Wine Wizard

Crafting a Buttery-style of Chardonnay

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Indeed, that flavor you’re after is primarily caused by the malolactic bacteria, which impart that buttery, dairy, or creamy taste in many Chardonnays. This is because these bacteria, depending on the strain, can produce a lot of a compound called diacetyl, which is a natural byproduct of their malic acid metabolism. Diacetyl really does smell

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Malolactic Fermentation After Cold Stabilizing

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I always think it’s wonderful when people can do a “natural” cold stabilization over the winter months. It’s an incredibly intuitive and very old-fashioned, non-interventionist way to accomplish a key winemaking task. It never gets cold enough here in Napa, California during the winter to really knock down any significant amount of our tartrate crystals

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Adding Sorbate After MLF

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Winemakers typically add sorbate (aka sorbic acid, often purchased as potassium sorbate) when they want to bottle a wine with a little residual sugar. It is often added right before backsweetening and bottling. Sorbate will inhibit the reproduction of yeast cells but it will not “kill” yeast, nor will it inhibit or kill bacteria. It

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Volatile Acidity Fixes

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A Sadly, blending VA levels downward remains the only option available for reducing VA content in small lots. Larger commercial wineries, with big lots and bigger pocketbooks, can afford the expense of reverse osmosis and distillation technology to remove it from their wines but there’s no affordable option for small producers. Simple filtration doesn’t work

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Oxygen Ingression

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Don’t worry, it’s happened to the best of us! If you can, check your pH and your VA (volatile acidity) to try to get a handle on whether or not this air intrusion caused any chemistry-altering damage to the wine. What I mean is, sometimes when we have an oxygen incursion it can mean an

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Reducing Oak Flavor In Wine

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I’m so pleased you’ve done some oak trials! If you’ve read my column over the years you know that I’m always advising our intrepid readers to do small-scale trials (sometimes I call them “bench trials” after the “lab bench” work surface of your average winery enologist) before they commit to an additive or course of

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Is Oak Sanitation Necessary?

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I never boil or rinse my chips because, you’re right, that’ll strip them of the valuable flavor and aroma right off the bat. The one thing you need to do first, either before you buy chips or before you add them to your wine batch, is to smell them. If they smell moldy, musty, or

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Recommended First SO2 Addition

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Thanks, Bob, for joining fellow columnists and me for our first ever virtual WineMaker Harvest Boot Camp this past September! This question didn’t get answered in my Q&A session held at the end of my “Top 5 Harvest Mistakes to Avoid” talk (there were a number of others that didn’t get answered either that I’ll

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Wine Bottle Deposits

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I’ll assume you’re going to do red (not rosé) — that’s the easiest for small-volume winemaking. I’ll also assume you’ll hand-destem, so you really don’t need a de-stemmer. Just get out as many stems as you can by hand. You’ll need a good food-grade fermenter like a small, food-grade trashcan or a bin that you

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Testing For Free SO2

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Good for you for investing in a way to track your free SO2 (FSO2) levels. It’s one of the most important ways we can keep our wines safe. You can buy something like a Vinmetrica kit or send out samples monthly to a local wine analysis lab (like ETS here in Napa County), which is

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Freezing Grapes

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Goodness, I’ve never answered two questions at the same time before! I decided to put the two of you together since your questions were so similar. There are some things that apply


Curing A Stuck Fermentation

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Yes, sluggish and stuck fermentations are one of the most common, persistent, and frustrating issues that winemakers encounter. They happen for so many reasons, and possibly for a combination of so many


Degassing Wine

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As you know, the fermentation process (both the initial fermentation turning sugar into ethanol and the secondary malolactic fermentation) produces quite a lot of carbon dioxide gas. The majority of this escapes


Macerating Skin Packs

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Ah, kits are getting so clever these days! I would say it all depends on the quality of what you feel, taste, see, and smell for the material that comes in your


Varnish on Mini Barrels

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Well, I suppose you could sand the varnish off if you didn’t like it very much . . . but, realistically, I don’t think it’ll affect the wine that much. If you’ve read some of my pieces on smaller barrels you know that the smaller the vessel the higher the ratio of air exposure to

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Vineyard Planning

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That is so great to hear that you’ll be planting a vineyard. Welcome to the great Sonoma County viticulture adventure! My company has vineyards in Sonoma too and I’ve been making wine from Alexander Valley and the Russian River, not to mention Carneros, AVAs for 15 years now. Hard to believe how time flies (and

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Quality Control

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In deciding to bottle, age or toss this batch, I suggest you spend some quality time with your barrel. Though you’re just past the usual bottling window (typical aging time for premium red wines is 10–18 months, depending on the varietal and style) you may be able to catch it before it goes south. Especially

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Pressing Issues

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You’ve hit on one of the classic difficulties of making wine at home. The equipment we use, from presses to barrels to filters, usually are much smaller than that used by commercial wineries. Yet the size of the grapes and the job we need our equipment to do remain the same. Getting a better press

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Wine Yeast to Make Bread

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You can definitely use wine yeast for baking bread. Bread yeast and wine yeast are both Saccharomyces cerevisiae and both work the same way, by eating sugar and converting it into ethanol and carbon dioxide gas. In the case of wine, the sugar comes from the grapes. In bread, the sugar (simple carbohydrates) can come

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Light Strike in Wine?

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I would definitely try to store your wine in the dark if you can. Your wines are in what I’m assuming are clear glass demijohns and over the year or more aging you might want for the wine, it could be enough to be detrimental to your wine’s quality. Interestingly, it’s not damage to your

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The New Need For Sanitation

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What’s the difference between cleaning and sanitizing? Cleaning refers to the manual removal of dirt, soil, and grime on an item or a surface. Sanitizing is the next step, which, when done


Overcompensating With Copper

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Ah yes, Monday morning quarterbacking is always tough when it comes to wine. Adding a complex yeast nutrient (a mix of nitrogen, amino acids, and other micronutrients) is something I do with every fermentation. I have the luxury of being able to send my musts and juices to a wine lab to measure their amino

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Defining “Percent New Oak” in Wine

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Thanks for bringing up this topic. There are some parts of the answer that’ll be really obvious but like so much in winemaking, it’s often up for interpretation and the subtleties may vary from winemaker to winemaker, even in the professional world. “% new oak” seems like a simple calculation. But when you dig in,

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The Safety of Brass Fittings

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AYou might be encouraged to know that brass fittings have a long and storied history in winemaking. In fact, if you travel the back roads of Europe and poke your head into


Can I Use An Untoasted Oak Barrel?

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What an intriguing question. I’m having some pioneer-prairie-blacksmith-shop fantasy thoughts on how you might be able to toast the inside of your barrel on your own. Depends on how crazy you want to get. Before I go there — with all the non-OSHA approved tactics — let me address your other mini-questions. “Untoasted barrel —

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