Malolactic Fermentation.. High Hopes, and Big Scares

   This year's Frontenac harvest was excellent! I got a higher yield than I was expecting and the fruit was in near perfect condition. However, due to the cold rainy growing season my numbers where a little interesting. 20 Brix, TA of 1.6% and a pH of 3.2. Yowzaa!
I'm okay with these numbers, with all the threats out there I feel lucky when I get a good crop of grapes, and these are numbers I can work with. I don't like adding water to my wines, or acid reducing chemicals for that matter. Malolactic fermentation is my acid-reducing method of choice, and this year it is ever-so important I get that going. I use viniflora ch-35 malolactic bacteria. It is great for the imperfect juice chemistry and can operate under less than ideal conditions.

      Once I'm ready to add the malolactic bacteria culture to the wine, I allow the bacteria packet to sit out of the freezer for 15 minutes.  I then draw out wine from each vessel into a glass beaker and add the malo-culture to that and give it a good stir. I then draw wine out of the beaker with a syringe and inject it into each vessel. Then with high hopes, we wait...

and wait...
and wait...

uh oh!

The big scare!

I am used to this culture getting off to a quick start, however, this time there was nothing! Rather than running around in a panicky circle I consulted some other winemakers online and was directed to stir it daily to re-suspend the lees, and to keep the room warm, but still nothing.

My yeast of choice for alcoholic fermentation was Lalvin 71B. This yeast helps to consume some of the malic acid so I thought maybe this yeast went Hulkamania and ate all of the malic acid.
 However after a paper chromatography test, there was plenty of malic acid still in the wine! So what gives? I wasn't sure, but I did have one glimmer of hope that would prevent me from spending more money on another mlb culture.  I happened to notice little bubbles in a one gallon jug. This little jug of Frontenac wine was going through mlf! Ok, something to go off of! I removed wine from each vessel currently not going through mlf and added wine from that gallon jug. I stirred them daily for a few days and eventually started noticing very fine bubbles rising to the top. Success! All vessels were now going through malolactic fermentation and I am so relieved.

So what happened?
- Did it just take longer for the mlb to set up shop in the wine due to the high acid level?
- Did I help by adding wine currently going through mlf to the vessels that weren't?

We may never know. The point is, when something goes wrong, take a deep breath, don't panic and don't make any rash desicions. Consult with fellow winemakers on how to proceed, but make sure you trust these folks giving you the advice. Very important!

Days later all vessels are doing well. I'm stirring each vessel every couple days and once I see signs of the process slowing down a bit, I'll run a paper chromatography test to where I am.


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