Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Primary Fermentation Complete and First Racking Of 2013 Riesling

I racked the FlexTank and WinePod this past Sunday.  Since the WinePod is used only for primary fermentation, I transferred the wine to four 5-gallon carboys.  The FlexTank is capable of handling secondary fermentation, so I transferred that wine to a clean FlexTank. 

After 22 days, the Brix measured 0 degrees (SG = 1.0) in the FlexTank and 5.5 degrees (SG 1.022) in the WinePod.  The WinePod sugar sensor was out of calibration, and showed a reading of 3 degrees Brix.    I'm not sure what caused the error, whether it be from the accumulation of yeast at the bottom of the tank or just a faulty sensor.  No matter how it is measured, the wine fermented slower in the WinePod than the FlexTank.  It will be interesting to see whether this results in any differences in the final product.  I assume the wine that was in the WinePod will continue to dry down (maybe to zero) now that it is transferred to the carboys.  The ambient secondary fermentation temperature has held constant at 62 degrees F, but may drop a little over the next month as the outside ground temp drops.

Besides the lack of fine temperature control on the FlexTank, my biggest criticism is that the caps do not fit properly on the lids.  Of the five 80-gallon tanks, the caps and pressure valves screw in properly in only two of the lids.  The others require a set of pliers to tighten the cap (owing to misformed grooves in the lid).  Using pliers on plastic caps is far from ideal, and the caps were nearly destroyed after the first year of use.  In addition to the cap issue, I found out very early that any metal surface on the FlexTank is highly susceptible to rust if not completely dry.  After cleaning a tank, I unscrew all metal components, including the drain valve and tasting valve, and dry and insert paper towels on the metal surfaces.  This process seems to work, but it is a pain to always remove and replace the screws.  I also managed to strip one of the tasting valves (which is made of plastic but screws into a metal fitting 1/3 of the way up the tank).  While annoying, these steps are a far better alternative than allowing any rust to form on the tank.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Return of the Winepod

Greg Snell recently brought the Winepod back to market after a four year absence. 

I decided to bring my Winepod back to life for use in commercial production.  After four years of producing pre-commercial batches of Finger Lakes Riesling in the Winepod, I set the Winepod aside in 2011.  Thin lines of rust began to appear on the surface of the stainless steel tank.  The Winepod can only be used to conduct primary fermentation on just under 20 gallons of wine.  My initial commercial run was 320 gallons.  So I performed primary and secondary fermentations in four 80 gallon FlexTanks.  But I've been saving bottles from those past Winepod productions, and when I open one to share with friends, I'm surprised how beautifully they have aged.  So the question comes to mind: "Is the quality of wine produced in a FlexTank different from that produced in a Winepod?"

I cleaned away the rust from the exterior and loaded just over 19 gallons of Riesling juice into the Winepod.  Fortunately, the inside remained un-rusted and pristine over the past two years of sitting idle.

The first week of primary fermentation has concluded, and there is already one notable difference.  Both tanks sit in the same room, both started at the same 23 degrees Brix.  But after a week, the FlexTank measures 10.3 degrees Brix, and the Winepod measures 14 degrees Brix.  The fermentation in the FlexTank was faster at the start. 

The Winepod has a temperature controller that keeps the temperature from spiking during the primary fermentation.  I use a Vornado space-heater with a fan to maintain the temperature in the room at 62 degrees F.
The Vornado cannot cool the FlexTank as well as the anti-freeze jacket in the Winepod even though it keeps the overall room temperature remarkably steady.  I'll continue to monitor the differences as the fermentation proceeds.  The taste test will be the true indicator of whether a temperature spike or increased rate of primary fermentation has any lasting effect on the wine.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fall at Shier Winery...The Adventure Begins Again

It is still warm, but the leaves are turning at the Shier Winery.  Almost time to start the winemaking process all over again.  In order to clear space in the tanks for this year's Riesling, I had to bottle 35 cases this past weekend.  
For those out there that have never used a hand corker or lifted and carried 5 gallon carboys, it is a little bit of a workout.  But the worst part is breathing all of the sulfur dioxide that keeps the whole operation sanitary.  Luckily the exhaust fan that I installed to pull out the carbon dioxide also earns its capital investment by clearing the SO2 cloud.
17 of these carboys filled 35 cases of 2012 Riesling. 
99 cases of bottles.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Presenting 2012 wines at Olanafest 2013

