Friday, December 30, 2005

White in the bottle and Red racked one last time

I finally bottled the white. It was a little anti-climactic bottling this wine.

It is harder to get excited about a kit wine. You don't put all of the attention into it in the beginning like you do when you start off with fruit on the stem. It just takes on a bit of a "Paint by the Numbers" feel when you start off with a perfectly balanced juice from a supplier. There isn't that added bond you get from checking the weather every day in order to convince yourself that the grapes can hang just a couple more days or a week without problems. All of that has been automated and extracted from the process. When you get the juice, it may have come from the perfect grapes for the year, or it might have been created from a bit of this and a bit of that. Some from here, some from there. Kind of a "Franken-juice"

But, before I completely talk myself out of the wine, I should say that it turned out very good. The wine is well balanced, sugar, alcohol, acid, oak and body are all very good. I am very pleased with it and next year, I think my white will be coming from actual, local fruit.

Bottling went quick and easy. 6 gallons into 24 regular 750ml bottles and 12 splits which made very nice Christmas presents.

The Red.

Once the white was in the bottles, that freed up the 6 gallon carboy so I did a final racking of the Cabernet. It had been in a collection of different sized glass vessels with oak chips. I racked them all into a primary fermenter and then into the 6 gallon and 2 x 3 gallon carboys. That is now where they will stay for another 6 months.

That should give it plenty of time to age and mellow. It has dropped a lot of sediment but there is still some in suspension that will drop out over some time. No need to rush it.

Now that the wines are put to bed for a while, maybe in a few weeks I will fire up a batch of Pale ale.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

Autumn weather and colors.

My vines have finally noticed that summer is over. The weather is cooling down and dormancy is soon to come. The leaves are turning from green to yellow. They are using the last bit of sun to squirrel away just a little more sugar into the roots. This is energy for next year's head start.

Grapes are funny that way. Their roots have two growth spurts, one at the beginning of the season, and one at the end. In between theses two flairs of growth, they put all of their energy into making sweet little grapes. Only after they are done focusing on their perfect fruit, do they allow themselves to take the last few weeks of sun to prepare for winter. Then they start shutting down, leaves thin out, chlorophyll, which was keeping the leaves green starts to break down with the decrease in sun, leaving compounds that give those autumnal colors. Compounds with funny names like porphyrins, carotenoids, and flavonoids create shades of yellow, blue, burgundy, maroon, brown and red.

Soon, the vines will be completely shut down and dormant. They will be safely sleeping and protected for the winter frosts. Getting a good, long winter sleep before they need to start all over again next year. What a life.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My one grape cluster.

My young grape plants are just finishing up their second year.

They are all up to the trellis wires and the cordons are all set for next years growth and fruit.

I pinched off or pruned all the grape clusters from my vines this year before they ever had a chance of reaching maturity. Except for one plant. It was the most vigorous and so I rewarded it by letting it have a single cluster.

It was not quite sure what to do. But, it did manage to create a small cluster of 20 berries.

They reached veraison very late and only darkened up after the Autumnal Equinox.

By October 15th, I could not restrain myself anymore and I plucked one of the ripest berries and sampled it. Still a bit sour, probably only 15% sugar and still pretty acidic and the seeds were still quite light green.

In any case, it was exciting. We should have had a party.
Next year.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

A kit.

I have the opportunity to try out a wine kit. A box of grape juice concentrate, a handful of little packages filled with this chemical and that. 6 easy steps and in 6-8 months, I will have 6 gallons of chardonnay/semillon

It seems so easy. Sanitize the fermenter, add the juice, water, oak sawdust (sounds odd, no?) and yeast. Close it up, set it aside, let it go.

Well, we will see. Check back in 6-weeks to find out.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Picked, crushed and fermenting

A wonderful trip down to Hollister at lunch time. I arrived at 11:00am and met the grower. He is living my dream, well, not quite. I would have more vines and less trees. But, to each his own.

