Short Primary Fermentation Italian American Tradition?

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Dustwheel

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So here's the question, with a little backstory first. I grew up half the family Italian American, watched the old folk from Italy make wine. Most of them did a three or four day primary fermentation and then into the demijohns, free run and pressed. I was too young to remember how the wine tasted, but this was a common practice so I'm assuming it was palatable. So my question is, what happens during secondary fermentation? After the grapes are pressed and placed into the demijohns if the if the primary fermentation is short? Any Italian Americans out there that understand this question please chime in. I have enough experience making homemade wine according to the "rules" LOL. But I've always been curious to know what would happen if the primary fermentation is cut short. My guess would be some sort of carbonation? No their wine wasn't bubbly. Is this a way of achieving a sweeter wine? Any experience with this would be greatly appreciated! Salute Mike
 

sour_grapes

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I assume there would be little difference in the end result. That is, I think if you transferred from the primary fermentation vessel at a relatively high SG/Brix level, the wine would simply take a bit longer to process all the remaining sugars in the secondary fermentation vessel.
 

BernardSmith

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But I wonder: if the yeast was indigenous, how likely would the wine continue to ferment after a few days, assuming that the grapes would have the same amount of sugar as wine grapes. My guess is that the yeast would quit with a great deal of residual sugar and so racking after 3 or 4 days would not change very much..
 

distancerunner

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It depends on the yeast. Winemakers use yeast that has been cultured/grown/whatever the term is to higher alcohol tolerances. I don't know how efficient indigenous yeast is in this regard.

One thing is true. When the alcohol percentage reaches the yeast tolerance level the yeast will die.

My grandfather was an Italian immigrant. I've made wine with his recipe. There was no mention of yeast. He was using a hydrometer back in the sixties and seventies. He chaptalized. The wine was bone dry and rather alcoholi. It's a safe bet that he bought and used wine yeast.
 

BernardSmith

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Folks are far too terrified of using natural yeast. All the wine yeasts were natural yeasts at one time. But I always add cultured yeasts anyway.
absolutely, but indigenous yeast are much like amateur athletes. The lab cultured yeast are professionals and they are grown to beat word records. The amateurs can run a marathon but it may take them 5 or 6 hours. The professionals can run the distance in 2 plus hours...
 

Nebbiolo020

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absolutely, but indigenous yeast are much like amateur athletes. The lab cultured yeast are professionals and they are grown to beat word records. The amateurs can run a marathon but it may take them 5 or 6 hours. The professionals can run the distance in 2 plus hours...
I think wild yeast produces better wines personally and I have worked with both in a commercial winery setting.
 

Rocky

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I have been involved in winemaking in all capacities from stripping grapes from the bunches as a child of 8 in 1950 to making my own wine from grapes, then juice and finally kits. We did not differentiate a "primary" and "secondary" fermentation, it was all just fermentation. This started in an open barrel and lasted from 10 to 14 days. Wine was removed from the fermenting barrels via a plug near the bottom of the upright barrel and moved to barrels supported on their side with the bung hole open. First run wine was segregated and marked, "Per La Famiglia." Occasionally, a "second wine" was made by not pressing the grapes at all, just capturing the free run and then adding water and sugar to the unpressed grapes (I don't recall the amounts as this was my grandfather's method) to restart fermentation.

The wine would continue to ferment closed ended barrels, with the CO2 escaping through the open bung and the level in the barrel was filled more than once a day as wine was absorbed by the barrel or evaporated. The process usually began during the second week of October (when wine grapes from California were available in Pittsburgh) and the barrel was sealed with a bung early in December. The wine would be drinkable at Easter, and it would improve with age. Early on we had no carboys or demijohns (although they came later), no yeast was ever added nor were any other additions made. Then, sometime in the 1960's a minor miracle occurred with the availability of Sodium Metabisulfite. We had to send to somewhere in New York for the chemical and the cost was outrageous, about $5 for a tube which may have contained 2 or 3 tablespoons full.

