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

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Rice_Guy

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for most foods we are in a range which is with in reason, ,,, pleasing, ,,, lemon juice and Mountain Dew both have a pH in the mid 2’s however Dew has a low TA (.2%) so the impact on the mouth is fast/ refreshing, , lemon juice typically has a TA of 5% so it has a larger impact on the mouth and a lot of folks wouldn’t drink it straight
* my analogy is that pH is like how fast is dad driving when I stick my hand out of the car window and play airplane, mostly it is pleasant/ transitory and fun.
pH plays a regulatory role, some enzymes will become inactive (ie organisms can’t live) and some chemistry will run faster or as in the balance of sulphite in solution versus free SO2 in the wine.
* TA is related to how much of something is hitting our taste receptors, with dad driving air is light and we think nothing of it, if we change it to bugs in the night air they might sting if dad drives fast but they are nothing at 20 mph, now if the object is stones tossed off a pedestrian bridge it would hurt even if we go 20 mph and may require the emergency room if this was on a freeway.
100% agree with this. I finally re-bottled my year one 'one hundred and one mistakes' wine. After I bottled, I had a large glass left over. I was pretty happy with the corrections that I had made to this screwed up wine
I felt like I had fixed as much as could fix and I should just bottle it and accept the fact that year one wasn't going to be a winner. I just needed to bottle. And after bottling I drank the left over happily. After 2-3 (maybe 15) sips I realized that it had a flat taste to it. Took a PH reading ( I had just gotten a Ph meter and have been using it for my latest batches but wasn't smart enough to use it on a beach that had been in a carboy for 2 years). After the reading tossed some acid in the glass I was drinking.... And wow. This POS wine that I made was good (Good is subjective this time). Now I just have to un-bottle everything, adjust the acid, and then re-bottle. Just not sure I have enough energy.
Rebottle question, in this situation I would create a solution as a one acid to four water and syringe the target milliliters into each bottle and then recork said bottle
 

Venatorscribe

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@David Lewis, remember that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. ;)

Another important lesson is that not all wines are going to turn out great. Yes, we want them to ... but things don't always go our way, regardless of what we do. So we figure out how to make the best of the situation.

Last year's Malbec has an aftertaste that I can't identify, it's harsh. My solution was to back sweeten with cherry juice -- I'm still not terribly fond of it, but everyone else likes it. I call it a win!
Just give it another twelve months. Malbec is a bea wine but can be a tad harsh depen upon terror. But it sorts itself out. However - a lot of vintners will blend it with cab sav and merlot to soften. 50% merlot 25% and 25% Malbec and cab sav. Don’t back sweeten with cherry juice. You have gold on your hands with the Malbec. Cheers
 

winemaker81

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One of these days I will make a wine that is worthy enough for a barrel!!
Perhaps you already have. Perhaps a barrel will make your very drinkable wine even better....
I had another "ah ha" moment this morning, as I re-read @JohnT's reply. I've come back to this post several times, as something in the two statements stuck in my mind.

For home wine makers, barrels often take on a sort of mystical quality, sort of a Holy Grail. This was true for me and I see it in many others.

This is my 39th year of wine making -- my first barrel was purchased in the 38th year. I wanted one for decades, but space, cost, etc. stopped me from pulling the trigger. Last year a couple I met through our grape purchasing co-op offered a used barrel for sale, so I jumped on it. This past year has disabused me of many notions, and increased my practical knowledge.

Barrels are not anything mystical -- barrels are simply a time-tested wine making tool. New(er) barrels add oak character. All barrels provide micro oxygenation and concentration of the wine. For some wines, a barrel is absolutely necessary to produce the desired end result. But at the end of the day, a barrel is simply a tool.

A lot of wines do not use oak -- French Chablis never touches oak, nor does Beaujolais Nouveau. For me, 3/4 of one batch from last year spent 10 months in oak, the remaining 1/4 did not. Both wines are very pleasing and I'm happy I did what I did. I sort of wish I had a 50/50 split, but this illustrates the drawbacks of barrels:

They must remain full of something, either wine or a holding solution (when you have 20 gallons of wine and a 14 gallon barrel, 14 goes into the barrel). Wine remains in the barrel until new wine is ready to go in (which is why I wanted a neutral barrels).

Barrels must be regularly monitored. They must be topped up, as evaporation through the wood consumes about 10% of the wine over a year's period, e.g., my 54 liter barrel will cost me ~5.4 liters of wine, making the remaining wine all that much better.

