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What was your biggest 'ah ha moment' to help you make better wine?

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pproctorga

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Coming from making wine from my own muscadines for years and then adding on kits: I'm now applying what I've learned in this forum and making detailed measurements for my grapes. Number one thing I've learned so far: Measure everything and adjust -- don't trust the kit instructions. People say that the manufacturers have accounted for everything, but that's just not true from my experience. Measure and adjust.
 

NoQuarter

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My simple country wines have been adjusted and changed almost yearly as I learn more and more.
The biggest change was measuring Brix in the gardens. Muscadines, figs, blueberries,elderberries,plums, pears etc.....
I would wait till ripe then pick. started testing Brix and found that another week more and i would get an extra 5 or more brix points. Figs for example double the brix rating from turning dark to turning into a little bag of mush that can fall apart when picked. More than fermentable sugars, very ripe fruits have a much better flavor profile. Ripe is good for eating, overripe makes good wine.
 

CDrew

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CDrew,
I would never have imagined that it was only year 4 for you. I have seen a lot of posts/comment from you and would have guessed that you had been doing this for so much longer.
Well, technically 5 years but year one I learned the most important lesson of all. And that is; don't leave for a 10 day vacation on the Big Island the day after you pitch your yeast! It was after that debacle that I got serious about learning this craft.
 

Chuck E

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A definite ‘ah-ha’ moment for me was learning that adding oak during the fermentation and adding oak later in aging—- ARE 2 COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THINGS! And how oak in fermentation isn’t adding any ‘oak essence’ but rather utilizing the additional tannins for better extraction of different characteristics from the grapes. (sacrificial tannins) not only did it help my understanding of the use of oak in making wine— but really helped me to understand what’s actually taking place during fermentation ——-which helped my winemaking all around.
AJ, what are your typical fermentation additions of oak & tannins for a red wine made from grapes?
 

Ajmassa

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AJ, what are your typical fermentation additions of oak & tannins for a red wine made from grapes?
I guess I default to FT Rouge. But I played around with diff types of oak chips. Opti red, tannin Riche, that generic ‘wine tannin powder’ stuff. But I’d say FT rouge is my go to. Mainly because of accessibility. I get most of my stuff online from morewine, which has limited options for fermentation tannins.

I never do a control batch so hard to know the effect. Bu I did one time do a split batch one with oak chips one without. Was Hungarian light toast. I couldn’t tell much of a difference.
 

heatherd

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For me, the "a-ha's" have been over time and include:
  • Learning from all of you!
  • Knowing (knock on wood) that having a second hydrometer means that your other one will last years. ;)
  • Talking with other winemakers to understand their processes, like Kevin at Harford Vineyard, who says he tends to make minimal adjustments to his wine, allowing it to be an example of the varietal, the place, and the vintage.
  • Streamlining my additions to just yeast, kmeta, oak, tannins, tartaric acid, and MLB.
  • Tasting and making both mainstream and uncommon varietals.
  • Doing research on yeast to understand the characteristics they attempt to enhance.
  • Getting familiar and comfortable with yeast and MLB that work best for me.
  • Moving from kits to fresh and frozen grapes/juice and tasting that difference.
  • Knowing that I can do anything I want myself and without anything fancy such as crushing, de-stemming, pressing, and tasting to know if MLF is done.
  • Moving toward longer bulk-aging and tasting that difference.
  • Learning that I need to taste my wine throughout the process.
  • Working with oak at varying stages and in different formats.
  • Working with tannins of various types at differing stages.
  • Knowing that wine-making can always be more complex or less so.
 

CDrew

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Learning in wine making is an avalanche. THe grapes for me all come in in just 2-3 weeks. You have to adapt, you have to rack and recover, you have to clean and clean and clean. It's actually hard physically. But processing 1000-1500 pounds of grapes is rewarding, and it's fun to drink wine I made 4 years ago. I hope I can drink wine I made 20 years ago.

Bulk fermentation/storage is your friend. Go as long as you can because once it's in the bottle, you can't change the trajectory of what's going to happen.
 

Venatorscribe

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Learning in wine making is an avalanche. THe grapes for me all come in in just 2-3 weeks. You have to adapt, you have to rack and recover, you have to clean and clean and clean. It's actually hard physically. But processing 1000-1500 pounds of grapes is rewarding, and it's fun to drink wine I made 4 years ago. I hope I can drink wine I made 20 years ago.

Bulk fermentation/storage is your friend. Go as long as you can because once it's in the bottle, you can't change the trajectory of what's going to happen.
Well said. I have never thought about it as an avalanche - but it absolutely is. Having to work at pace, monitor and cross check your steps. not mentioning the sore back.
 
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winemaker81

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Two early epiphanies:
  • wine yeast is different from bread yeast
  • what a hydrometer is
My first 3 years I used bread yeast, as I didn't know the difference, and if I did, I had no source for wine yeast. In January 1984 I saw an ad for a supply shop about 30 miles from home. During my first visit I spoke with owner for more than two hours, and as I started making beer at that time, I was in the shop for a long visit every few weeks.

The internet is the biggest game changer. When I first learned, information came from questionable recipes in the newspaper, other wine makers (who didn't necessarily really know what they were doing), and from books of varying quality and usefulness. The ability to converse with fellow wine makers from literally around the world is honestly amazing.

EDIT: I made friends with 2 wine makers who DID know what they were doing, and their comments helped me learn the difference between wheat and chaff.
 
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Jay204

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With just 4 years of experience and only 2 years with actual grapes, there's a lot of room for improvement. But so far, the biggest ah ha moments have been:

- switching from kits to grapes for reds (more work, but much more rewarding)
- pre-fermentation enzymes/additives and saignee, in particular, can significantly improve a red wine
- controlling and changing temperatures throughout fermentation has its benefits (spiking temps for extraction, lowering temps to lengthen skin time)
- pay closer attention to ph....learned that the hard way
 

David Lewis

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With just 4 years of experience and only 2 years with actual grapes, there's a lot of room for improvement. But so far, the biggest ah ha moments have been:

- switching from kits to grapes for reds (more work, but much more rewarding)
- pre-fermentation enzymes/additives and saignee, in particular, can significantly improve a red wine
- controlling and changing temperatures throughout fermentation has its benefits (spiking temps for extraction, lowering temps to lengthen skin time)
- pay closer attention to ph....learned that the hard way
I was considering trying saignee this year and backed out of it. For those that have are using this method, have the results been worth it?
 

CDrew

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I was considering trying saignee this year and backed out of it. For those that have are using this method, have the results been worth it?
I did a saignee Rose in 2019 with some questionable Mourvedre grapes. It ended up being really good, and we're nearly out of the 2 1/2 cases I made of it. I would say the Rose was actually better than the red wine from the same grapes, at least so far. I bottled in in April and we were drinking it in May. By June or so it was really nice. We're down to the last 3 bottles so for sure the wife approved.


I'm doing another Rose this year with really nice Barbera grapes, but it isn't saignee. I just crushed the grapes, and pressed 4 hours later. Discarded the pressings. Shooting for enough volume to get 4 cases since the 2019 will soon be gone.

If you can get enough grapes and not spend too much on them, I highly recommend a quick drinking Saignee that may also improve the base red wine. I'm for sure going to do so again in fall 2021.
 

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