I got there and inspected the fruit. Very clean, no mold or mildew. Not a lot of bird damage. I split open a few berries. The sees were a bit green still, even though it was late in the season. I found out that these fine are very young. 3 yrs. So they probably are not quite used to being the foundation for great wines yet, but still very tasty. Brix came in at 24.2 from the refractometer. 25 from the hydrometer. I did a pH strip. 3.5. Right on the edge.

5 minutes on the crusher/stemmer and I was on my way home with 200 lbs of must.

When I titrated at home, I was a little disappointed at the TA. 5.2 g/l of acid. I will assume that
the young grapes gave everything they could to get the sugar up to 25. Dropping the acid
to almost .5 percent.

I corrected the acid with some tartaric. Not too much. I would have like to get the TA back up to 6 but I did not want to drop the pH too low. So, I hit a compromise. We will see. Also, I want to give the grapes, even though they are young, a chance to show what they can do. Faith. Yes, I do have faith.

White juice. It never ceases to amaze me. Red grapes make white juice. I took a sample at crush, and then another at 12 hours and a final at 24 hours. Each sample was deeper in color. I will post the pictures.

I started the yeast in a sucrose starter 12 hours after crush. Pitched it at 22 hours after crush.
By 36 hours, "mission control, we have fermentation".

Here we go. The magic begins.

I will keep you informed.



Sunday, October 02, 2005

Grapes are almost here

Harvest time is here. I heard from the grower this weekend. Harvest of the grapes I contracted is set for Thursday. By Friday, we will crush. Saturday will be pitched and then the magic starts.

I have been a bit worried about the weather. Cool and even some rain. I am hoping they are in good shape and I can keep the SO2 to a minimum.

I think about my choice of grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon. It is the grape for either the winemaker who likes to worry, because it comes in late. W Cab, you can only be sure that the grapes will be ready when they are ready, and no earlier. It is like playing chicken with fall. What will happen first. Do you wait for the grape to reach it's full ripeness, and risk getting caught at the end with
cool weather and rain that dooms you to mold? Or do you harvest a little early, happy that you got good clean berries, just a bit lower brix and higher TA, but no worries.

Or, do you stick it out. Don't turn off the road. Stare the autumnal season in the face and hold your ground. Because, you know, if you can wait those last few days or week, the grapes will reach that perfect balance of sugar, total acid and pH. And you will win.

Keeps the blood pumping anyway.



Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The search for grapes

I need grapes. Last year I bought 100 lbs of grapes through a local wine making shop.
He was able to arrange the purchase from a local wine maker.
It worked out real well. A couple days before the harvest, I got a phone call
with the date, time and location of where I could pick up the grapes.

I showed up with my 20 gal plastic fermenter at the winery. About 10 other small
wine makers were there and the truck with lugs of grapes. The grapes had been picked
the day before and one by one, we got our grapes. Some people took the grapes
whole. Taking them back to crush them at home or their winery. Others like myself
climbed up onto a wooden platform and got to run each lug of grapes through
the stemmer/crusher into a container.

I was the newbie in the crowd. First time making wine, first time buying grapes.
I was only buying 100 lbs, so there was a bit of grape envy of the guy buying 1000 lbs.

Other than the person buying 1000 lbs (who appeared agitated that he actually
had to listen to other people chat while his precious time was being wasted), everyone
was in a very good mood, crunching grapes and hauling stuff around.

I realize then that doubling to 200 lbs of grapes, or even tripling would probably not
be that much more work overall. So, this time I am going to try to get more grapes.

But, there has been a change in the winery that we got the grapes from. The owner
has sold the winery so it has thrown into question my ability get grapes this year.
So, we will see what we can do. I would hate to have buy juice this year.
We will see.


Monday, June 20, 2005

Time for more book-smartz.

When you have a resource like UC Davis so close, you just have to take advantage of it. So much knowledge and experience available to the public. For Agriculture instruction and viticulture and enology in particular, Davis is second to none.

