Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thermistor Fixed on Winepod

This past Sunday night I made a trip to the Shier to make the repair to the temperature control mechanism on the Winepod. The thermistor, a little temperature sensing resistor attached to the vessel burned out right at the conclusion of our primary fermentation. Fred Hekking of ProVina walked me through the repair while he was driving back from a weekend vacation in Northern California. The repair involved using a soldering iron to melt the polypropylene material in which the old thermistor was buried. I melted the poly, destroyed the old thermistor and carved a trench for the new thermistor. Then I used my finger to push the melted poly over the new thermistor. Fred said that the thermistor was rated to 700 degrees, so I was not afraid that the hot plastic would destroy the replacement part. When the repair was complete, I turned the unit on and it accurately measured the ambient tank temperature. Success!

The wine continues to dry down and clear in the carboys. A dark sediment layer is forming at the bottom of each container.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Secondary Fermentation Continues

At three weeks into the second phase of fermentation, the Riesling wine is beginning ever so slightly to clear. Last weekend I had a scare when I logged into the server and saw that the air temperature in the basement was 52 degrees. The furnace went out the night before and the temperature was in free fall. I made a brief trip up to the Shier and re-started the furnace. I am wondering if poor ventilation and the high level of carbon dioxide was affecting the oil furnace ignition. The thermometers on the carboys were each at 54 degrees. Again, the D47 yeast survives down to 50 degrees. Close call. When I returned this weekend the carboy temperatures were back up to 57 degrees and the wine was still bubbling up.

I measured the SG on a wine sample from the third carboy. It measured 0.999. So far, so good. I will add oak chips to the third carboy in four weeks. If all goes according to plan, I will rack and cold stabilize in five weeks.

I also tried to measure the free SO2 level using a Titret test kit. The experience was a miserable failure. Basically, you have to break off a glass tip on the Titret vial and use a miniature eye dropper to put drops of wine into the vial. It mixes with a basic solution in the vial which turns blue until enough drops of wine oversaturate the mixture and it turns clear. At that point the measurement of the fluid is taken from a graduated marks on the vial which indicates the amount of SO2 in ppm. Unfortunately I couldn't get the dropper to suck any wine into the vial. I ended up crushing the vial with pliers trying to get the wine into it. I have my doubts that such a technique is going to be very accurate because I maintain sterility by spraying anything I dip into the wine with SO2, including test vials.

On another note, I received a $45 bill from the Cornell wine lab. $10 more than I was quoted on the phone. Not only did they let the juice sample sit for a week, provide me with useless test results, but they also sent a larger bill. In case there is any doubt from what I have previously written about using the Cornell wine lab, let me be clear that I will never waste any more time with them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Racking and Winepod F/A

I am sad to report that the temperature sensor on the Winepod stopped working last Thursday. When I checked on the Winepod over the Wine Coach Software, the cooler was on and the temperature read 133F. Since it was clear that the juice was not actually 133F in the Winepod, I turned off the automatic temperature control. The temperature sensor shortly thereafter raised to 150F. It is stuck at 150F. On Sunday, the brix read just under 1.0, so I decided to rack and not take any more chances with the Wine Pod temp control. The actual temperature of the juice was 60F.

After email and phone correspondence with Greg Snell and Fred Hekking of ProVina, it seems most likely that the thermistor has failed. Fred will send out a temporary test thermistor which I will wire into the system to confirm that diagnosis. Considering the cost to ship the WinePod to and from San Jose easily approaches $1000, Fred will probably make the repair in person on his next trip to the east coast. Hopefully the thermistor failure is not a common problem with the Winepod, as a rash of failures could easily burn through ProVina's venture capital. I am fortunate in that primary fermentation was near completion at the time of the failure. When the thermistor improperly registers a high temperature, the automatic temperature controller will keep the cooler on full blast without a break. For the folks making red wine with yeast that is sensitive to low temperatures, this could add the extra cost of grape replacement to ProVina's repair costs.

Alicia and I racked the wine for the first time. The process involves siphoning the new wine down a plastic tube into the three 5 gallon carboys. It looks like murky meta-mucil, but tastes surprisingly good. Alicia and I had a sample glass.