I purchased another used barrel this year so now I am tasked to keep both full. 😎
 

winemaker81

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I noticed that you are using TA here. Curious to know how many others calculate TA in addition to PH. I remember a post (somewhere at some time) that mentioned not to worry about TA and focus on PH. Because of this reading, I have 100% ignored TA. Am I missing something, and if so how helpful is that TA reading?
pH and TA are different measures of acid levels, and are not necessarily in sync. These tests provide good information regarding the wine. However titration of red wine is difficult to correctly spot the color change, so I suspect this is one reason a lot of folks don't test for TA.

I truly suck at acid titration, so I don't bother with it.
 

AaronSC

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pH and TA are different measures of acid levels, and are not necessarily in sync. These tests provide good information regarding the wine. However titration of red wine is difficult to correctly spot the color change, so I suspect this is one reason a lot of folks don't test for TA.

I truly suck at acid titration, so I don't bother with it.
With a good pH meter it's easy to test for TA, much easier than titration. I fill up a syringe with buffer solution and weigh it. I take 5 ml of wine and add 15 ml of distilled water. You just continuously monitor the pH of the solution until you reach pH of 8.2, when all the acid has been neutralized by the buffing solution. Weigh the syringe again and take the difference and this will show you the number of ml of buffer you used (1 g solution = 1 ml, the beauty of the metric system). With the solution I have 1 ml = .2% TA, so you essentially double the mls to get the % TA. If you used 3.2 ml of solution you have .64% TA.

I now no longer hate or suck at determining TA!

-Aaron
 

David Violante

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With a good pH meter it's easy to test for TA, much easier than titration. I fill up a syringe with buffer solution and weigh it. I take 5 ml of wine and add 15 ml of distilled water. You just continuously monitor the pH of the solution until you reach pH of 8.2, when all the acid has been neutralized by the buffing solution. Weigh the syringe again and take the difference and this will show you the number of ml of buffer you used (1 g solution = 1 ml, the beauty of the metric system). With the solution I have 1 ml = .2% TA, so you essentially double the mls to get the % TA. If you used 3.2 ml of solution you have .64% TA.

I now no longer hate or suck at determining TA!

-Aaron
I’m curious why you weigh the syringe before and after to get the milliliters used, why not just subtract the amount used from the starting amount? It would save you a step.

Also, 1G to 1mL is only true based on the weight of your solution percentage, and will not be true for other solutions out there (Ex: 1%, 0.1%, 0.2%). Percent is grams per 100 ml. So a 1% solution is 1G in 100 ml which in mg is 1000mg in 100ml which is 10mg/ml. A 0.1% solution will be 1mg/ml.

I bring this up because you can get different percentages of solution. What solution do you use?
 

Rice_Guy

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Which pH meter do you have?
That is an Extech PH100, the advantage with that brand is the “bulb” is flat so that samples as small as a drop can be run without DW dilution. The other note that should be said is if one is running 24 juice samples for the vinters club, it is easier on number of clean pipettes needed to instead weigh the sample to 0.01 gram accuracy and then multiply a correction for density (sugar solutions weigh more than water) in the final answer.
 

Snafflebit

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I have found that keeping good records is what helps me the most. I have a Google spreadsheet that I log every step of the winemaking process. It has saved my butt many times.
Also, I keep extra carboy plugs, bung plugs, airlocks around because Murphy's Law causes me to need something late on a Sunday night when everything is closed.
I have two hydrometers and I have never broken one (knock on wood) but I break the floating dairy thermometers like crazy. Keep extras
 

Ajmassa

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I remember a post (somewhere at some time) that mentioned not to worry about TA and focus on PH. Because of this reading, I have 100% ignored TA. Am I missing something, and if so how helpful is that TA reading?
coulda been me. Ive definitely made mention of that before. The mindset came after fumbling for a couple years learning the ropes trying to play chemist in my basement. Making acid adjustments being mindful of ph and TA often was a cluster for me. Just trying to balance to 2 and 2nd guessing myself and whatnot. Then I started reading and hearing more and more winemakers make mention that they only focus on ph. And it made sense to me.
So I won’t sacrifice an ideal ph to tweak the TA. And actually if the ph clocks in at a good range I admit I’ve skipped testing TA altogether. if I’m 3.6 or under Ill just leave it be regardless of TA. If ph is high i just adjust down to 3.6. But with the nature of acid adjustments kinda forces me to do it in g/L —so I’m using TA adjustments as a means to adjust ph—- if that makes sense. Probably confusing and I’m not explaining well.

