Wine Times Part 2 – to bottle or not to bottle?

While one might be able to get away without purchasing or borrowing certain wine making implements a press is absolutely essential.  As we mentioned in the previous blog, Eddie’s garage was cooking and our grapes fermented in just a few days.  Suddenly the search for a press was on.

Now we had spotted the perfect small-scale garage wine makers press in Stellenbosch a few weeks earlier.  When we phoned to order it, it had been sold.  Of course, being the middle of pressing time in the winelands there was not a wine-press to be had anywhere.  We phoned every wine shop and contact we had and we were eventually led to a cellar outside Wellington who kindly rented us their basket press for 48 hours.  So Jaco was once again sent on a road trip and returned many hours later with a large basket press that took 4 of us to unload from the bakkie.   Unfortunately the press came with no instructions and being novice wine makers it took us a couple of hours to figure out how to reverse the direction of the press so that we could actually get the grapes into the basket.  This baby was fully electrified and at the turn of a switch, out poured lots of delicious looking juice.  The residue skins were collected in plastic tubs and fed to Boldrick our pig who had a fantastic afternoon and was last seen swaying off to his bed of hay.  He was very groggy the following day and not that keen on the remainder of the grape skins.

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The pressing was rather a messy business and fortunately Eddie was away on a golf trip as by the end of the day, his garage was swamped with Merlot.  We managed to produce about 700 litres of juice which was transferred by bucket into our brand spanking new stainless steel floating lid fermentation tank.   The garage was mopped, flushed and scrubbed and by the time of Eddie’s return was sparkling clean with just the sophisticated smell of fermenting grapes in the air.

Needless to say our partner was very pleased with our efforts and offered to arrange the return of the press to Wellington on Monday morning.   This was a great relief as we were not keen to drive all the way back to Wellington.  To our horror, we were called by the owners of the press a couple of days later to inform us that four vital pieces were missing and we had to get them back as without them the press could not be used.  A Privett road trip was organised and the four said items driven out to Wellington with a trip to Butterfly World included to entertain our kids.

According to our well read ‘Guide to Wine making’, malolactic fermentation (which is the second fermentation which takes place in the closed tank) should take about 7 weeks.  Basically what happens is that stuff in the wine called malic acid has to be converted to other stuff called lactic acid.  This is a pretty simple process done by very clever bacteria.   So after a couple of weeks, Eddie offered to take a sample of our pride and joy to Vinlab in Stellenbosch for testing.  The results looked good and fermentation was well underway.

Two weeks later, Eddy took another sample to Vinlab and nothing had happened. And two weeks later, he took another sample and still nothing had happened.  And so on for quite a few more weeks…….we started to get worried and phoned a couple of our real wine making mates. OK – so Merlot can sometimes struggle to get through malolactic fermentation as our friendly bacteria can run out of food.

So off we went to Goodwood and bought a couple of bags of very expensive food for hungry wine making bacteria.  We headed over to Eddie and all tasted some of the wine and deliberated over how much food to deposit in the tank.  The lid was lifted and three-quarters of the food gently stirred into the vat.

Around this time it was our other partner, Michael Lutzeyer’s birthday and we thought it would be a good idea to present him with a bottle of our fine brew.  A label was printed and name concocted ‘Lutzbergett’  This comes from Lutzeyer,Burger, and Privett.  At this stage, due to our lack of confidence in the wine, you’ll notice the Privett inconspicuously placed at the end of the name.  A great evening was had and our wine even made it into the Grootbos cellar alongside some great Walker Bay wines.  Not much was actually drunk and general consensus was that it was somewhat raw and needed more time.

A few weeks later it was back to Vinlab.  NOTHING had happened.  Back to our experts who advised a gentle stirring in a clockwise direction.  A few weeks later, it was back to Vinlab and NOTHING!

Then we were given some really good advice.  Our friendly wine making bacteria don’t like the cold and no matter how much food you give them or how much you stir it aint going to help.  So it was time for the Burgers to come up with a wine heating device.  This included a wall heater on bricks under the tank and roof isolation (that think pink stuff) taped all around and on top of the tank.  A strict schedule was implemented to ensure the temperature was maintained around 22 degrees celsius.  Hey presto, the next morning we walked into the garage it was alive with the scent of fermenting Merlot and the sound of gentle bubbles escaping from the tank.

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O.k, so our seven week fermentation has now taken nearly 9 months but we believe we are finally there!  One more vinlab trip is planned for this Friday – the bottles are being ordered, the label is on the design table, the eggs are being collected for our organic egg white wine filtering…………and that is another story.

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