After the wine was transferred to the carboys, I rinsed out the Winepod.

Now the wine sits in the carboys for the next month or two until fermentation stops and the wine clears. I plan to add a few oak chips to one of the carboys for the last week or so before the next racking. I will label the oaked Riesling as premium Riesling and use a different colored bottle top.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Brix Fermentation Curve

The above chart shows brix and temperature over time since the beginning of fermentation.
Perhaps with a little effort I could derive the equation that produces the brix curve. Looks to me like brix will be zero on 11/9/2008, about 21 days total when fermenting at 61F.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Not Done Yet?

Alicia made a trip up to the Shier on Friday afternoon. When she arrived, the house was ice cold. The thermostat read 45 degrees -- indicating that the furnace was malfunctioning and likely off for the past three days. It gets worse. A 30 foot tree has fallen in the backyard. Luckily it only grazed the trellis on the back of the house. Alicia calls me at work. She goes downstairs. There is the sound of a high pitch squeal. I ask her what that Winepod screen says. Alicia can see the reflection of the lamp in the Winepod display, but there are no numbers. The squeal is unbearable. The Winepod is off and has been off since the power failure on Tuesday morning. Alicia presses the reset button on the battery backup and the squeal stops. She presses it again and the Winepod comes back on. What kind of battery backup leaves you shut down when the power returns? Unbelievable.

The must is 54F and the brix is 6. The yeast can survive down to 50 degrees, but not below 50. Did the temperature drop below 50F in the past three days? I fear all is lost and the yeast is dead. The heater on the Winepod gradually raises the temperature of the must back to 61F. Based on the brix reading, it is apparent that little fermentation has taken place in the last three days. Alicia restarts the furnace and checks inside the Winepod. Good news. The yeast is alive and fizzing.

Alicia picks me up at the train station in Poughkeepsie and we go to have dinner in New Paltz. It is Halloween. All the New Paltz kids are walking the streets in costume.

When we return, the house has warmed into the 60s. The brix has dropped below 5. It is clear now that fermentation continued through the week, albeit at a much slower pace. Primary fermentation will not be complete this weekend and likely not until the middle of next week.

Over the next two days, I use an axe from the garage and a small handsaw to remove the tree. I clear the leaves with a gas blower. I check the brix with the hyrdrometer. It reads 1014. By 9PM on Sunday the brix meter reads 3.37. I plug the Winepod back into the well. It turns out that the battery backup failed because the Winepod uses more than 500VA. I put a thermometer on a stick in front of the camera (as shown above). This will allow me to monitor the temperature in the basement over the internet, which will be important for secondary fermentation.

One more thing. I couldn't resist taking a sip of the wine. With the fizzing carbonation and remaining sugar content, the wine tastes like a mimosa.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More Power Failures and an Acetic Acid Alert!

On Tuesday morning I awoke at 7:30am to a call from Rest Assured Alarm Systems. The power was out again the Shier as of 5:30am. Considering our apartment building was swaying in the high winds, it was not all that unexpected. The power stayed off until 9:30am, knocking the server out. I researched the power restore features of office servers and it turns out that many newer computers have a BIOS power management option that allows the computer to restore the computer to an on state following power restoration. When I return to the Shier, I will check to see if my computer offers this option. In the meantime, I am hoping that everything is okay because I cannot access the Winepod remotely. Based on the fermentation progress chart, I project the primary fermentation to conclude on Sunday with a brix reading of zero. I will rack to carboys at that time.

Meanwhile, I received my juice analysis from the Cornell Wine Lab. Even though I was careful to freeze the sample and send it by Federal Express for next morning delivery at a cost of $34, I did not hear back from the lab supervisor, Ben Gavitt, until 8 days later. It turns out he was away at a conference. Since I also was away that week at a conference in Washington, D.C., I didn't complain. These are the results that I was provided:

Attached please find the analysis
pH 3.29
TA 9.9 g/L
Glucose 96.7 g/L
Fructose 99.4 g/L
Res Sugar 19.6%
Alcohol 0.7%
Tartaric 2.1 g/L
Malic 5.0 "
Lactic 0.2 "
Acetic 0.7 '
The acetic is quite high. I would watch it.

