Leading Up to Bottling Day Part 1 Grunt Work

Leading Up to Bottling Day Part 1-Grunt Work
      It's that time of year again when the whites, fruit and rose' wines are to be bottled in a few months. I typically bottle these wines 8 months after harvest unless they aren't clear or have some other kind of problem that needs time to be solved. My reds are bottled later in the year so they have sufficient time to develop before they go into the bottle.

We're Gonna Need More Bottles
      In order to prepare for bottling, there are many steps that lead up to the day where I have my friends over to help me bottle my juice. Over winter when it's too cold to do really anything, I take advantage of that time by de-labeling and cleaning the bottles I need. They are soaked in hot water for a period of time which loosens up the labels so they can be scraped off. I like to use a putty knife to scrape the labels off and steel-wool will make short work of any residual glue and then a sponge to remove any dust or anything else. I then use a bottle brush to loosen and debris in the bottle. Then they receive a good rinse with a water jet sprayer and are hung on the bottle tree to dry. The bottles with label glue that can't be removed because it was developed by NASA I chuck in the garbage because ain't nobody got time for that! Once sufficiently dry I box them up, tape it closed to keep any dust out and then they await bottling day! On a good year I'll only be dealing with bottles with my glue-stick labels on them which come off with just a spray of hot water.

                                                     All Dressed Up But Nowhere to Go..

    I work really hard on making my wine, so I like them to look good too. During the winter between cleaning 1.2 million bottles (it feels like that anyway) I use Adobe Photoshop to make my labels. The color scheme of the label helps me decide which shrink capsule to use and I order accordingly  Sometimes I like old black and white photos of something odd or I just use my own photography to create my labels. I'm not artistic in this manner but in my opinion i get some cool results.

      The Finishing Touch
      Closer to bottling day, the wines I plan to back-sweeten will be tasted and evaluated for balance.  But, before I touch the wines, the free SO2 level is tested because the wine will be exposed to O2 to some degree as a result of taking samples. If there are no SO2 emergencies, I'll add the necessary sulfite after sampling is finished.

      To sweeten the wine I will take a large enough sample to measure the specific gravity and take a few samples along the way. I'll add small amounts of sugar to the wine sample, stir it well and the wife and I taste and seek out a balance between the acid level and the sweetness. If the wine is out of balance it will either be too sweet which will eliminate the perception of acidity on the palette making it flat and flabby in flavor which results in a wine that is not at all refreshing on a hot summer day. Too much acid with make it overly tart and not very pleasurable to drink! A nice balance between the two is what is needed and we do a pretty good job of finding that happy place. If I tried it by myself it would come out too sweet and give you diabetes! Seriously, try my 2013 raspberry wine if you don't believe me.. Oh and bring insulin..
Adding sugar poco a poco until a nice balance is found.
   Once we've reached a happy medium, I measure the new specific gravity and write it down for future reference. We typically sweeten 3-5 wines at a time so actually sweetening the whole batch rarely gets done in the same day. Once sampling is done, the wines have their sulfite levels adjusted and the vessels topped up until I get around to adding the sugar. If I haven't done it yet I will add potassium sorbate at a rate of 0.75grams per gallon of wine. Some folks may add 1gram per gallon but I want to make sure it won't be detected on the palette so i stick with 0.75g. Potassium Sorbate is added to wines to be sweetened to prevent a renewed fermentation. This additive will not stop fermentation but will actually coat yeast cells and prevent them from making daughter cells. The existing yeast finish their life, die and settle without reproducing. This ensures your sweetened wine is stable and won't pop corks or blow up your bottles. NOTE- when doing malolactic fermentation, potassium sorbate is not recommended. A geranium odor will be created in your wine which would be a major fault. 

       Once it is time to sweeten the wines, I use Fermcalc to determine the amount of sugar to add to the whole batch. You enter the existing specific gravity (SG) and the desired SG, the volume of wine you're working with and it tells you how much sugar to add. At first, I typically add 3/4 of what I need (can't trust computers, ever seen Terminator?) so i don't over-add. Fermcalc is a useful Guide so keep that in mind. Just add most of it and check your SG and make sure you're on the right track.

      Some folks like to make a simple syrup by dissolving the desired amount of sugar in water. This is fine but I prefer to  rack a volume of wine to a stainless steel pot and add my sugar to that and gently stir until the sugar is dissolved. Some wine will need removed from the vessel before returning the sugary wine because the sugar creates more volume. I then stir the whole batch and once again ensure sulfite levels are in the proper range , top up the vessel and clean up. Up next is filtration..

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