Last year, I took one of their weekend extension courses on vineyard management. What a treat that was. It was like summer camp for grown ups. The instructors, Donna Hirschfelt and Ed Weber, are both farm advisers from Davis who spend most of their time with their boots in the dirt, advising real growers with real problems. Their series of classes is called Small Vineyard Management and is made up of 4 classes, split up over the year dealing with topics applicable for that time of the year. I was hoping to take the next in their series which deals with Integrated Pest Management, Crop Cover and Erosion control. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts prevents me from taking that class.

Instead of the Small Vineyard Management class, I am going to be taking one of the Wine Making classes. The class will be taught by Ernie Farinias. He is a very experienced winemaker and the wine/cellar master at Davis with over 30 years experience in the wine industry. The class is a step by step course in winemaking. So, although I have experienced doing that with my own wines, now I can find out all the things I should have done. The class will focus on the first few days of the pick and crush. Three consecutive classes over two weekends. Day 1 - Crush red and white grapes. Day 2 - Rack and press and then the next weekend, rack again.

The course description describes using "traditional and non-traditional methods". I am not sure exactly what that means, but I have a feeling I should wash my feet real well the night before because I may be stomping.
I will keep you informed.

Unfortunately, the laws prevent students from ever taking their wine home. So we will have to find a similar vintage and pretend.



Wednesday, June 08, 2005

All Extract Beer. Kinda lazy ...

Kinda lazy, but so what. It is kind of a comfort zone.

It has been a long time since I brewed an all malt beer. I have been
thinking about it for a while. A full malt beer has such a rich flavor
and complexity, but lets face it: 6 hours to brew a beer, that is a big
chunk of time.

For the last few years, brewing an all malt has been been an exercize in
scheduling and negotiation. A full mash takes your full attention for a 6 hour
period. With kids, family, pet, household, job; 6 hours is hard to fit in. Brewing
after everyone goes to bed works but lets face it. It is a pain.

Roll back to my early brewing years. All malt, no mash, no sparge. Mix, boil,
cool and pitch. Well, not quite that simple, but you get the picture. I decided to
do a malt only brew, or close to it. So, with a bit of computer work to get the
proportions right, here is the recipe:

6 lbs American Gold DME
1 lbs 15L Crystal (in bag for boil)
2 oz Hallertau hops (2.2 Alpha - What's up with that? What ever happened to the 4 we used to have?)
2 oz Cascade hops (6% Alpha - these smell sooooooooo sweet)
Yeast - American Ale 1056 (a personal favorite: Med Flocculation. Good attenuation. Yummy grapefruit overtones)

The Boil:
Full boil DME in 6 Gal for 1 hour
Hallertau bittering hops added at 15 minutes
Crystal Malt in malt bag added at 30 minutes
1 oz Cascade hops added at 30 minutes (retain 1 oz for dry hopping)

Cool down
Rapid cooldown using heat exchanger to 77 Degrees F. (See note)

Transfer and Pitch:
Siphon to primary
Add 1 oz Cascade
Pitch with yeast

Starting Gravity: .045

Heat exchanger used 6 lbs of ice and primer of water to cool wort from 212 degrees
to 78 degrees in 14 minutes.

Rack at 6 days from primary (plastic) to secondary (glass)
Specific Gravity: 1.010

Rack at 10 days:
Much clearer, some yeast still in suspension
SG: 1.005

Check back for final transfer to Keg.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Race to the Trellis

Ok, so watching my 1 year old vines race feverishly towards the
first trellis wire is about as exciting to non-invested observers as
watching a nail rust. But, I can't keep from checking on their
progress. And to be fair, they are not moving at a glacial pace.
Some of these babies are shooting up at an inch per day some days.

As of last Saturday, 3 of the vines reached trellis height and got "The
pinch". Yesterday, another one hit the wire and got it's top pinched
off. I expect in 3 weeks, they all will be there and then I can have
them training out their cordons.