Acetic acid at 0.7!! Oh no. Some acetic acid is okay to make for a complex taste, but 0.7 is not where I want to be before fermentation. It is said that 0.6 is the lower limit for human taste perception of acetic acid, which tastes and smells like vinegar. 1.3 would be undrinkable. That said, the must does not smell like vinegar, which is a good sign.

I paid particular close attention to the fact that residual sugar was 19.6 percent and alcohol was listed as 0.7%. Since the vineyard measured juice brix at 20.5 and I confirmed my starting must at 20.6, a measurement of 19.6 shows evidence of fermentation with wild yeast in the sample bottle. Consequently, I am a little hesitant to accept the high acetic acid measurement. Mr. Gavitt assures me that the sample was refrigerated at 33F for the week he was away. Still, fermentation in the sample bottle with wild yeast could certainly raise the level of acetic acid. Further evidence of this can be seen from the TA (total acidity) measurement of 9.9 g/L. The vineyard reported TA at 8.3 g/L. See the October 18 Riesling results: http://www.fallbright.com/brix_TA_pH2008.htm

I expect to receive some benefit in acid reduction from cold stabilization of the finished wine, but these initial results still leave me concerned. I might need to invest in an acid test kit. My nose is still the best acetic acid tester, though.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Temperature Control with the Winepod

The controller on the Winepod is probably the most important feature, even more important than the brix meter (since brix can be measured with the hydrometer). Fermentation at a steady temperature is critical to winemaking because it reduces the variation in fermentation byproducts (no banana odors please!!).

The Winepod has an automatic temperature controller. It requires the user to enter lower and upper set point temperatures. The controller turns on the heater when the must drops more than 1 degree below the lower set point and turns on the cooler if it reaches 1 degree above the upper set point. I keep the Winepod in the basement where the temperature is between 54 and 57 degrees F. I originally set the set points at 62 and 63F. Bad idea. This caused the Winepod to constantly switch between running the heater and cooler. The heater would raise the temperature at the sensor so rapidly that it would overshoot 64F and the cooler would turn on. The cooler would overshoot in its cooling effect continuing the cycle. I set the lower set point at 61F and the upper set point to 65F. This seemed to produce a fairly consistent temperature in the low 60s. As the fermentation continued, the must began to reach more or less steady state around 60F, just above the point where the heater would turn on.

Since I actually want a steady state temperature closer to 61F, I reset the lower set point to 62. When the heater turns on at 60.9 degrees F, the must is heated until the liquid immediately surrounding the temperature sensor reaches 64F. Once the heater shuts off, the sensor temperature reading drops rapidly for above 5 minutes as the heat disperses throughout the entire volume of must. After the quick temperature drop from 64 to 61.3F, the temperature holds near 61F for about 25 minutes before the heater comes on again.

The must is starting to smell of alcohol, but has a flowery smell.

Brix is at 7.42/Temperature 61.1F at 2AM on October 28, 2008.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Power Failure

Last night New York had its first significant rainfall in nearly a month. The rain brought strong winds and lightning. Around 8:30PM, I logged into the server at the Shier. The Winepod software showed no connection to the controller. I quickly switched to the camera. Pitch black. I realized that the power was out and the server was running on the battery backup surge protector. The battery keeps the laptop, router, and cable modem alive for about 30 minutes once power is gone. Past 30 minutes, the laptop stays on with its internal battery, but I cannot access it because the internet is down. If the power failure lasts more than 3 hours, then the internal laptop battery is exhausted. Unfortunately, the laptop, like most computers these days, does not have a rocker switch that can be left in the on position. With no way to turn the laptop on from a complete shutdown, a trip to the Shier is the only option.

After 4 hours I realized that I needed to make the trip to check the wine and restore the server. I was able to confirm that the power was back on before I went to sleep by calling and having the answering machine pick up. The Winepod does have a rocker switch and when power was restored I was pretty sure that it came back to its normal operation, but without the server I could not be certain. My fear is a temperature drop that kills the yeast.