The wine was a very good table wine from 75% Zinfandel grapes and 25% Muscat grapes, co-fermented. On at least one occasion we used Alicante grapes in place of Zinfandel (can't recall the reason why but likely because my grandfather thought they tasted better). I should also mention that the fermenting barrels were 53-gallon, former whisky barrels from Schenley Distillery outside of Pittsburgh which we purchased for $5 each, and they probably had $5 worth of whiskey still in them!
 

Nebbiolo020

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Please elaborate.
My opinion on wild yeast is that I find wines produced with wild yeasts have more texture, more flavors and aromatics and I think it is because they ferment slower generally so less is lost due to not being a fast and hot fermentation. Wild yeasts are also much more varied up to 5% abv so you get a lot of contributions to flavor aroma and etc in the initial 5% of fermentation then either a wild or cultured sacc strain takes over and completed fermentation.
 

Dustwheel

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I have been involved in winemaking in all capacities from stripping grapes from the bunches as a child of 8 in 1950 to making my own wine from grapes, then juice and finally kits. We did not differentiate a "primary" and "secondary" fermentation, it was all just fermentation. This started in an open barrel and lasted from 10 to 14 days. Wine was removed from the fermenting barrels via a plug near the bottom of the upright barrel and moved to barrels supported on their side with the bung hole open. First run wine was segregated and marked, "Per La Famiglia." Occasionally, a "second wine" was made by not pressing the grapes at all, just capturing the free run and then adding water and sugar to the unpressed grapes (I don't recall the amounts as this was my grandfather's method) to restart fermentation.

The wine would continue to ferment closed ended barrels, with the CO2 escaping through the open bung and the level in the barrel was filled more than once a day as wine was absorbed by the barrel or evaporated. The process usually began during the second week of October (when wine grapes from California were available in Pittsburgh) and the barrel was sealed with a bung early in December. The wine would be drinkable at Easter, and it would improve with age. Early on we had no carboys or demijohns (although they came later), no yeast was ever added nor were any other additions made. Then, sometime in the 1960's a minor miracle occurred with the availability of Sodium Metabisulfite. We had to send to somewhere in New York for the chemical and the cost was outrageous, about $5 for a tube which may have contained 2 or 3 tablespoons full.

The wine was a very good table wine from 75% Zinfandel grapes and 25% Muscat grapes, co-fermented. On at least one occasion we used Alicante grapes in place of Zinfandel (can't recall the reason why but likely because my grandfather thought they tasted better). I should also mention that the fermenting barrels were 53-gallon, former whisky barrels from Schenley Distillery outside of Pittsburgh which we purchased for $5 each, and they probably had $5 worth of whiskey still in them!
Thanks for a great story Rocky! I have to laugh when I think of what my uncle's would have said if I asked what the pH of the must is. LOL. Probably hit me over the head with a Capocollo. 🤣
 

BernardSmith

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I think wild yeast produces better wines personally and I have worked with both in a commercial winery setting.
Totally agree. And that's one good reason not to work to remove indigenous yeast before you pitch lab cultured yeast. You want the delightful complexities of flavor and aroma that the volunteer yeast provide. It's one thing for commercial wineries to adopt factory production methods - but quite another for amateur (those who LOVE the activity and not the money associated with it). ferme4nting with indigenous yeast CAN BE a hit or a miss.. But that is part of the joy.
 

ratflinger

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So, in my wine room (inside my house) is there enough natural yeast just floating around for this natural fermentation? And what about other 'floaties' in the air, any issues there?
 

distancerunner

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My opinion on wild yeast is that I find wines produced with wild yeasts have more texture, more flavors and aromatics and I think it is because they ferment slower generally so less is lost due to not being a fast and hot fermentation. Wild yeasts are also much more varied up to 5% abv so you get a lot of contributions to flavor aroma and etc in the initial 5% of fermentation then either a wild or cultured sacc strain takes over and completed fermentation.