I know, I know; you are all thinking: "Tim, Get a Life!" But this
isn't that bad a thing to be excited about. I admit, it is a little bit
of an escape for me. People look at my 2 dozen vines and see a fun
little backyard garden project while I look at it as a training ground
for those 20 acres of vineyard in my future. The neighbors see me
in the garage at 2 AM racking 10 gallons of wine from the carboys. Or
see me pressing 100 lbs of grapes with a hand cranked basket press and
think: "What the heck is he doing?" But I am making mental notes on how
this will scale up to the 80 ton of fruit from my 6,000 case winery.

May never happen, but don't tell me that when I am out talking to
my vines. That is our time together.

Thanks for visiting.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Who doesn't love sunshine?

Last week we removed 6 old Monterey Pins that had surrounded the vineyard.
These trees were getting old and were not in the best of health. In addition, some of them had
branches extending over part of the vines which was always worrisome. A strong wind
could have brought down the weakened branch. The placement also cast shadow across
many the vines for much of the day.

With these tree gone, the vines are getting full sun for much more of the day. And, it shows.
I swear that you can see them growing before your eyes. One of the vines has made the trip
from 30" to the 36" trellis in last 4 days. And none too soon too. I was beginning to worry
that the rabbit damage had set the 1 year old vines back so far that some would not reach the
trellis and begin the training out into the cordons. I think that all of them will now at least
reach the trellis early enough that I can being training out the horizontal arms.

Grapes this year?

I had planned on pinching off any clusters this year. Letting the vines concentrate on their
vegetative growth. But they have seemed very resilient to all that has been thrown their way
and with the vigor I see, I may reward them (and myself) with a few clusters on individual
vines that seem up to the challenge. I doubt that I will allow enough to actually include in
a fermentation, but we will see. Maybe I am letting my desire to see the fruit of my labor,
literally, cloud my better judgment to get a good foundation of growth on the young

Stay tuned. I will keep fretting over this all season.



Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I have Vermin (even more)

Mission Accomplished. I took a very nice drive up to Saint Helena and bought a couple
replacement vines to replace the one donated to the gopher god.

Between the gopher bait, the gopher traps, the shovel and probably just the attention, the gopher
has not reared it' head or taken any more plants.

The vines that I got are year old in pots. Not my first choice but maybe it will give them a bit of a head start. In the ground they go. The new plants have a good amount of green leaves on them, probably coming from a greenhouse. In the ground they go.

three days later, I notice there are no leaves. What? A stroll though the vineyard is devastating. All the past couple weeks buds are GONE!!!!!!!!.

I have been hit by a rabbit. Now it is time for Rabbit fence. Arggggg. if it isn't one thing it is the other. Let's just see if we can get these vines growing.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I Hate Vermin!!!

Bud break was beautiful.

I was pinching off unwanted buds and suckers from the vines when I noticed it. One of the vines was not doing very well. It had seemed to have just stopped growing. The buds that had appeared just the week before were frozen in time and had not grown at all. In fact, it seemed like they were shriveling up like the legs of the Wicked Witch of the east after Dorothy's house fell on her.

"That is odd." I thought as I reached down to examine the young vine. As I grasped the vine to see how supple it was, the ground around the base of it just seemed to fall away. The ground surrounding the sad vine collapsed into a large cavern and what I was left holding in my had was a sad little rootless stick.

GOPHERS!!!!. Man do I hate gophers. The little bugger had dug under the vine like prisoners under the guard station and prison fence. The snacked for a while on the tasty roots of my vine and then vanished without a trace.

Traps have not brought any satisfaction but the rains seemed to have caused him to move on . . . for now.

