I ran out of time to test out ways to achieve a zero malolactic conversion and 1.5% residual sugar white wine by the time my Finao fruit was ready.
Fiano would go well with my other two red Italian varieties and it seems well suited for my location, but white wine is hard to make. So I sought out some growers within reasonable driving distance. I wanted to get some fruit, try to make a white wine and then decide if it’s worth it to plant.
Fiano is grown in a number of climates in California. I chose a Santa Clara Valley grower because 1) the climate most closely resembles that of my site, and 2) I like the wine their fruit makes.
The latter is, what I believe to be the number one determining factor when choosing a fruit source. Of course, what goes without saying, is that most home winemakers will want to replicate the style they like.
That may be easy with Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. There is a veritable ocean of these varieties being produced and there are no great unknown secrets or tricks to making clean wine of all styles from these grapes.
Fiano is very rare, and the winemaker who makes my favorite wine is, understandably, reluctant to share any proprietary winemaking methodology. Still, I wanted to know how to achieve something close to the commercial bottling I like.
I was lucky enough for Dave Vanni to agree to sell me some fruit. The sugars and acids finally reached the sweet spot and I drove up to Gilroy to get enough fruit to make about five to six gallons of wine.
When I arrived at Dave’s vineyard (a little late because I’d stopped to get some bagged ice) he’d already crushed the grapes. Santa Clara Valley is under European Grape Vine Moth quarantine and all fruit leaving the county must be crushed.
The Fiano definitely lived up to its historical name: Apianum. There were plenty of bees swarming around the crush pad and the bin of crushed fruit.
I filled up and sealed some buckets with the crushed fruit, added some bisulfide and pectinase, packed the buckets off with ice and headed south.
I kept the buckets cold overnight, and the following morning, my brother and I pressed off the skins obtaining a combined seven gallons of free run and press juice.
Next, the juice needs to settle. I then need to check its chemistry, correct pH (if needed) and inoculate.
I think that, while it’s true that most yeast strain-related fermentation esters dissipate fairly quickly, the choice of a yeast selection based on organoleptics is important in white wines which will be enjoyed fairly soon after bottling.
Having my tasting notes of the wine I want to replicate, I was able to reach out to many experienced winemakers (including Larry Brooks, Philippe Langner, Bob Lindquist, Steve Clifton and Gavin Chanin) and the consensus seems to be that my best bet will be to use a yeast strain called VL3, because it works well with with aromatic white wines.
The next challenge will be achieving a wine with no malolactic conversion and about 1.5% residual sugar.
It’s clear the Fiano I want to emulate had no oak exposure and did not get much time on lees. The latter is not recommended in aromatic wines like Fiano.
While I don’t have to worry about oak, I do have concerns about additional rackings as a way to increase the risk of oxidation.
That will be my great challenge in this entire process. It is the biggest challenge in making white wines and the main factor why whites are harder to make than reds. While wines like Chardonnay may benefit from some oxygen contact, aromatic wines like Fiano do not.
Most oxygen exposure happens during racking and as a result of of inadequate topping of fermentation vessels. I don’t expect having issues with excessive head space in my carboy, but I am worried that I may introduce too much oxygen during siphon racking.
In discussions with John Daume, I have ascertained that gas racking is my best option. It is commonly employed with white wines and the set up would look something like this:
If I’m going to do this, I would need to get a CO2 tank and some plugs in which I would drill an additional hole for the tubing through which gas would flow.