The Shier Winery will be showing off 2012 Rieslings at Olanafest 2013 this coming weekend (September 21) in Hudson, New York.  Below is a link to the event:


Monday, July 29, 2013

Three Year Old Riesling Vines

I spent some hours cleaning up the vines this past weekend.  I mowed the grass in between the rows, pulled the weeds peeking through around the vine trunks, and tied down dangling branches.  With heavy attack by the Japanese beetles and leaves browned by the effects of various fungi, I am surprised at how well the vines have held up.  In three years, only 2 have died.  At this stage, fruit production is still minimal, but I can say that all surviving fruit is truly organic.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bottling The First Commercial Production

With slow and steady progress, some of the wine is bottled.  About 200 bottles of sparkling and 144 bottles of the traditional Riesling variety.

A shot of some organic grapes growing in the vineyard despite heavy attack by the Japanese beetle.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cold Stabilization

The 2012 Riesling has been fermenting and clearing for six months.  To lower the total acidity (tartaric) a bit and stabilize the wine, I need to ideally drop the temperature of the wine to 32 degrees for two weeks.  There are a few ways this can be done.  The first, a large freezer room, is out of the question for my small winery.  The second option is to place a cooling line in the tanks that runs also through a chiller unit.  Eventually I may build a chiller coil setup, but it would require modification to my tank lids.  The chiller units and coils are also somewhat expensive, with the unit running $1500 to $4500 and the coils another $500 to $1000.  The third option that small time winemakers sometimes employ is to put the tank in an ice bath.  I decided to go with the third option.

My tanks are large, four feet tall and 24 inches in diameter.  More importantly, when full, they weigh around 750 pounds.  Lowering one of these tanks into a larger drum is not an option.  I can only move the tanks on my fork-lift stacker.  The tanks must always remain on the fork-liftable pallets, which increases the tank base footprint to 24 inches by 36 inches. 

My solution was to use a large plastic tarp.  I rolled the tank and pallet over the tarp before pulling back the fork-lift and raising the tarp around the tank with a clothes line cord. I bought a few bags of ice to add to the tarp.  But I needed to keep it cool for 2 weeks.  And working my job as a lawyer in NYC didn't allow me two weeks to stand by dumping ice into a tarp all day long.  So I needed an ice maker.  Standalone ice makers range in price from $150 to a few thousand dollars.  I needed one that would allow the ice to fall directly into my tarp, so that meant a relatively small unit that I could mount on the wall or ceiling.  Also, ice makers must be kept upright or they stop working very quickly.  For example, I could not use an ice maker in which the ice is held in a bucket under a top-loading door.  The ice maker needed a side pull-out tray, which I could modify into ice cube ramp.

I found this SPT Sunpentown Ice Maker on Home Depot's website for $183.   While most reviews were negative, the unit had a slide out tray.  The ice maker holds water in a lower compartment that the user must constantly refill to make multiple trays of ice.  But since I was not going to be around to add water, I needed a larger reservoir and pump to keep the ice flowing. 

I'm not a fish owner, but it turns out that some aquariums have top-off pumps with float switches.  I found the above Fins, Furs & Feathers Inc. Ultralife Floatswitch on MarineDepot.com.  After removing the ice tray from the SPT ice maker and adding my plastic ice ramp, I installed this float switch inside on the left side of the water compartment.  I connected a Marineland Maxijet pump to the float switch (another aquarium find).  I filled my double-wide laundry basin and placed the pump at the bottom.  The water pump adds water and the ice maker makes ice cubes which it dumps over the tank.  The extra ice and ice water fall off the tank into the surrounding tarp.  

Not a pretty picture, but the ice bath appears to be working.  The tank is icy cold.  I'll have to wait to see how much tartaric precipitates. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wine Labels

This past weekend I racked all four tanks for the third time.  This racking followed the addition of french oak chips.  The tanks weigh 50 pounds or so after the wine is removed, but I was able to flip them over to dump the spent oak chips and clean the tanks.

The first commercial production is nearing completion.  I also received Certificates of Label Approvals (COLAs) from TTB for the two variations of wine that I will be offering for sale and submitted copies to the NYSLA.  I then ordered commercial labels from YourLabelsNow.com, a short run label maker in Chicago.  YourLabelsNow uses the HP Indigo printing system.  In a past life, I worked for Hewlett Packard at the time they made their initial investment in Indigo.

The regular front and back labels. 
The sparkling wine labels.