On my way up to the house, I decided to pick up a battery backup surge protector for the Winepod. I figure that it could buy me some extra time in the event of a power failure by reducing the downtime. It is apparent that the Shier receives a number of short power failures throughout the year, often at least once a week. I can tell the duration of these power failures without being there by observing the time that the clock timer on a house lamp is delayed when I return. If I set the lamp to turn on at 6PM, it slowly creeps back in time with each power failure. If I don't reset the timer, the lamp comes on late at night.

All is well. The Winepod remained at a safe temperature above 60F, and the Brix was 9. I performed a SG check with the hydrometer which read 1035. The Brix meter appears to be functioning properly.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A few pictures of the winemaking process....

Above is a picture of the Fall Bright vineyard in Dundee, New York from which our Riesling grapes were picked.

The Riesling grapes were harvested, crushed and delivered through a hose on the panel shown above.

The Riesling now in juice form loaded into carboys before loading into Winepod.

Pouring the juice into the Winepod.

Adding the yeast to the juice.

Using the wine thief and hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the juice.

Brix Meter Correction

After exchanging emails with Greg Snell, CEO of Provina, I was able to correct the problem with the brix meter on the Winepod. I removed my shirt, and washed my hands and arms thoroughly with dish soap and water. Then after a rinsing, I sprayed a bit of sulfite solution on my arms and waved them to dry. Next I opened the Winepod and noticed that the juice was fizzing. A good sign. I plunged my arm to the bottom of the juice to find the brix meter. It was at the 10 o'oclock position. I confirmed that the magnet was face down and then turned the pomace basket so that the meter and basket locked at a 2 o'clock position. I then pulled the meter to the surface and performed a calibration set point at 37. Then I placed the meter back at the bottom of the juice. I took a SG measurement using the hydrometer, which read 1081. Fermentation is underway. No need to add the Go-ferm or additional yeast.

At 7:20pm the brix meter reads 20.07, temperature 63.4.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Alicia and I made a trip to the Finger Lakes on Friday to pick up the Riesling juice. We spent the night at a B&B called the Trimmer House in Penn Yan, New York.


Our room was comfortable, decorated with faux-antique items and little bowls of chocolates. We were welcomed by our host, Yang, who was courteous and provided us with a list of local restaurants. We choose a place named Sarrasins on Keuka Lake. The food was decent and the drink menu featured local Finger Lakes wine. We had the Riesling, of course.

On Saturday we drove to Fall Bright. The staff at Fall Bright were friendly and helpful. They walked us through the supplies and loaded 16 gallons of Riesling juice into three 5 gallon botter bottle carboys and a gallon jug. After loading the juice into the car and configuring the GPS, we made our way back to the Shier in about 5 hours.

The temperature of the juice rose to 46-48 degrees by the time we arrived at our destination. We sanitized the Winepod by making a solution of sodium metabisulfite and giving it a spritz with a spray bottle.

We loaded the juice into the Winepod. Roughly 15.7 gallons. The remaining 0.3 gallons of juice were divided into a pair of wine glasses and a water bottle. I placed the water bottle in the freezer. This frozen sample will be mailed to Cornell University's wine lab for analysis ($35). Alicia and I drank the juice in the wine glasses. That was some sweeeeet juice.

I set the temperature set points on the Winepod at 62/63 F. This brought the temperature of the wine gradually up to 62 over the next hour and a half. We mixed three packets of D47 Lalvin yeast with warm distilled water in a graduated container. We measured the specific gravity of the wine with our hydrometer. 1087. We added 4 pounds of dextrose sugar. This brought the specific gravity to 1090, a Brix of 21.6. After 15 minutes, I gave the yeast bottle a good shake and dumped it into the Winepod.

The brix meter on the Winepod still read 37. I adjusted the calibration setting to 21.6. I suspect that the pumice may need to be oriented in a certain direction for the brix meter to work. This is troubling consider I turned the basket continuosly before adding the juice as I was worried that it may need to lock into position. It did not lock in any position. Over the next several days, I will be able to tell if the brix meter is functioning.

