and I am sure many others want to drink the best wines we can. Just don't want to have to buy it.
     
  13. Nov 2, 2019 #13

    1d10t

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    This is my first real year of trying wine and after a couple of kits I'm trying juice buckets. I have an old fridge that I put shelf in and can do two 8 gallon ferment buckets at a time. I keep the temperature probe strapped to the bucket about 3/4's of the way up the liquid height. On top of that I've turned it into a stir plate that uses 2 inch bars. I keep it degassed, the yeast stirred and the temperature constant throughout the full volume that way. I do the MFL towards the end of ferment but I keep the critters stirred and in suspension. After I add the nutrient for the 1/3 sugar break I seal and don't open the buckets until time to rack. I have a syringe that I use through the air lock grommet to do the MLF. I can worry less about oxygen and contamination that way.

    This year I did 4 buckets. I scheduled pickup of 2 Merlot at the end of August and then 2 Chardonnay around mid October. With other things going on this gave me plenty of time to get the Merlot racked to the secondary before having to worry about the Chardonnay.
     
  14. Nov 2, 2019 #14

    WellingtonToad

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    @1d10t don't get me wrong, I haven't given up on temp control. I am just suggesting that there is a lot more to know.
    I make wine from grapes. Cab sav or Shiraz.
    Your set up is interesting, but I can't see how I would set it up. I think I need to punch down the cap or at least do a pump over to get as much as I can from the grapes.
    I Typically get a 3degree variation between centre of must to my temp probe. It is just a case of live with it.
    Thereis one other concern on my mind. I keep reading about a conflict between alcohol content and berry flavour. The higher the alcohol the lower the berry flavour.
    Wine making is all about balance. Maybe I am just a bit hot on the alcohol.
    There is so much to know.
     
  15. Nov 2, 2019 #15

    Ajmassa

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    15%-30% pulling- saignee style is intriguing. Concentrating the wine and getting a rose out of it too? Win/win. Definitely doing this.

    Tho not always the case. It wouldn’t have mattered much on my cab last year. Can’t get color if there’s no color to give. My Paso Robles grapes were a sorry excuse for a cab. Silly me assumed high price = high quality. Was very frustrating when planning all year and selecting what you think will be nice quality grapes. High ph is expected, but lacking color, brix and acid? Fughetaboutit
    All the little tricks of the trade are great. But when push comes to shove the fruit quality is everything. I’m fine tho. Really. Totally over it.
    West coasters probably wouldn’t understand.
     
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  16. Nov 3, 2019 #16

    CDrew

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    I'd say, we understand perfectly. Even living in the middle of it, access to small lots of premium grapes is still a chore. If I wanted 5 tons, I could have them tomorrow morning 7 am, but when you want 500 pounds or less, you have fewer options. Great fruit is still great fruit. I have found that you need to be opportunistic. Often I won't know until Thursday night, what grapes I'll get on Saturday morning. It's both fun and a bit of a lottery feeling thing. You hear about some nice grapes available, jump on them that day. Pick them yourself if you need to. It's why I've been hesitant to make a large amount of a single variety. What if you got a looser? Then you'd have nothing.

    I will say that you folks back east pay a lot more for grapes than we do, but refrigerated transportation of perishable grapes costs money, and so you have to pay a premium.
     
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  17. Nov 3, 2019 #17

    jsbeckton

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    I’m new to wine but have spent 10 years trying to emulate my favorite Belgian beers. On my scale I have the ability to control temperature and water profiles that are said to be “the key” but I’ve never come close to perfecting.

    On that note though, many of the worlds best breweries maintain their own proprietary yeast strains. I’m convinced that is a big part of the puzzle. I wonder if the same is true for wineries or if they are using yeast strains that are commonly available?

    Here’s to continuing to chase the dragon though!
     
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  18. Nov 3, 2019 #18

    Scooter68

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    Not knocking what you are doing Folks - but Now I know I'm doing the right thing for me personally. I could never devote the time and money for traditional wines(Grape wines). That and the fact that "Fruit Wines" are virtually impossible to find makes me happy that I have limited my efforts to wines for which there are not commercial equivalents (Other than Plum).

    Sounds like a lot of great work by you folks and I certainly applaud you and appreciate your comments on my questions. Cheers to you all and hope your ventures are successful.

    My initial interest was sparked because I looked online and locally and could not find the very fruit wines I like - Apple was the primary spark - simple?? Nope, even when I found it, laws prevent shipping of the wine. So... Make my own.

    The dedication so many of you have to trying to meet or exceed your commercial wines is impressive. This is a hobby where that is not an easy task compared to say Woodworking where high quality furniture and other wood products are no longer readily available. Both hobbies often take locally produced raw materials and transform them into outstanding products. Wine making is, however; loaded with so many variables that you have to understand and control to produce that high end result. (Woodworkers - I'm not denigrating us either, I do both)

    Again thanks for taking the time to let us know how much effort you put into your wine making.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2019
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  19. Nov 3, 2019 #19

    Ajmassa

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    Fair point on the fruit wine. But for me It really has no bearing on commercial wines readily available. I love making wine. And I love grape wine. Not about $. Or availability.
    It’s because I enjoy it. And enjoy striving to improve, adding new tools or ideas to the toolbox. And always learning.

    take that cab I referenced. It’s by no means a bad wine. Just not what I was going for. I can barrel it to add some umph. Or Make another to blend it. Or leave it be. Adapting and troubleshooting as needed just comes with the territory. And still very much enjoyable.


    Btw @CDrew the west coaster thing was not meant seriously
     
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  20. Nov 3, 2019 #20

    jgmillr1

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    Not necessarily. My first chiller was a small industrial unit I bought off eBay for $350. Excellent temp control. Worked great and could even cold stabilize a 200gal insulated tank given enough time. I still use it for heating up frozen or refrigerated fruit when I get it.

    Here is a similar one you could buy now:
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/S-A-CW-520...9ce20:g:irgAAOSwc5JdrTmu:sc:Other!46031!US!-1
     

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