Cliffs notes - ideal ph- I don’t mess with it.
high ph- will adjust down using TA & g/Lto get desired ph. I don’t have it all figured it out but I do like going by this system.
 

purpletongue

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100% agree with this. I finally re-bottled my year one 'one hundred and one mistakes' wine. After I bottled, I had a large glass left over. I was pretty happy with the corrections that I had made to this screwed up wine
I felt like I had fixed as much as could fix and I should just bottle it and accept the fact that year one wasn't going to be a winner. I just needed to bottle. And after bottling I drank the left over happily. After 2-3 (maybe 15) sips I realized that it had a flat taste to it. Took a PH reading ( I had just gotten a Ph meter and have been using it for my latest batches but wasn't smart enough to use it on a beach that had been in a carboy for 2 years). After the reading tossed some acid in the glass I was drinking.... And wow. This POS wine that I made was good (Good is subjective this time). Now I just have to un-bottle everything, adjust the acid, and then re-bottle. Just not sure I have enough energy.
How long did your wine rest after it was bottled? How long was the secondary ferm / racking process?
 

Raptor99

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I have learned so many lessons over the past few years that it's hard to choose. One thing that I learned is that wine making is both an art and a science. I started by simply following a recipe I found online. Gradually I learned that I need to measure SG and pH. Then I switched to mostly using a refractometer rather than a hydrometer. Later I started to measure free SO2 at bottling so that I could calculate how much Kmeta to add.

I still do a lot of measuring, but I realized that in the end it is the taste that matters. You need to get the chemistry right so that the yeast are happy and the wine won't spoil due to oxidation. But in the end it is all about the taste. I got to thinking that for many centuries wine makers were not able to measure things like we do, but they found a way. They used their senses to determine how their wine was doing. Of course sometimes they made really bad wine, but not always. It takes time to develop those skills, but that is my goal. Expert chefs measure some things, but many others are determined by what looks, smells, and tastes right.

So now I try to balance the art and science. In primary I can tell a lot about how it is doing by the way it looks, the smell, and the taste. I have an especially sensitive sense of smell, and I can sense a difference in the smell every day in primary. I don't measure SG every day. I can usually tell when it is ready to rack into secondary by using my senses. At bottling time I measure pH but I also taste it. Does it taste too acidic? Not acidic enough? Gradually I am trying to learn how to distinguish the "bite" in wine due to alcohol level, acidity, or tannins. Sweetening helps to moderate the bite. I'll continue to make my share of mistakes, but I want to enjoy the journey.
 

purpletongue

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If we have guests for dinner, I'll decant a bottle an hour ahead of time, otherwise I use the aerator.
Sounds like words of wisdom born from experience.

(edit) As home winemakers, I think decanting and aeration plays a particularly significant role. The wine isn't being aged in barrels for a long time, but it still needs that oxidation to bring out the esters and sweet smelling bouquet out of it. It needs to be warm if it's red, and it needs to be aerated, before consumption to let all that complexity settle out. *I think as a newb
 
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winemaker81

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Sounds like words of wisdom born from experience.
Experience? Yeah, let's go with that. It sounds more socially acceptable than "wino".

When opening a red, I pour a splash in a glass, insert the aerator and pour a splash in a second glass -- then I compare.

I find that young reds don't get much, if anything, from the aerator, but wines 2+ years old often do. Sometimes it's a wash, and on rare occasion the aerated wine isn't as good. For situations like that, I pull the aerator and keep going.
 

Rice_Guy

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will need to think about this, ,, and collect some reds to try
I find that young reds don't get much, if anything, from the aerator, but wines 2+ years old often do. Sometimes it's a wash, and on rare occasion the aerated wine isn't as good. For situations like that, I pull the aerator and keep going.
as a guess it wouldn’t do anything for cherry or rhubarb or white
 

winemaker81

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as a guess it wouldn’t do anything for cherry or rhubarb or white
For a traditional white (fermented from juice) aeration doesn't seem to make any difference, not enough tannin. For a white fermented on the skins? It might.

I wouldn't expect aeration to make a difference in a fruit wine ... but it's worth trying. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
 

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