Time for a road trip to Napa. Hopefully I will be able to locate replacement vines.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bud Break is a wonderful thing

California weather, you have to love it. It seemed like it was just last week that it was raining buckets and there was no end in sight. Wait, it was last week that it rained like that. In any case, this week is in the 70s and the vines are more energetic than college freshmen in Palm Springs on Spring Break.

All the young vines are popping little fuzzy green buds like there is no tomorrow.

I felt terrible pruning the new one year old vines for the first time this year. All that growth, down to one cane and two buds per vine. Ouch. But, like with children, sometimes you have to stand your ground, do what you know is best for them and trust that it is for the best.

I know that last years growth was all to develop a good root system. And, this year, those roots will allow these vines to more than make up for the wood pruned off. And boy, are they off to a good start. Even last years runt is running with the pack this year. Lets see what it can do.

Pictures to follow soon.



Friday, March 04, 2005

The Pale Ale: It's a keeper

I tapped the keg last night and poured 6 oz. I would say that it has another few days to reach full carbonation, and about that much time to settle out the remaining suspended yeast. But, it has held on to the Cascade aroma from the dry hopping very well.

It had quite a head on it from coming out of the keg at Carbonating pressure (30 lbs/in) so it really helped to push those flowery scents out. I think I will let it get more carbonated than I typically do, probably holding it at 10-12 lbs/in, just to take advantage of the natural aroma pump that it gives. And what are a few extra burps between friends, if it comes with some tasty drink.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

IPA in the Keg and a brewing relationship diatribe.

Googol Grapes and Barley Bytes

I should give some background on this batch since it was brewed PB (Pre Blog).

This is a variation of my typical Pale Ale, but I decided to get back to its roots. When I first started regularly brewing IPAs, the target was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. But, our paths have diverged. When Sierra first came out, it had an incredibly fruity nose. The dry hopped Cascades were predominant. But over the years, they have toned down the nose and made a more mainstream hop experience. Also, the bitter component has stayed very close to the original but there seems to be more of an acidic component, even citrus. The best that I can describe it is a characteristic of a ripe, Coachella Valley, Ruby Red Grapefruit.

Now, before you tune out right there, if you have never had a Ruby Red grapefruit, fresh from the tree in the Coachella Valley, you need to. They are Sweet and succulent and not the mouth wrenching think that you have probably been told was a grapefruit by ignorant, but well meaning, grocers.

But, I digress. This flavor in Sierra Nevada has worked very well. And the citrus aspect has seemed to make up for the drop in the cascade hops contribution.

My IPA on the other hand has changed a bit over the years, and probably because of my lack of quality brewing time and overall apathy on my part. My IPA has evolved to more of a utilitarian brew. Moving to a blend of only pale and crystal malt instead of the original blend of 3 types of fermentable malts plus crystal. Instead of a fairly complex mash schedule with a lot of attention paid to each enzymatic conversion, I have a single mash-in/conversion temp that I hold for the entire mash. Instead of Pellet bittering hops added at 3 different stages and then dry hopping with cascade, I have only a bittering hop addition just after the boil and aromatic hops right at the end.

You might say that my brewing had become the equivalent as a comfortable relationship. Going through the motions, enjoying the fringe benefits, but not really emotionally invested in the whole thing. Well. That is over. Time to add some spice back into the zymurgy relationship. Time to get back to our roots.

With that in mind, this batch starts to be more like the original. Not a complete schedule of mash conversions, but I did go back to separate mash-in/protein rest, conversion, and mash-out temperature phases. And the biggest change to my regular routine, I have gone back to a dry hopping of the cascade. And, stead of cascade pellets, I used whole cascade hops and just the bittering hops as pellets.

When I racked from the primary to the secondary, the floral character was incredible. Going from the secondary to the keg was not as pronounced, but still very aromatic. I am looking forward to seeing what type of character is left after a couple weeks of aging.

I will let you all know.



Thursday, February 24, 2005

Want to join a Amateur winemaking/ beermaking club?

