Ask Wine Wizard

Wine Bottle Deposits


Mark Dawson — Simi Valley, California asks,

I make a Syrah/Petit Verdot field blend from a small vineyard each year and have had some color plating on the bottle. Can you address the cause and possible solution to keep the color from dropping out and sticking to the bottle?


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 can cover. For sure you’ll need a hydrometer so you can monitor the fermentation and a graduated cylinder to float the hydrometer in.

Then you need to have the ability to strain/press the skins from the juice. Try renting a small fruit press from your local fermentation supply store or borrow one from a buddy. In a pinch, you can use a colander and cheesecloth or a big dishtowel to drain and squeeze. You might laugh, but I’ve been doing some bucket fermentations this past harvest and have found a special kind of bag really helps me — it’s one of those reusable mesh sacks that some folks use in the supermarket to get their fresh produce. Mine is a small-grade white mesh that’s somewhat see-through. I’m finding it’s the perfect thing for draining my initial fermentations through. I simply hold a big kitchen strainer over the lip of my bucket and “free run” pour most of my new wine out into a new bucket, then scoop my wet pomace into my sack, wrap the ends around a big wooden spoon and secure with string, then let the whole thing drain over the bucket. In about 15 minutes I give it a squeeze and hey presto (no pun intended), I’ve just “pressed” my wine.

You’ll also need the ability to know when your wine is through the malolactic fermentation (MLF) — I recommend sending a 60-mL (2-oz.) sample to a wine lab like ETS Labs — most states have something similar.
Once through MLF you’ll need some sulfur dioxide to help the wine from becoming oxidized and attacked by spoilage microbes like Acetobacter. I like KMBS (potassium metabisulfite) powder for home winemakers’ sulfur dioxide needs because it’s easy to measure and relatively safe to handle. Also you’ll need some kind of aging vessel, like two 5-gallon (19-L) carboys, and then something to keep smaller volumes in for topping, like your standard 750-mL (25-oz.) wine bottles with bar-tops (aka T-tops). Keeping your aging containers topped up is key.

Don’t forget that red wines love (and some would argue, need) wood. For carboys, oak beans from companies like Stavin and other suppliers work well because they easily fit into the neck. But for folks that are aging in neutral barrels, I am a fan of The Barrel Mill oak spirals. They fit into the bungholes and give really great quality and flavor in about three months.
With a good fermentation supply store and a wine lab to provide numbers, you’ll be in really great shape. Don’t forget to check out Chapter 2, “Choosing and Using Winemaking Equipment” in my Winemaker’s Answer Book for more details. Winemakermag.com also has plenty of “getting started” columns.

Response by Alison Crowe.