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:

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.