I tested the specific gravity 24 hours after loading the yeast. No change at 1090/Brix of 21.6.

I am heading back to NYC and the next check I will make in person will be six days from now, 7 days from loading the juice and yeast into the Winepod. I have tested the software and it accurately displays the temperature. If the brix meter is working I should be able to monitor fermentation throughout the week. If nothing happens by Wednesday, I might make an emergency trip to add some yeast energizer.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


The Winepod unit arrived on July 15, 2008. It weighs more than 200 pounds, but I managed to get it down to the basement. I cut up the cardboard packing materials. I then rolled the Winepod over the cardboard panels across the lawn, moving a piece of cardboard forward as I progressed towards the bilco doors. I slid it down the stairs over the cardboard panels and rolled it into position in the basement.

My computer terminal is located upstairs in the office. I tested the USB wireless dongle. Even though the Winepod was only 15 feet away, the intervening floor caused intermittent signal failure. So I moved the Winepod closer to the office and ran the 15 foot USB cable through a hole next to the radiator and up to my computer. I might have trusted the wireless dongle if I was going to be on site more often to trouble check, but since part of my goal is to monitor the wine fermentation using remote access over the internet, I needed a reliable connection.

After a straw vote of myself, my [now ex-wife] and my co-workers, I decided that the my first batch of wine will be Riesling. Riesling grapes grow exceptionally well in upstate New York in a region known as the Finger Lakes (near Cornell University). Riesling, as a white wine, is not fermented on the skins, rather it is fermented as juice. This being my first time making wine, I aim to minimize complexity in the fermentation process.

Next up, I had to locate a supplier of Riesling grapes. I wanted a supplier who would crush the grapes and provide them to me as fresh juice at harvest time. I found Fall Bright on the internet. They are located next to Keuka Lake, one of the Finger Lakes.


Fall Bright crushes the Riesling, refrigerates and adds SO2. I ordered 16 gallons of Riesling juice for pick-up on the harvest date, October 18, 2008. I also reserved 4 Better Bottle carboys and various other wine making supplies including airlocks, tubing, a racking wand, yeast, Campden tablets, oak chips, a wine thief, a hydrometer, and a thermometer.

I met Greg Snell and Joanna Hirt at the Wine 2.0 event in NYC. Greg was very friendly and offered his assistance. I told him about my plan to make Riesling. He offered a few tips and asked me to give him a call closer to when I plan to pick up the juice.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wine Plan

The wine itself will be made inside of Provina, Inc.'s WinePod. This part of the setup is the most expensive. The WinePod runs $3500 plus $400 in shipping costs.

In addition, I will need to buy storage barrels for aging, bottles, and a bottling device.

Although Provina is really pushing their frozen Napa grapes, I am planning to get fresh grapes this September from New York's Finger Lakes region. I will probably also buy the yeasts and additives from the vineyard that sells the grapes.

While the WinePod offers electronic sensors and temperature control for fermentation, I will still need to closely monitor the wine at the beginning of the fermentation process. I will probably need to take PTO or work from the house for the first week of fermentation.

Since I will be making the wine 85 miles away from the city, it is important to have a remote control mechanism to monitor the wine. I decided to purchase Symantec PC Anywhere Version 12.1. The control center will be my old 2001 vintage Dell Inspiron 8000 laptop. This laptop is probably the worst piece of computer equipment I have ever owned. Everything has broken at one time on this laptop including the screen, powercord, CD drive, hard drive, and sound card. Hopefully, with a broadband connection, it should make a capable server. I also purchased a new lithion ion battery in case of power failures. Also I will connect a few Lorex USB cameras to my remote setup just in case I feel like watching the wine ferment. Actually, I will probably use the cameras to make sure nothing explodes or leaks.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

This blog will follow my efforts to start a winery in our home in New York. My [now ex-wife] Alicia named the house "the Shier", as it reminded her of the little town that the Hobbits carved out of the countryside in Middle-earth.

(The spelling of Shier is changed to prevent actual Hobbits from confusing the Shier for their hometown.)

Here is the Shier in March 2007.