Growing wine grapes gives me a connection to nature, its cycles and seasons in a way just living in Southern California does not. Making wine feeds my creative needs.
Yes, I have a creative bend. When I was single and living alone, I spent my free time writing and recording music. Some of that can be heard as background music in my vineyard and winery videos.
But creating music requires a good amount of solitude and sustained focus that are not realistic for a married man with children and a full-time job. So my guitars and recording computer are stored away for some time in the future when my lifestyle allows me to indulge that hobby.
In my creative pursuits, I’m willing to try my hand at just about anything. Sometimes, I try a thing once and move on. Other times, I get fixated and work at it until I get the results I want – as is the case with my pursuit of a rose vodka with color and aroma stability.
Other times, I simply like what comes of my efforts and I keep playing with the process.
So, for a while now, I’ve been playing with making sparkling wines. It started with sparkling apple cider. Then, I decided to make my “citrus-’plus’” wine sparkling. We’ll see how that turns out in two or three weeks.
Making sparkling wines is not that difficult.
In the traditional, Champagne, method the base wine is fermented dry. Then, it receives a small volume of wine, sugar and yeast and is sealed in bottle to undergo the second fermentation that yields the carbonation. These bottles are then tilted, rotated and tapped during the second fermentation in order to move the lees to the top of the bottle’s neck. This is called riddling. After this, the lees plug is disgorged after dipping the top of the bottle in an ice bath. Sometimes, a bidule is used to more cleanly remove the plug.
My process has been to ferment the wine to near dryness. When there is still minimal activity (bubbles), I bottle the wine into 750 ml flip-top bottles and add 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of table sugar.
Flip-top bottles can be hard to find. Some retailers have prohibitive minimum orders. There are two options for small-volume trials: One is to reuse 750ml bottles of Lorina. Another is to buy 1 liter flip-tops at Crate and Barrel.
Because of the small quantities I make, I prefer this approach over starting up a whole packet of yeast. That would result in more sediment in each bottle and a more yeasty character which might also rob the wine of fruity aromas.
I run both ferments in a cold room. To date, I have kept the bottles undergoing the second ferment in a 5 gallon bucket with the lid tightly on. This is in case I overdose the sugar and a bottle explodes.
I do not riddle or disgorge the bottles. There is usually a light film of lees at the bottom of my bottles and the flavor impact is minimal. If I come up with a way to improvise a bidule and conduct a successful disgorgement, I’ll be sure to write about it.
Sparkling wines can be made from grapes, apples, honey and just about any fruit. Although I suspect that for the home winemaker, more aromatic fruit would be better: cherries, strawberries, etc. Wines made from these kinds of fruits are ready to drink as soon as they are done. No aging is required. Additionally, aromatic, fruity wines can go dry and not be too austere.
For cider, noting beats Martinelli’s apple juice. It has no preservatives that would impede fermentation. It needs to be chaptalized and acidulated for balance, but beyond that, it is pretty much guaranteed to turn out tasty and clean.
Currently, I’m making a gallon of red currant wine that I will make into a sparkler. I’d picked up a pack of red currants at Pavilions recently. They were inconsistent in their flavors. Some displayed the bright typical flavors and others were a bit mealy and not overwhelmingly resembling the red currants I grew up with.
So, hoping that fermentation would wake up some of the yet-undetectable aromatic and flavor precursors, I bought five more packages, crushed them, added water, sugar, tartaric acid and pectinase.
After 24 hours, I strained out the seeds and remaining skins and pitched some Cotes de Blanc yeast in the form of a few drops of the still-fermenting “Citrus-Plus” wine. Once the pulp settles and the ferment slows, I’ll rack the clear wine into a gallon jug, let it get close to finishing and bottle.
I think I’ll write some tasting notes on these sparklers when they’re done.