Googol Grapes and Barley Bytes
There seems to be a lack of homebrewing and winemaking clubs on the San Francisco peninsula. Am I wrong? Do you know of one? Want join?


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

4 Cases of splits and 10 stained fingers later . . .

Googol Grapes and Barley Bytes

Once I got in my groove, things moved well. 5 gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon have moved from the carboy to 4 cases of 375ml splits.

Here are some notes.

Corker used: Floor type.
Comments: Sweet. I am never using a hand held corker again.
Things I would do different next time: Have a table next to the corker. I had the uncorked bottles on the ground to one side of the corker and would put the corked bottles on the ground to the other. Lots of bending over and standing up. Not efficient at all.

Bottle Filler used: Gravity feed Automatic bottle filler fromBuon Vino
Comments: Worked pretty well. Dripped a bit from the connection where the incoming hose connected to the filler. But over all it worked like a charm. Filled the bottles to the perfect level and shut right off. Almost no waste at all.
Things I would do different next time: Well, like the corker, I was working off the ground. The wine source was on the workbench and I was filling on a towel on the ground. A better set-up would have been to raise the wine to an more elevated position above the work bench and filled while standing.

Number of Participants: Just poor, lonesome me.
Comments: Not tiring or even tedious work, but not very efficient with just one person.
I did not want the bottles to be sitting around filled and uncorked so I would work in batches of about 6 at a time. Filling, then corking, then filling, then corking. Both activities seemed to take about the same amount of time so probably two people, one doing filling and one doing corking could have worked well.
Things I would do different next time: Definitely, two people.

Over all. It went well.

"Why use all splits?", you ask. For a few reasons. First, because I want to sample it as it ages and not go though a full 750ml bottle every couple months before it is ready. Second, I want it to last. Since this is my first vintage, I want to protect it and make it last. Finally, I expect to give some to friends and family, and like I said, this is my first vintage. It is not beyond the realm of possibilities that it will develop a taste not unlike old German potato salad and this way, the benifactors of my gifts won't feel bad about disposing of 3/4 liter into the bay.

Next year's vintage will probably be bottled into predominately full size bottles.

Final notes on this batch: 100 lbs of grapes made almost 6 gallons of wine and involved probably 20 hours of labor when all is tallied, including travel, cleaning, and misc. I would bet that starting with 200 lbs of grapes would probably add maybe 15 minutes to that. And, since next year I will know more about what I am doing, over all time will probably be much less.
So, I think you can expect next year to involve starting with between 200-400 lbs of grapes.

And the year after that, I expect the 20 vines I planted last year will start producing and we will see what happens then.

For now, Cheers!

Tim Beauchamp

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Cab heads into the bottle.

Googol Grapes and Barley Bytes

It's Show time. Bottles are here. Corker is rented and in the back of my truck. Tonight after the kids are down and things quiet down, the wine moves from the carboy to the bottles.

I decided to do 3 cases of splits and the balance (7 bottles) in full size 750 ml bottles. That way I can sample it regulary as it ages and not finish it off before it is ready.

Stay tuned.


Welcome to Googol Grapes and Barley Bytes

This will start off as a repository or such for things related to brewing and winemaking. It will start off a bit without direction, but direction may evolve.

My first batch of Cabernet Sauvignon is aging in glass right now. It has been Crushed, fermented, modified with a MaloLactic bacteria, completed secondary fermentation, oaked, racked a few times and within few days, it will be bottled.

At the same time, I have 5 gallons of a California Pale Ale finishing up and will be racked to it's keg this next weekend. It has been designed with the goal of an IPA similar to the original or early Sierra Nevada. Unfortunately, Sierra Nevada has changed over the years, away from it's original taste and aroma.

The early Sierra was very floral, with a pronounced Cascade Hops nose from dry hopping. In the past, I have used pelletized hops which does not give the aroma. This time, the full 8 days of primary fermentation was done with a full cap of 4 oz Cascade hops floating on top..

I will keep you posted.