Totally agree. And that's one good reason not to work to remove indigenous yeast before you pitch lab cultured yeast. You want the delightful complexities of flavor and aroma that the volunteer yeast provide. It's one thing for commercial wineries to adopt factory production methods - but quite another for amateur (those who LOVE the activity and not the money associated with it). ferme4nting with indigenous yeast CAN BE a hit or a miss.. But that is part of the joy.
We use starters. It usually takes between twenty four and forty eight hours before I pitch the starter. The wild yeast usually show signs of fermentation before the starter goes in. Are you suggesting to allow the wild yeast to continue for another day or two or until they peter out? Then follow up with commercial yeast?

Is it the wild yeast on the grapes that takes hold first? Or is airborne? We're on the eastern side of the country. California grapes are sometimes four or five days out of the vineyard and cold when we get them.
 

BernardSmith

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I doubt the source of wild yeast is the air. Far more likely they are on the grapes and given the fact that you crush the grapes if you have been making wine for several harvests, my assumption is that the yeast are on/in the crusher. Gotta say that I don't make a lot of grape wine - my preference is for mead and country wines but if you are not risk averse, I would allow the indigenous yeast a few days. If you are really not risk averse, using indigenous yeast can make for a very original and delicious wine. I just made a raisin wine using only the yeast on the raisins and it is quite drinkable. And a year or two ago, I made a mead with some raw honey from Brazil that made a delicious drink. Forgot I wanted to save the yeast and I stabilized and back sweetened the mead.
 

distancerunner

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I have been involved in winemaking in all capacities from stripping grapes from the bunches as a child of 8 in 1950 to making my own wine from grapes, then juice and finally kits. We did not differentiate a "primary" and "secondary" fermentation, it was all just fermentation. This started in an open barrel and lasted from 10 to 14 days. Wine was removed from the fermenting barrels via a plug near the bottom of the upright barrel and moved to barrels supported on their side with the bung hole open. First run wine was segregated and marked, "Per La Famiglia." Occasionally, a "second wine" was made by not pressing the grapes at all, just capturing the free run and then adding water and sugar to the unpressed grapes (I don't recall the amounts as this was my grandfather's method) to restart fermentation.

The wine would continue to ferment closed ended barrels, with the CO2 escaping through the open bung and the level in the barrel was filled more than once a day as wine was absorbed by the barrel or evaporated. The process usually began during the second week of October (when wine grapes from California were available in Pittsburgh) and the barrel was sealed with a bung early in December. The wine would be drinkable at Easter, and it would improve with age. Early on we had no carboys or demijohns (although they came later), no yeast was ever added nor were any other additions made. Then, sometime in the 1960's a minor miracle occurred with the availability of Sodium Metabisulfite. We had to send to somewhere in New York for the chemical and the cost was outrageous, about $5 for a tube which may have contained 2 or 3 tablespoons full.

The wine was a very good table wine from 75% Zinfandel grapes and 25% Muscat grapes, co-fermented. On at least one occasion we used Alicante grapes in place of Zinfandel (can't recall the reason why but likely because my grandfather thought they tasted better). I should also mention that the fermenting barrels were 53-gallon, former whisky barrels from Schenley Distillery outside of Pittsburgh which we purchased for $5 each, and they probably had $5 worth of whiskey still in them!

Great story.

Outside of Pittsburgh. My grandfather used a blend of Alicante and Muscat, weighted toward the Muscat. His barrels were clearly stamped Schenley. I don't know if he used sulfite, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did.

As a little boy I'd go down to the cellar with him where he would fill a glass decanter straight from the barrel. He'd usually give me a taste. That was over sixty years ago. Too late to call CYS now. Thank goodness.

The last ten vintages were increasingly tannic and well balanced with acids that I now know to be on the lower side (higher pH). Every two or three years I try to recreate it. Got close once. Hope to get there again.

It's interesting that when people who haven't tasted it hear which grapes are in the blend they turn their noses up. If they taste it first they ask for another glass. Go figure.
 

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