December 18, 2005
The marathon day we had been anticipating (and postponing) for
several months came to be Saturday, December 18th. Lum
Eisenman jokes that it's easy for a good winemaker to screw up a
good batch of wine (he's done it himself), and there was a day before
bottling when I thought I had followed in the Master's footsteps by
making a fatal mistake. But all's well that end's well. The barrel of
Syrah is bottled just in time for the Holidays, while the new Merlot has
been racked into the barrel. We finished the tasks before 2 a.m.
(taking time-out to attend two holiday parties and make our first
deliveries), and we're still married. Now, if only we could hop into a
time-machine and fast forward one year for a taste to see how it's
aged in the bottle!
A Sophomore's Mistake?
One of the prebottling steps in winemaking is to raise the level of
sulfites. The purpose is to create a product that will have a long
shelf-life, and can be enjoyed years from now. According to Lum, the
target SO2 level is 30 miligrams/liter before bottling. I had the wine
tested by a professional back in March, and the wine at that time was
right on target. But during the barrel aging process, there occurs a
small air pocket as the angels take their share (evaporation).
Sophomore winemaker that I am, I don't have the equipment (yet) to
measure the level of sulpher. Lum has a suggestion. He
recommends adding a 1/2 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite
powder per 10 gallons of liquid 2-3 days before bottling, so in our
case, I add 3 teaspoons to some water, dissolve it, and pour it down
the spout of the leviathan barrel. This is done the day after
Thanksgiving, with the aim of bottling on Sunday. The problem is,
when I checked on the wine that Sunday morning, it tasted different.
What was going on? The sample I took Thanksgiving day and drank
with the charbroiled Rock Cornish Game Hens was wonderful. Did I
poison the wine? I sent an e-mail to Alan who replied it's possible the
taste might have been altered slightly -- how much did you put in? Not
that much, is the answer. Fearing that perhaps I had added too much,
I decided to let the leviathan stay as it was, to delay bottling, and allow
the wine to oxidize slightly, in the hope that any "salty" taste from
sulfites would dissipate. I'm not sure of the wisdom and science of
that move, but it seemed to make sense. Wait until the wine tasted
good before bottling. I had hoped the wine would be available in time
for the alternative Christmas market, and could be sold for charity. On
the other hand, I didn't want to offer wine to the public that was not
ready to drink. The bottling was postponed.
So, a waiting game and tasting game began. I remembered what
one young winemaker from Santa Barbara County advised me about
bottling. He suggested I raise the sulpher to 40 miligrams/liter, and
he said, you don't want to bottle too late. I asked him if I should keep
the wine in the barrel for another year. His advice--go for it. We set the
new target bottling date for the day after the Princess finished school ...
Saturday, December 18th. It was a cool morning for San Diego
without sun and the garage was cold. Perfect conditions. I hooked up
a special bottling device called an Enolmatic, pressed the button, and
almost instantly, the red fluid raced up the plastic tubing and gushed
into the bottle creating a sea of foam. Now that's oxidation! The bottler
worked like a charm. The floor corker worked like a charm. Racking
was a pain in the butt, but we finished.
Enolmatic pump fills bottle
easily without spilling a drop.
Floor corker easily allows
insertion of new corks into
newly filled bottles. Bluey
supervises the operation.
Filled bottles lined-up
waiting to be corked.
Using the Enolmatic pump
to transfer Syrah wine into a
5-gallon jug for storage. We
set aside 15 gallons of 2004
Syrah for blending next year
with our Nebbiolo and
Our first case. We bottled 13
cases, with 15 gallons
set-aside for blending next
year. We left about a gallon
or so of wine at the bottom of
the barrel, which we filled with
Merlot before calling it a night.
Racking wine into barrel with hose.
We were able to siphon half of the
wine this way. To finish the job we
pulled out our trusty blue bucket.
Bulk Merlot wine
waiting to be racked
into a French oak barrel.
The Princess returns from a friend's house just in time to help out. She gives
Bluey a scratch under the chin (at right), then goes inside for a nap. She has yet
to be infected with the winemaking bug. I imagine how much fun it would have
been to make wine when I was in college 25 years ago!
Caked sediment or lees
found at container's side
Happy New Year From The Winemakers!
Bottling The Wine
Washed bottled drying out
waiting to be filled.